The Children of Lura, Nepal

By the children of Lura, Nepal….

On the last day of our community project, we spent the morning playing with the children at Manju Shree Primary School. They loved having their photos taken and were fascinated by my camera so I slung the camera around the first child’s neck, showed him how to push the button to take a photo and let him go. And then child after child after child.

These are the photos they took of their friends crowding around to have their photos taken. They’re better than mine! Enjoy the slideshow.

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It Takes A Village

“It takes a whole village to raise a child.” ~ Nigerian proverb

Manju Shree Primary School students

Manju Shree Primary School students

The village may be physically located in a poor area of Nepal but the residents now include people from Australia, New Zealand and Scotland.

I’ve just recently returned from a Community Project trip to Nepal with World Expeditions. It was an opportunity to help in the post-earthquake rebuilding of one small corner of Nepal unlikely to receive government help.

Seven Aussies, one Kiwi and a couple of resident Scots (actually, Sheila is Irish and John is English but they live in Aberdeen) dug, picked, shovelled, carried, hammered, pulled, shaped, bent, chipped, cut and ran their hearts out for nine whole days to provide a solid foundation to a new school building in the village of Lura, Lower Solukhumbu, Nepal.

The Lura School Project Team - Sheila, Emma, Pic, Jenny, John, Simon, David, Heather, Judy & Carolyn.

The Lura School Project Team – Sheila, Emma, Pic, Jenny, John, Simon, David, Heather, Judy & Carolyn.

 

An Experience in Gratitude:

For the warm welcome we received from the school and wider community.

For sunny days and the satisfaction of hard work.

For the things we take for granted back home.

Like a truck full of gravel.

Or a cement mixer.

Or a wheelbarrow.

Or for the easy availability of supplies.

For the smiles and fun of children.

For new friendships.

New friends - Project members and school teachers

New friends – Project members and school teachers

For the fulfillment of achieving more than expected.

Solid foundations

Solid foundations

A Story

Based on my previous Community Project experience, I was expecting a lack of access to electricity and mobile phone reception while working in the village so imagine my surprise to have access to both of these luxuries. (What I hadn’t counted on and much worse was the lack of access to chocolate. Tough days…)

Our trekking crew successfully jerry-rigged a powerboard and electric light in the dining tent, feeding off a line from a nearby house.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. As were we. I’m getting to that.

One night, Sheila asked our guide the question that had been on all our minds. “Shouldn’t we pay someone for the electricity?”

Bikash shook his head and explained. “Everyone in this village is so grateful you are here. They are so thankful that you have come to help them. They ask all the time, ‘What can we do? What can we offer them?’ They want to do whatever they can to say thank you for what you are doing.”

There was silence around the table. I think all of us were deeply moved and felt both proud and humbled. The people of Lura have so little and we were the ones to be thankful for the opportunity to do such a simple thing to help them.

Changing the World

In a physical sense, we have changed the world of the community of Lura and the children of Manju Shree Primary School, helping them on their way to a new and sturdy school building.

More importantly, however, our own worlds have changed in ways we are still discovering. We may never see our lives in quite the same light again. And a part of us will always be living in a small village in Nepal.

 

 

 

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Going Off The Air

NEWSFLASH: MASTER OF SOMETHING I’M YET TO DISCOVER WILL GO OFF THE AIR FOR FOUR WEEKS

The MOSY Network apologises for this break in transmission. We will resume regular broadcasting at the end of November. In the meantime, reruns are available via our Blog-Post-On-Demand service. (The BPOD service can be accessed via the ‘The Old Trades’ dropdown box.)

Image courtesy World Expeditions

Image courtesy of World Expeditions

The Background Story

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I will board a Flying Metal Bird for parts unknown. Well, unknown to me. I’ll be gone four weeks – three in Nepal and one in Bhutan.

I will not be gracing the blogosphere for much of the journey (if at all). For the ten days I will spend in the village of Lura followed by the six days of trekking in the Lower Solukhumbu region, I anticipate a lack of access to electricity. Forget about internet. The week in Bhutan will be on a more civilised standing (in that I’ll be sleeping in a bed rather than on the ground and the toilet won’t be a hole in the ground) but I suspect I will have better things to do with my time than surf the WordPress wave (no offence).

Lura, Nepal

Here’s where I’ll be working for ten days with nine others from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to help rebuild the village school:

(All images courtesy of World Expeditions)

Lura Talk 1

Lura Talk 2

Lura Talk 3

Lura Talk 4

Lura Talk 5

The school has been demolished and work has begun on the new building. The first group from World Expeditions has already started on the foundations and we will pick up where they leave off and groups will come after us to continue the work until it is done.

Bhutan

Bhutan? Well, that’s just for me. It’s been top of my bucket list for years so when The Husband told me to take more time if there was something else I wanted to do while I was in the area, I took him seriously. Called “The Essence of Bhutan” this private tour will be just a taste of this fascinating country. It’s not private by choice but no one else booked for that date. I will have my own one-on-one guide and driver for the eight days I am there. Introvert Me is hunched in the corner breathing into a paper bag.

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I am nervously excited for the adventure ahead. Traveller Me can’t wait to get there but Shy Me – whom I usually manage to keep busy in the kitchen during parties – keeps sticking her head out the door with questions like, “What if they don’t like you?”. I’m trying to ignore her.

See you all on the other side.

NOTE: If you can’t wait four weeks, fairly regular updates on the project are available here. You might even be able to spot me in a photograph if you’re really lucky.

 

 

 

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Voluntourism – Helpful Aid Or Just A Warm Fuzzie?

(Source: Google images)

There has been something of an explosion in the travel industry of a new form of travel dubbed “voluntourism”. Part community service, part holiday, participants agree to help out as volunteers as part of their holiday package. The range of opportunities on offer and the number of companies getting in on the action has expanded dramatically over the last ten years.

But is it a good thing?

Most of us would react positively to the idea of helping our fellow members of the human race in some capacity and if we can combine it with a holiday, all the better. And the community we work in benefits from our efforts. It’s a win-win, right?

Except that not all volunteering is created equal. Some offerings are more about providing that “warm fuzzie” moment for the traveller than of providing any lasting benefit to the recipient. Spending a week playing with orphans in Africa may make you feel good but what does it do to the children if you bond with them and then disappear forever?

“But surely they would be grateful for whatever we offered?” Someone actually said that to me once when I was voicing my concerns about some voluntourism organisations.

If my local childcare centre announced they were getting in a bunch of twenty-somethings from overseas to play with the children and that a different group would turn up each week, there would be an outcry. “Who are these people?” we would ask. “What checks have there been to guarantee my child’s safety?” we would demand. “It can’t be good for the children to have such a high turnover of carers,” we would mutter.

So if it’s not good enough for us, why must it be good enough for the poor?

It is also an industry open to exploitation. Cambodia, for example, has seen a massive increase in the number of orphanages being established in the last ten years despite there being no real reason for an increase in orphaned children. Foreigners seeking volunteer opportunities in Cambodia – and willing to pay large sums for the privilege – are actually fuelling the establishment of ‘orphanages’ that are often filled with children who are not orphans. There are no checks and balances and the money often doesn’t go to the care of the children. (Reference)

I am not against voluntourism. In fact, I am a participant myself. In 2009, I travelled to Peru as part of a World Expeditions Community Project. You can read about the experience here.

The bridge we built. (It’s concrete. That’s just the wooden frame.)

I did my research. I read extensively about the pros and cons, what to look for in an organisation, what to avoid and I must have read the prospectus of almost every company offering volunteer opportunities at the time. I was clear on what an organisation should be offering and what was most likely to be beneficial.

Interested in voluntourism? Here’s what to look for:

◊ Is the company offering the project a reputable, well-established company? Check out what they are about, what their beliefs are and how they rank on ethical tourism standards.

◊ Has the project been established in consultation with the local community? In other words, will you be working on something that the community actually needs and wants?

◊ Is the project of lasting benefit? Playing with orphans may make you feel good but what lasting benefit does it provide to the children? Better projects involve building or renovating something the community needs such as a school or community building, sanitation, etc.

◊ Is the project sustainable? In my research, I came across the story of an organisation that built a school for a village. When they visited the following year, the building was being used to house animals. There was no point in building a school for a community that didn’t have the money for furniture, books or the wages of a teacher. So choose a project that does not have ongoing costs and can stand alone once finished. Otherwise, check that the organisation is continuing to support the community to provide what is needed to sustain the project.

◊ Does the project employ local people? The last thing you want to do is take jobs away from other people. Check that the project has employed a local foreman and/or employs local trades people. It’s okay to be the grunt or muscle to get a job done.

◊ Where is your money going? Make sure you are clear on what you are paying for and where the money is allocated.

I would recommend a volunteering trip to anyone, if chosen carefully. It had an enormous impact on my life and is an experience I will never forget. Just make sure you are providing helpful aid to the community and not just a warm fuzzie to yourself.

In October, I will be participating in another World Expeditions Community Project. As part of their Rebuild Nepal program, I will spend ten days in the village of Lura with a team of volunteers and local people working to rebuild the local school that was damaged in the earthquake last April. More information here.

 

 

 

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