Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Last year in 2019 I got my dream job. I had been involved with the charity Reach Out Volunteers (ROV) for a of couple years since I heard about their projects in my first year of university. I went on multiple projects with them during my undergrad and had been working towards my dream job of becoming an ambassador and team leader on the projects ever since. And last year that happened.
I was flown over to Nepal to lead groups of volunteers on our community project there. I flew in as the sun was setting and the whole sky was illuminated beautiful hues of pink, orange and purple above the clouds. I looked out my window and, in the distance, I could see mountain peaks and felt so many emotions starting to well up as I got my first view of the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. I was so ecstatic with the fact that this was my job, that I had the opportunity to explore this beautiful country and take groups of volunteers along for the ride.
I had about four days to acquaint myself with the area and learn about the project I was leading before my first group of volunteers arrived. It can often be overwhelming arriving in a new country, especially in an exceptionally busy city like Kathmandu where motorbikes and cars overwhelm the tiny streets, zooming everywhere, unencumbered by your presence on the street as well. There is always the hassle of persistent street vendors trying to make a living selling everything from hiking gear and Nepal themed souvenirs, to beautifully intricate artworks, to books, to tiger balm (supposedly an ointment to cure all ailments), to every little trinket you could think of, lined along the uneven and broken sidewalks that had crumbled from the great earthquake that shook the city just a few years ago. The city was still recovering and rebuilding from the event, which you could see from the number of toppled buildings and rubble, along with cracked footpaths and roads. Despite this, it was still a beautiful and vibrant city, adorned with colourful prayer flags around every corner.
I was nervous for my first group of volunteers to arrive. I would be in charge of everything, including getting them to and from the work site safely and on time, being their tour guide, organising dinners and activities, being their friend and the Mumma of the group. At only 22 years old and below average height, it can often be difficult to be authoritative. I was also nervous for my first group of only five girls. What if they didn’t get along? What if they didn’t like me? What if they didn’t think I was fit to be team leader? But all my worries faded away when I met them as they were the loveliest and most genuine group of girls I’d ever met. (Also, thankfully I still had my boss there for the first few days to make sure I was doing okay and guiding me through the job).
So, as this was a volunteer project for a charity to help the local community, the main aspect of the project was building new classrooms for a school run by a Buddhist monk. The school was nuzzled into a steep hillside overlooking the city, which on a clear day, you could see most of the city and surrounding mountains. They had been affected by the recent earthquakes and a number of kids often stayed at the school during the school year, so their current classrooms doubled as their sleeping quarters. The kids would drag their mattresses off of their beds and onto the ground to study, which was extremely unhygienic as they would be tracking in dirt all day and be extremely cramped for space. Therefore, we were building them new classrooms so that they had somewhere separate to sleep and to study and hence provide a much better learning environment for these kids to thrive and have bright futures. Now, I don’t know about you, but before I did a ROV project, I had never built anything before in my life and had absolutely no construction experience. Which is the case for majority of our volunteers. So, to help guide our volunteers and support the community, we employ local labourers to show us the ropes and ensure we don’t get wonky walls. I had three different groups come through and by the end of the program we finished off the previous classroom that had been built by the last round of volunteers and got three quarters of the way through a second classroom.
When you think of Nepal you probably think of mountains, snow and cold (that’s definitely what I thought before I went). But during the summer, especially in the city, it gets stinking hot! Particularly when you’re on a work site in the sun doing heavy lifting of bricks and cement and climbing up and down a mountainside to bring supplies down to where we were working. This is where my job is imperative. It’s my job to ensure people aren’t getting overworked, are having sufficient breaks and upkeep morale to keep the work fun. This involves singing along terribly to all the songs we have blaring, telling jokes and providing lollies (or candy for y’all Americans). And the best part of the day is of course after lunch when we get to play with all the kids! Games of soccer, chasey, piggybacks and if you bring your phone along – Snapchat! The kids absolutely lose it over all the funny filters and having their photos taken, because obviously they don’t have access to this kind of thing otherwise. Now I am not a kid person, like at all, but my god these kids are the cutest little things ever and I will never get over seeing their faces light up when we arrive and hearing their laughs! As I got to spend the most time with them, coming back each week so they started to remember me, and it was the saddest day when I left for the final week. The kids on project will always have a special place in my heart, often being a highlight of the trip being able to see firsthand the positive impact we were having on them and their community, to be able to provide them with a safe learning environment and bright futures.
Of course, when you go to Nepal you can’t leave without doing some hiking and seeing the Himalayan mountains! Now, I had never done a multi-day hike before in my life but by the end of my time in Nepal I had completed five weeks of hiking (not consecutively) with an accumulative altitude of over 15,000 metres which is almost double the height of Mount Everest! With each group that came through I hiked with them on a trek called Poon Hill (yes, you can imagine all the jokes along the way), which has an altitude of 3210 metres. This hike is filled with literal highs and lows, but so man