By: Arya Jha about her volunteer work in Nepal.
A different perspective is one of the hardest things to obtain. Nature and nurture both skew how each individual thinks and behaves. Growing up in a privileged town, under an air conditioned roof, with all the latest clothes and gadgets is a recipe for a narrow outlook in life. There’s no reason for this person to know what others are facing even a couple miles away when they don’t have to deal with it themselves.
Acquiring a new perception was the hardest first step for me when I thought about volunteering in Nepal. I wasn’t completely oblivious to everything happening in my father’s home country as I visited almost every year. I would enter the home he was born in, after petting the goats on the way in, and complain about the cracks in the walls and the uneven floors that disobeyed the mason’s leveler. I would think to myself, my dad was so poor, how awful! What I didn’t know when I was younger was that the majority of people had it much worse. And while my father did indeed grow up below the poverty line, there are so many subcategories of the impoverished and I felt that I needed to educate myself.
It was not perhaps until I met Dale Tamang at the Voice of Children (VOC) drop-in center in Kathmandu last June that I really gained perspective. I had volunteered in the capital for the past two years as well, and while all my experiences were eye-opening, none compared to the rawness of my time at VOC.
Dale was the first of thirty-six boys I met during my one-week stint over the summer, and he is one of the few that I still think about on a daily basis. Upon entering the three story building where homeless boys would first come after being picked up by the police, I saw him, curled up underneath the coffee table. He stuck his head out, just to inform himself of who had just entered the room. Probably knowing that I was not one of the usual volunteers, he slid out, and walked over to me. He looked no more than eight years old. Traumatized from his days on the street after the loss of his family, he refused to eat meals, play board games with the other boys, and communicate with his teachers. I spent hours trying to earn his trust. And somehow, through this process, I became his anchor, his human bridge to the beginning of a normal life. In my presence, despite our language barrier (he spoke Tamang), he tried out new actions and received positively reinforcing responses. He rebuilt himself, just as Kathmandu slowly repaired its bridges, roads, and homes after the destructive earthquake. And, while Dale found a new home inside his own skin, I realized how Nepal has served as my own anchor.
Additionally, in this visit I was fortunate enough to do something completely different. Tulsi Uncle arranged for me to deliver some school supplies to St. Xavier’s Social Service Center through FONNJ and The Asha Project. Girls and boys—some in wheelchairs and others in crutches—sat in the pavilion where we were welcomed. They applauded with a twinkle in the eyes when they realized why we were there. They sat, listening attentively to every word I said when asked to speak about why I’m doing what I’m doing. It was a surreal experience that further contributed to my new perspective that I was working so hard to achieve.
Nepal used to mean a simple visit to my grandparents—a chance to pet the goats. Then it became an opportunity to apply my tech skills for earthquake disaster relief. Now, Nepal has become a place of transformative encounter. Nurturing the homeless boys of Kathmandu and working with those who seek guidance, I found a new home in Nepal.