By: Emily Fabiano, GAP – Nepal Humanitarian Mission and Cultural Exchange Volunteer
8,000 miles from home, living in one of the poorest countries in the world, missing my family and friends. I remember my first night in Nepal, I was staying in run-down, poorly insulated buildings, sleeping in several layers of clothes to stay warm. I was in a place where my surroundings could not have been more different than my life in the U.S. I was witnessing ways of living that I did not think existed in the modern world. My first impression of the country and upon getting food poisoning had me wondering “Why did I decide to travel to Nepal?!”
The beautiful country of Nepal and the generous people I have met among my many trips have become a significant part of my life. Despite the poor living conditions, I constantly felt a need and a desire to return to this country each year, as the impact I felt from volunteering here was augmented upon each successive trip. I am grateful for having the opportunity to travel to Nepal, as each return trip continues to shape my character immensely and change my outlook on life.
Adjusting to the Nepali lifestyle was not easy. Sleeping without heat, taking cold showers, hiking to the top of a “mountain” to where I will sleep for the night are not things I am used to. I saw children hike the mountains with no shoes just to get to school, while schools were often not much more than concrete walls and a tin roof. Facilities lack cleanliness and supplies to facilitate effective learning. These experiences and the exposure to what it is like to get an education in Nepal have taught me to appreciate the opportunities that I have.
At every orphanage and school, I went to, the kids melted my heart. I felt like I wanted to take them all home with me. They were ecstatic just to see outside visitors, and they would touch my hair because they have never seen someone with blonde hair before. There have been numerous moments that remind me that my time spent in Nepal is worth it. For instance, when we were distributing jackets and stationary supplies at an orphanage, a young girl asked me to promise her that I would come back. Another girl at a remote school in Pokhara had no socks or shoes, and the way she responded to simply getting a pencil from me was touching. Seeing the circumstances of where kids go to school is not always easy, but we help in any way we can by providing pencils, notebooks, rulers, and sometimes socks and gloves to students in remote areas. Another orphanage we went to, we distributed some blankets that were donated to us. The owner of the orphanage mentioned that they did not have enough blankets for all the children until we came. I remember thinking there was no way I could fit the blankets into my suitcase but hearing that made me glad I decided to make space for them. Aside from distributing donations at schools and orphanages we have also had the opportunity to assist with health and hygiene camps and paint the walls of schools and orphanages.
It is never easy to say goodbye to the kids when we finish a program and need to leave, as they usually stand in a group and all wave goodbye. While I am happy to have made a positive impact in their lives, it is sad to leave because I never know when and if I will return to that school or orphanage. Even when we interacted with students at a deaf and mute school, I still felt an unspoken connection to the kids.
It is often said in Nepal that “Guests are like God,” and this was evident in the way the Nepali hosted us. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal undoubtedly has the most generous people in the world. Our friends in Nepal are always willing to do anything to make us feel more comfortable in their country. Each time we went to visit a school or orphanage and were hosted by new Rotaract clubs, we were welcomed with scarves, hot tea and biscuits. This truly made me feel very welcome wherever I went. My friend Jyoti and her family have hosted us in their home a few times, giving up their beds to us and cooking us meals to make us feel at home.
While we did numerous projects at schools and orphanages, we also had a cultural exchange and had the opportunity to attend Rotaract Meetings with the clubs in Nepal. For instance, myself and the club members from the US had a recipe exchange with the Lalitpur Club. We learned how to make MoMo, an iconic food of Nepal, while we introduced the Nepali club to Nachos. Although nachos are not a true American food, the Lalitpur club was intrigued by the combination of food and found it to be quite tasty. The various clubs that hosted us took us hiking and sightseeing to landmarks including the World Peace Pagoda, Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple), Boudhanath Stupa, on cable cars where we got a glimpse of Mt. Everest, Chitwan National Park where we had an elephant safari, and so much more! For me, simply walking on the streets of Nepal is sightseeing because the country is so different from the US, and I love learning about the different culture and lifestyle. We have also taken part in several picnics where we learned new games, made new friends, and tried new foods.
Not only do I love the people and culture in Nepal, but the scenery is incredibly breathtaking. Many of us have seen pictures of the Himalayan Mountain range and of Mt. Everest, but to see them in life is surreal. Living in the US, waking up in the morning and going out on the rooftop to sip tea with a view of the Himalayan Mountain range is not something I can do every day.
Ultimately, it was worth it. Worth travelling 40 hours and worth transporting tons of donations across the world. Although I have summarized my experiences here, words cannot do justice. The only way to know how amazing it is to be a part of this mission is to travel to Nepal and experience it for yourself. I have now been to Nepal four times and cannot wait to be a part of future projects with clubs in Nepal. Thank you to all my friends in Nepal that have hosted me and continued to be a part of my life!
For more information about the Asha Project and the GAP program, please visit http://www.theashaproject.org