In a familiar foreign land
July 30, 2019 ChildVision AuthorExperiences.
A field report about my time volunteering in Nepal, May to July 2019.
As I scrolled through Facebook that day, lost in thought, I had no idea that one of those posts would change my life. By chance, I came across a message that was looking for volunteers for two schools in the poorer areas of Nepal. Not only was it an Austrian project that enabled children in South Asia to have a future, but it also focused on girls’ and women’s rights, exactly what I had always wanted to do as a child! I couldn’t find a better reason to leave my new home, the paradise island of La Réunion, where I had been an Erasmus student for an academic year.
Every end is also a new beginning.
- From La Réunion via Bangkok to Birgunj, Nepal
Without further ado, I applied and after a few days I also received the acceptance. Flights were booked and after wistful goodbyes I left for Nepal, but of course not everything went without complications. Due to passport problems, I had to extend my transit stay in Bangkok from three hours to ten days. This seemed like a twist of fate, however, because during my stay I was able to attend the three-day coronation ceremony – the first in nearly 70 years – of the new Thai king, Rama X. After the bureaucracy was defeated and I landed the Nepalese capital, the adventure was not over yet, on the contrary, here it only began. I was met at the airport by my host parents Baua Dai and Anamika. After a half day in Kathmandu, which was mainly used to recharge my batteries, I took an overnight bus to my home for the next three months. Upon arrival, I was told that the journey for the approx. 140 km had taken ten hours instead of the planned eight hours due to engine failure of the bus. It was just fine with me, because it gave me two more hours of sleep on the bus.
You won’t change the world or Nepal, but you will change some girls’ lives and that’s all that matters.
- Culture shock despite preparation
Once I arrived in Birganj, things finally got started: I was allowed to teach, while learning a lot at the same time. Initially, I stayed in the background, letting the impressions sink in and immersing myself in Nepalese life. Due to my Bengali migration background, it was not too difficult for me to understand the culture and its people, although I sometimes came up against my limits, for example, when I misunderstood the privacy I was used to and the freedoms I took for granted. From time to time, I was preoccupied with the thought of why I had left my paradise island of Reunion to spend my time here in the misery and squalor of Nepal. But quickly those thoughts were banished from my mind. Not only did my host family always have an open ear for my concerns – Anamika soon became like an older sister I never had. I was also helped by the phone calls with friends who pointed out that such a project had always been my childhood dream, or the conversations with Brigitte, who emphasized several times that I would not change the world, Nepal or Birganj with my actions, but I would change the lives of one or the other girl.
The Prisonschool Kids and their new teacher 🙂 .
Some are lost in the fire, others built from it.
- The students, their schools and environments.
And indeed, the kids are full of life, full of energy and inquisitive. I dare say they are the most motivated students I have taught so far and delighted in even the smallest projects I did with them. Of course they are loud and cheeky, like all children, but also always curious and open to new methods and content. Gratitude was also a virtue that I noticed very often there, whether for the hygiene items that were available in the schools or new school books and uniforms. I will never forget the shining eyes of children when I taught them to tie their new shoes for the first time. These moments were worth every mosquito bite, every power outage at up to 46 °C, and every cultural misunderstanding. There were a few of these at the beginning, but soon the neighbors and prison guards and staff realized that I had grown up in a different culture despite my South Asian migration background. By the time I started learning Hindi – not only to make communication easier, but also because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn a new language with native speakers – I had the feeling that all the prison staff and family friends were also taking me into their confidence.