Tours and treks regularly circuit the far-flung areas of Nepal; their popularity is, in part, due to the astounding scenery, cultural diversity and the warm hospitality of Nepal’s rural people. Unfortunately, these remote places and the people who call them home have seen very little of the dividend from tourism. Today, though, at least one local organisation is currently trying to change all that.
Outdoor Himalayan Treks (OHT), the whl.travel local connection in Nepal, seeks to share the benefits of travel at a grassroots level. OHT is equally conscious of the value of sustainable tourism, especially the need to protect the physical environment, the culture and history of the diverse people living in Nepal. In addition to managing hotel, tour and activity bookings, OHT therefore now works to coordinate volunteer services targeting Nepal’s poor and disadvantaged, including the three described below.
Volunteering at a Children Rehabilitation Centre
OHT has been supporting the Orphan & Street Children Rehabilitation Centre in Kathmandu, an orphanage that presently cares for more than two dozen disadvantaged kids with a view to enabling them to build bright, promising and productive futures.
Volunteering for the orphanage means nurturing these young lives – a truly worthwhile and rewarding experience. Travellers can participate in daily routines, including assisting with educational programs, helping in the kitchen or even washing clothes. Many also help with homework assignments, project work or extracurricular activities.
The centre has a basic standard guestroom in which a volunteer can stay as a paying guest during the volunteer period. This is money that would otherwise be spent on accommodation in a budget hotel (roughly US$15 per day) and includes all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) provided by the centre.
Volunteering in Dhuwakot Village
Other volunteer opportunities await visitors in the village of Dhuwakot. In this remote community populated by different castes like the Damai, Kami, Gurung, Magar, Saha, Newar, Tamang and Brahman, the rural people eke out a meagre living from traditional agriculture. Many barely make enough to eat, a problem felt most acutely by the Damai and Kami, considered untouchables by the Hindu caste system.
The development of the village has been hampered by political instability, mainly due to 11 years (1996-2006) of armed conflict that severely slowed rural development. During that period, most of the youth joined armed forces and many more lost their lives; since the end of the fighting, little has been done to improve the living standard of the villagers or to build necessary infrastructure. The employment rate is so low that many young men are compelled to accept any jobs they can secure in neighbouring India.
An education in these communities means a lot as most children are obliged to work alongside their parents instead of going to school. With some castes (Tamang, Newar, Gurung and Magars), older generation too are generally uneducated; their overriding concerns are to make ends meet. The schools and medical facilities in such areas are also grossly understaffed.
Travellers can contribute to this village community in a variety of ways. English teachers are needed at Saraswati Higher Secondary School, the largest local institution with over 1,000 students but very few English instructors. During holidays, volunteers can also conduct special classes for weaker students. Healthcare workers can support the village health post whose small team is overwhelmed by needs of the 4,000-strong village population.
Dhuwakot is in the Dhading District, west of Kathmandu. In the monsoon season it is accessible only by a four-hour drive from Kathmandu to Dhading Besi, the district headquarters of Dhading District, and a further four- to five-hour walk. At all other times there is a direct bus between Dhuwakot and Kathmandu.
OHT coordinates with the local communities to help interested volunteers find the right place and time for working in Dhuwakot. Volunteers stay in a local home and eat local food prepared by the host family, gaining real insight into their culture. Guests may pay a nominal amount to cover their living expenses or, instead, assist the family in their daily work, which often includes farm chores or tending livestock. The small efforts of travellers can be instrumental in bringing about positive changes in the village.
Volunteering in Collaboration with the Accolade Welfare Foundation
OHT has found a new like-minded partner in its quest to link foreign volunteers with indigent communities in Nepal: a non-profit, nongovernmental organisation named Accolade Welfare Foundation. The foundation invites volunteers to provide knowledge and resources to local rural communities in Nepal, to protect and promote their culture and rights, and create cross-cultural experiences among people of different ages, communities and nationalities. Volunteers are provided with homestay facilities and get to experience the traditional way of life and enjoy the local hospitality.
At present the foundation works with more than 50 consortia and partners in rural areas. In some places, community-based schools require knowledgeable volunteers to teach a variety of subjects, including math, science and computing. In others, training in Participatory Monitoring Evaluation and the Montessori method is desired, as are experts in small-scale community-oriented proposal/report writing, IT, disaster management, alternative energy, irrigation, sanitation, health and hygiene.