Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happy Christmas! End of year update from PoD

Hello everyone and Happy Christmas!

2011 has been a busy and interesting old year for us at PoD Nepal.  We’ve seen many volunteers come and go – we’ve even had a couple returning for a second run!  Our programme has expanded to support three new wonderfully worthwhile projects and our PoD Charity is now running fantastically well.  So, I thought that it would be nice to round off the year with a summary of all we have achieved and to acknowledge those who made it happen. 

This year saw the launch of our PoD Charity, a channel through which volunteers’ donations are managed, distributed and tracked.   All donations are collected up into one big ‘pot’ and allocated across projects on a need by need basis.  We are now in the fantastic position of being able to offer all of our projects an equal opportunity to access funds and resources.  Suggestions on where money should be spent are collected from PoD staff, volunteers and placement staff, with the final decision being made by our Board of Trustees in the UK.  So far, we have raised £2,694.34 and distributed approximately £2,154.94 across 6 projects.  The rest will remain in the ‘pot’ until such time as it is needed.  You can see exactly where this money has been spent in the individual placement summaries below, photos here and you can find out more about PoD Charity here

Annurpurna Primary School
Kids at APS enjoying their picnic
Annurpurna Primary School is one of our longest standing placements.  It is a small, government school in Lakeside with a warm and welcoming atmosphere, but very little in the way of resources or organisation.  Our volunteers have contributed significantly to establishing a more structured routine at the school and have introduced various new teaching methods and resources to lessons. Perhaps our most notable contribution would be the introduction of free school meals for every child.  This practice developed after Susan Skene, our volunteer back in November 2010, started to bring healthy snacks for the children every day.  The school ran with this idea and now has a fully functioning kitchen that provides hot meals for the children every day.

PoD Charity contributes towards the cost of daily meals and has bought a new cushioned carpet for the nursery class, whiteboards for each classroom, chairs for the staffroom and partially sponsored a full school picnic.

Shree Krishna School 
Another long standing placement, Shree Krishna School is a large, wonderfully chaotic government school in Lakeside.  Our volunteers have made a vast range of contributions here, running a summer school, providing extra tuition and generally offering their time, ideas and suggestions.   A real highlight here was the introduction of practical science lessons by Marilyn Watts in September.  Marilyn blew the minds of students and staff alike by closing the textbook and shunning theory and diagrams in favour of real life examples of acids and alkalines and examining various objects under her mini-microscope.  Staff have since picked up on her methods and are now often found giving practical lessons of their own, hurrah!

PoD Charity has funded a new drinking water tank, money towards furnishing three new classrooms and whiteboards for every class.  

Street Kids’ Centre
Handing over donations to Street Kids
Yet another well established PoD placement is the Street Kids’ Centre.  This centre offers housing and support to abandoned or orphaned children, and does a fantastic job at it!  The whole PoD team visits the centre on a weekly basis, running arts, crafts and play sessions, but we have also had a few full time volunteers at the centre who given extra tuition and support to new arrivals who are waiting for school places.  Our volunteers also ran a highly popular summer school at the centre, giving the children a chance to catch up on key concepts that they may have missed because of previously disrupted schooling.

PoD Charity has given every child a brand new top, jeans, belts and shoes, funded food for the centre for one month, sponsored their Dashain meal (Dashain is the major festival here, celebrated on the scale of Christmas back home), provided toothbrushes and toothpaste for every child and new linen for every bed.

The Asha Foundation
Suroj receiving a guitar on behalf of the Asha Foundation
The introduction of weekly sessions at the Asha Foundationhas to be one of the more notable changes in PoD Nepal’s work this year.  We all head out together to the orphanage on a Friday afternoon running arts, crafts, music and play sessions with the children.  This has not only been great for our own team building, but gives the children the chance to get much needed one-to-one interaction with adults.

The Asha Foundation recently moved into a new, custom built home, but unfortunately the move was made way before the building was completed.  Consequently, the children have been sleeping in bedrooms with no windows or doors, leaving them very cold at night.  PoD Charity has funded the making and installation of windows and doors in all 4 bedrooms, meaning everyone gets a warm and secure night’s sleep.  We also provided a guitar to be used by all of the children.

Ward 6 Day Care Centre
Kids receiving their toy box
This centre provides childcare for around 40 pre-school children from low income families. Our volunteers play a crucial role in supporting staff in their day to day activities and generally helping to control and pacify the hoards of tots in their care!  Our biggest impact here this year has to be the hygiene drive initiated by Alice Seale back in May.  Alice set about encouraging staff to make sure that they and the children washed their hands after using the toilet and before every meal.  This ran well for the time that Alice was at the centre and when subsequent volunteers have arrived brandishing a bar of Dettol soap everyone certainly seemed to know what to do.  We aren’t quite at the stage whereby staff are doing this of their own accord, but we’re getting there! 

PoD Charity have donated a new toy box to the centre crammed full of interactive books, etch-a-sketches, big Lego blocks, balls, alphabet jigsaws and many more goodies that went down very, very well.  The idea is that these toys will give them the stimulation they need to develop motor and cognitive skills and some fun in the process!

Spinal Cord Injury Association Nepal (SCIAN)
Anju, ready to restart her studies
SCIAN, the first of our new placements this year, is a well established organisation working to promote the independence and wellbeing of people with disabilities in Nepal.  Our volunteers mainly provide social support for SCIAN’s clients, visiting them at home and accompanying them on trips out.  This service is of real benefit to people who are often find themselves stigmatised and ostracised from mainstream society.  SCIAN clients also benefited from Aine and Sam, two qualified Occupational Therapists who spent three weeks visiting and assessing clients, then funding, designing and building equipment to help them in their day to lives.  

PoD Charity sponsored Anju, one of SCIAN’s younger clients, back into full time education.  The money we gave her covered the cost of registration, books and uniform.  

Shree Bhalam Primary School
Louise with students at staff at Bhalam
Another of our new placements this year, Shree Bhalam Primary School is a small government school in Bhalam village, just outside of Pokhara.  We have had just one volunteer at the school so far, but Louise made such a fantastic impression there that the village and school are desperately waiting for the next one - so sign up and join us!  Louise not only taught the children, but also mentored teachers and ran a great teacher training session emphasising the importance of interactive classes and using teaching resources.  We donated a whole stack of teaching resources to the school and left them with the ideas and materials necessary for them to make their 

SOS Bahini
We have also just started to work with SOS Bahini, a local organisation serving women and girls at risk (Bahini means ‘little sister’ in Nepali).  The organisation is well established and receives international funding, so our input here is minimal but significant.  We provide weekly conversational English classes for the girls supporting them in learning, using and developing English skills.  We were also able to provide the girls with some fun dance classes, courtesy of Nishma.  After putting in long hours at school all day, Nishma would head off to SOS Bahini and spend much time and energy teaching the girls various dances and having lots of fun!

Shree Dipya Jyoti Primary School
Liz teaching kids at Dipya Jyoti
The newest of all of our placements, Shree Dipya Jyoti is a small, local government school on the outskirts of Pokhara.  So far, we have had three volunteers at the school who have made a great impression, leaving staff desperate for more PoD folk to join them!  Volunteers here are well supported by the school’s English teacher, Dev Laxmi, who accompanies their classes, take notes on their teaching methods and relays these back to other teachers in the staff room.

Unfortunately, Shree Dipya Jyoti entered our programme too late for our latest round of donations, but they did benefit from a new school library shelf, kindly donated by Liz and Abby.  They bought the shelf and books and then taught the children how to use a library, signing books in and out and taking care of them.  

And that’s about it as far as placement updates are concerned.  Many thanks to Abby Holder, Gemma Lay, Marilyn Watts, Thomas Kneen, Kate Hughes and Rachel Savage who have fundraised for PoD Charity and made it possible for us to distribute funds and resources to those in need.

PoD Band playing at the Silk Road
Finally, a HUGE thank you to all of our hardworking volunteers this year.  Our community has benefited from the skills, knowledge and time of 32 volunteers, including our youngest ever volunteer, our first health volunteers, our own PoD Band and even our first PoD romance (hats on standby for a PoD wedding...)!  Our volunteers have given their time to street kids, disabled people, orphaned children, underprivileged schools, village schools, women and girls at risk and deprived pre-school tots.  Their achievements have been many and varied; running teacher training sessions in the village, securing a disabled, housebound gentleman a place on a rehabilitation programme, getting the withdrawn newcomer at the Street Kids’ Centre to join in and enjoy the group activity, getting the shy child at the back of the class to put their hand up and answer a question.  They have worked so hard to improve the lives of those around them and, in return they got to experience and become a part of a wonderful community.  They learned about Nepali culture through all manner of firsthand experiences, celebrated many festivals, explored the mountains, jungles and towns on foot, on elephants, by river and in the air and made lots of new friends on the way.  The highlights of each individual are just too many to list, but the one thing they have in common is that they have all, without exception, been brilliant ambassadors for PoD and international volunteers in general.    We have enjoyed each and every one of our super volunteers.  We, and those we serve, have truly valued and appreciated the contribution they have made, so THANK YOU!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winter in Nepal

Hello, Namaste, from a very wintery Pokhara.  There has been a sudden change in seasons since I last wrote.  We are now all bundled up in silly hats, blankets and fleece socks, huddling around fires and drinking tea and hot chocolate by the gallon.  There have been a few crisp and clear days where we have had great mountain views, but we have had more than our fair share of cloudy, rainy days too.  We are blaming our new arrivals Mandy and Amber for bringing this from the UK but we don’t really mind because they are working hard and making a great contribution to our projects and our team.  

Aine and Sam with Didi and her new, custom made splint
So, to work.  We have had to say goodbye to Aine and Sam which was hard for us but even harder for their clients.  These two have made SUCH a difference to the lives of those they have been working with.  After distributing all of their equipment to their clients they successfully referred a gentleman to a rehabilitation clinic when he had been previously written off as having no rehab potential.  Massively life changing stuff.  Despite being an overall success story, things didn’t always run smoothly for them.  We particularly enjoyed their story of their client who wasn’t home when they arrived for their appointment to fit her into the arm splint that they had custom made for her.  Their client’s sister gestured for them to sit down to wait for her to return, so they did.  They waited and waited and waited and then finally asked the sister when their client was expected back; ‘two years’ came the reply.   Needless to say, our volunteers opted out of the long wait and left the splint with her family...A wonderfully Nepali experience!

Connor and Niroj all painted and ready to limbo!
Mel and Connor have been having fun at the Street Kids’ Centre.  There have been a few new arrivals there which has been a little challenging for everyone, but they seem to be getting on well enough.  Mel raised a huge smile from one little boy simply by helping him to make a paper spider.  We had a great evening there during our team visit.  Abby and Liz revealed their artistic sides by face painting all of the children and before we knew it we were surrounded by ghouls, pirates and butterflies.  The excitement of this did set the children a little wild so we tried to reign them in with some super active high jumping, limbo games and skipping.  Luckily we didn’t have the task of getting them to bed later on!

Annupurna Primary School have had some big changes this week.  A Dutch donor arrived and set up a kitchen at the school and gave some money towards funding school lunches.  Following this visit the teachers seem to have been kick started into action and have been really pro-active in running classes throughout the day.  We aren’t sure if the two events are connected, but either way they are both positive and we are hopeful that they continue!

Class 5 learning how to run their new library
We had another goodbye with Abby this week which made us a little sad.  Her placement, Shree Dipya Jyoti Primary School had a wonderful leaving party for her.  All of the staff, management committee and local donors were invited to a ceremony in which she was decorated with tika and flower garlands and given a lovely Buddha statue in a glass case.  The school has really appreciated the input of our volunteers there, teachers are sitting in on their classes and taking notes to try to learn and implement their methods.  Our volunteers have also started a library at the school.  They arranged for a bookshelf to be made, stocked it with books and appointed library monitors from Class 5.  Staff have already added to the library and the kids are enjoying the benefits of having access to books and the responsibility of being in charge of their own resources.

Ward 6 have had a change in volunteers.  Jacqui left us for a trek through the Himalayas just as Mandy arrived so we had a nice and seamless transition there.  Mandy has used her first few days to find her feet and work out how she can enhance the hard work done by staff at the centre.  She took in some wool to teach the children to hand crochet which went down very well, the staff even joined in too!

Aside from our teaching our volunteers have been having lots of adventures in and around Lakeside.  Sarah finally got her paragliding flight after 3 failed attempts, Liz, Sam, Abby and Jacqui enjoyed the hilltop town of Bandipur, Mel fulfilled a lifelong dream of bathing and elephant at Chitwan and Mandy has been soaking up the atmosphere of the higgledy piggledy streets of Old Pokhara.  Good times indeed!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Diwalli!

Hello, it’s Philippa back again this week.  Firstly, I want to send a big thanks to Liz for writing last week’s blog!  OK, so I know I generally start these blogs telling you that we have all been super busy and working hard, but never has it been so true as this week.  Our team is growing and growing.  We now have 9 volunteers, including our youngest ever, Connor aged 7.  All are doing fab work, as you can read below...

Limbo at the Asha Foundation
Our Occupational Therapist, Aine, has been joined by her friend Sam, also an Occupational Therapist from back home.  The three of us went to meet Mr Hari Krishna, the founder of SCIAN to find out how they could be of help.  Our meeting with him, under a big tree and surrounded by chickens, ducks and cows, was most productive.  Apart from being useful in terms of planning the ladies’ placement, it also opened our eyes to the issues facing disabled people in Nepal.  People are dying from relatively minor causes, such as untreated bedsores.  There is little understanding or funding to support disabled people and a high level of stigma and discrimination that makes it difficult for disabled people to be part of their community. 

Aine and Sam have risen to the challenge of serving this group magnificently.  Undaunted by the lack of equipment available in Nepal, they are making their own.  They have been spending lots of time in the workshop of a local carpenter, using his equipment and expertise to help them make bed levers, sliding boards and cushions to relieve pressure sores.  To say they have been welcomed into the carpenters family would be an understatement – adopted would be more accurate!  Aine was part of the family’s Tihar celebrations and has been invited for tea, boat trips and all sorts of other exciting things.

Nishma is in her last week at Shree Krishna school.  She has really stepped up to the challenging conditions there, managing large classes by herself and not getting worn out by the constant chaos going on around her.  She has been joined for the past few weeks by Sarah whose placement at Annupurna Primary School has been on hold as they gave themselves an extra three weeks holiday, but is due to re-open this week.  I think it’s fair to say that whilst Sarah has enjoyed Shree Krishna, she is very much looking forward to getting back to her old class at Annurpurna!

Nishma has also been hard at work at SOS Bahini, teaching the girls dance and helping them to prepare for their Tihar celebration.  TIhar is the second biggest festival in the Nepali calendar and seems to be a nocturnal festival; in the day time you would be hard pressed to realise anything was going on, but in the night time, the town erupts with bright colours, twinkling lights and fantastic dancing. 

Every home and workplace paints pictures outside their doorway and builds a lamplit path into the centre of their home to encourage Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, in in the hope that she brings them good fortune all year around.  Fairy lights are put up everywhere and troupes of dancers parade up and down the streets, wheeling their hi-tech sound systems around on rickety old wooden carts.  Definitely my favourite festival in Nepal.

But, back to work.  Liz and Abby have been our first volunteers at Shree Dipya Jyoti Primary School and have been making an amazing impression.  I received a text from Dev Laxmi, the English teacher at the school, telling me how much she, the staff and pupils are enjoying the teaching methods our volunteers use.  It’s really exciting for us to be able to support a new placement with real needs.  The children here are all from really poor backgrounds and have little in the way of comfort and opportunity in their lives.  The school has recently started to receive financial and practical support from a local businessman who has taken the school under his wing and arranged for his business contacts all over the world to sponsor various contributions to the school. So far the school has had a complete makeover, new toilets, uniforms and – of course!  - they have been introduced to our super volunteers.  Next on the list is to get a system of school dinners in place as most of the children only currently get one meal a day at home, in the evening time.

Jacqui has been braving the disorder at Ward 6 and getting involved with playtimes, meal times, reading times...basically all times!  As fun and rewarding as this placement is, it can also be super challenging.  The children are very young and expected to spend long periods of time sitting in a circle learning by rote and this is often difficult for our volunteers to stand by and watch.  However, we appreciate that young children need a routine and as such we can’t expect to go in and change this whenever a new volunteer comes along.  That said, volunteers do definitely make many other positive contributions.  Children and staff benefit from the English language practice, we raise awareness of hygiene issues, contribute to the development of teaching and learning practices through the examples we set.  We just need to appreciate that immediate changes and improvements are rare, instead we are proud to be part of a much longer term process that will make a lasting difference.

Last but not least, we come to the Street Kids.  We have had a few visits with them lately, shopping for new clothes, celebrating Tihar and generally having a lovely time.  We went together yesterday to introduce Mel and Connor to them, as this is where they will be working.  Mel will be using her teaching skills to provide one on one support to one of the centre’s newest arrivals who is yet to start school.  This should hopefully give him the leg up he needs to join in with and excel in classes once a school place is found for him.  Connor is going to be helping out by teaching the boys some English games and sports and will be learning a lot about life for Nepali children in the process. 

Music time at the Street Kids
Connor is taking his responsibilities seriously and got stuck right in to playing and sharing ideas with the boys there whilst the rest of us shared sweets and gossip with the staff.  He quickly made a bond with Niroj, a 13 year old boy who wrestled with him, taught him some break dancing moves and gave him piggy back after piggy back all over the place.  In return Connor gave a quick yoga demonstration which initially confused Niroj who didn’t seem to understand why this  previously bouncing boy suddenly plonked himself down and started to chant ‘om’.  But, he caught on pretty quickly, tried to get himself in a similar position and promptly let out a very big fart.  This sent him flying into his room in embarrassment and gave everyone else a good laugh.  Some things really are universally understood!

In between all of this work and festivities, we have also found time to make the most of our free time to celebrate Sarah’s birthday with a delicious birthday cake made by the SOS Bahini Cafe, another visit to Bandipur, some boating on the lake, paragliding, singing at the Silk Road, some mini golf and lots and lots of visits to various restaurants around town.  Don’t you think you should come and join us? 

If you are interested in joining our team in Nepal, contact Becky in the UK.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Guest Speaker!

Hello there everyone.  So, we have a special guest for you this week, our new(ish) volunteer Liz has written our latest blog to give you guys a taste of PoD life from a real life volunteer!  I'll stop babbling now, and hand you over to Liz...(apologies for the lack of photos, Nepali internet isn't co-operating today! I will try to upload some another time).

I'm a guest writer for the blog and will give you an update from the volunteers perspective.  I arrived last week and was very glad to get to Pokhara, be met by Philippa and settle into Castle Hotel.  Castle Hotel (Bindu's place) is a really lovely place to stay and there is a great atmosphere.  Bindu and her daughters are so friendly and we each have our own rooms with en suite facilities. The Restoration Church is in the same grounds as the hotel and last Saturday Aine played (on the guitar) and sang "Amazing Grace" during the weekly service.  We were very impressed.  Another thing that many of us have been enjoying during the Dasain holidays is our language lessons.  Prem has been really enthusiatic and very patient in teaching us Nepalese and I am starting to find I can understand more now and have also started using a little bit.

Before the children returned to school we made the most of our time in Lakeside.  Myself, Jackie, Marilyn and Sarah got up at 5am for a sunrise trip to Sarangkot.  We weren't disappointed and were treated to spectacular panoramic views of the Himalayas.  It was incredible to watch as the sun rose and hit the mountains with the colours changing minute by minute.  Despite cloud in Lakeside it was a totally clear sky from our viewpoint.  Definitely a must see on a visit here.  Another treat has been the Castle Resort Hotel which is a steady climb up a hill at the north end of Lakeside.  Sarah spotted a monkey on route.  We have all now spent a day up there relaxing by the pool and enjoying a swim.  
As it has been the holidays there is less to report on the placement front but after Reta left Jackie arrived and is getting stuck in at Ward 6 this week.  Sarah is teaching as Shree Krishna now until Annapurna opens again later this month. Nishma has been teaching Bollywood dancing at the SOS Bahini which is proving a real success.  Aine had some positive appointments at the beginning of the week and has set the ball rolling for further support next month when she returns with Sam.  She has found out where she can get wood and access to a workshop so we look forward to her becoming inspirational with wood.  Myself and Abby visited Shree Dipya Jyoti Primary School.  (The new school) It seems lovely with only a few children in each class.  They were very happy that we are coming to teach them and we are looking forward to beginning lessons next week. 
On Friday we visited the Asha Foundation Orphanage and enjoyed making and decorating fans with the children.  They have moved to a new location further up the hill as the previous rental expired.  The new location is not quite ready but they are living there anyway and awaiting electrical connection, bathroom and paint.  Hopefully we will see the place take shape over the next few weeks.  
This weekend we hired a boat to head out onto the lake for an hour.  Armed with 2 paddles we attempted to steer ourselves around but found we were often turning in circles.  Eventually getting the hang of it we drifted around the lake enjoying the peace and the view of the temple from the lake.

It's very busy over here and as we say goodbye to Marilyn this weekend myself, Jackie and Abby start our first full weeks on placement next week.  I'm sure there will be much more to add to the blog soon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

19 People, a Goat and a Jeep

This week’s title refers to the luxurious travel arrangements our volunteers found themselves in this week, but more of that later.  So, we have largely just been enjoying life lately.  This week was the climax of the Dashain festival so we have been joining in with the festivities and generally finding time to cram in all of the fun that Nepal has to offer.  Oh, and of course we have still been doing a little bit of work.

Aine's welcome to Lakeside
We have had two new team members arrive, Aine and Liz.  Aine narrowly missed out on one of the best arrivals in Lakeside ever.  When I arrived at the bus park to pick her up, the whole place had been decked out in bunting and banana trees to celebrate ‘World Tourism Day’.  As tourists stumbled off their busses after 7 hours of being jiggled and bounced around  on the road from Kathmandu, hoards of local hotel owner and businessmen rushed towards them to cover them in flower garlands and hand out gifts whilst being accompanied by traditional musicians.  Unfortunately, Aine’s bus was one of the last to arrive and so all flowers, gifts and enthusiasm had long gone and she just got me standing in a dusty bus park with flags flapping around the place.

Aine is an Occupational Therapist who is working with individuals with physical disabilities in the community and will be moving on to support SCIAN full time after the Dashain holidays.  The lack of services, systems and equipment is making her work here very challenging, but undaunted, Aine is simply setting off to buy wood, saws and all sorts of other things to design and build her own aides.  She certainly is a very inspirational and compassionate lady!  Liz is a qualified teacher from home who arrived on what is the equivalent of Christmas Eve here and so hasn’t started volunteering just yet, but it looks like she is going to be the first volunteer at our newest placement, Shree Dipya Jyoti Primary School.  This is a government school that is a bus ride out of Lakeside and has never had a volunteer before.  Exciting times!

Campfire songs whilst cooking their goat
We all headed off to the Street Kids’ Centre for our regular session there this week and made it just in time to see them slaughter their Dashain dinner.  Members of the committee, the house mum and four boys who had no family to visit over the holidays were at the centre with a very handsome goat.  Unfortunately for the goat, he had his head chopped off and was cleaned, filleted and cooked up within about an hour.  The rest of us, however, had a lovely celebration.  The committee provided us with some beer to drink and extremely fresh meat to eat so we ate, drank and enjoyed being included in the festivities.

Nishma and I have started sessions at SOS Bahini, (‘Bahini’ means ‘little sister’ in Nepali), a fantastic local organisation that we have just started to work with.  They work with disadvantaged and at risk women and girls from all over Nepal.  They provide accommodation, support, health care, education and training for their ladies in order to empower them to take control of their own lives, something that is often difficult in such a patriarchal society.  Our contribution to their great work is to offer conversational English classes to the girls in their final years at school.  The aim is that by getting the girls more comfortable with expressing themselves in English, they will stand a better chance at getting international scholarships to study in the future.  We are really excited and privileged to be able to work with this organisation and look forward to where this will take us and the girls.

Bandipur High Street
Other than that, work has been thin on the ground this week and so we have been finding other ways to keep ourselves busy.  There was a group trip to Bandipur, a stunningly beautiful hilltop town between Pokhara and Kathmandu, definitely somewhere that every volunteers should visit (this is where the packed jeep trip came in!).  Reta and Marilyn set off on a ‘Royal Trek’ and came back with some amazing stories and photos.  Nishma is still on a 5 day trek up to Poon Hill.  Sarah and Aine have been hiring bikes and cycling around the lake and to Zumba classes.  They have also been swatting up on their Nepali skills with classes at the Cosmic Brontosaurus and have been joined there by Liz who is keen to squeeze in as much learning as she can before heading off to work next week.  We had a street festival here with live concert, everyone went off to the Bat Caves and hiked up to the World Peace Pagoda for some stunning views of the Annupurna Mountain range.  Oh, and Aine has joined the church band and has been treating us to some wonderful music sessions at the Silk Road. Phew!  There was probably more going on, but I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

And that’s about it for this week.  We’re back to work from the middle of next week until the next big holiday at the end of October so will be sure to keep you updated.

If you would like to join our team and help with the good work we are doing in Nepal, please contact the UK office for more information on how to book.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Holidays are coming!

Hello there everyone, how are you?  So, as always we are all very happy here and have lots to share with you!  Firstly, our team is growing.  Reta and Marilyn have arrived, fitting in very nicely in the team and getting stuck right into work.  Reta is at Ward 6 taking care of the little ones and Marilyn has joined Nishma at Shree Krishna Secondary School. 

Sarah, Nishma and Reta planning their adventures!
We are starting to see the beginnings of the Dashain festival here, this is the major festival in Nepal where everything stops so everyone can travel home to visit their families.  We’re not quite at that stage just yet, but we have started to see cars, trucks, busses and motorbikes decorated with bright, colourful ribbons.  Schools will also close for Dashain so our volunteers are busy planning what to do with their hard earned time off.  Some of it will be spent visiting the children living in orphanages and some will be spent exploring Nepal.  Marilyn seems to be the adrenaline junkie of the group and is looking at white water rafting and trekking, Reta is planning on a jungle safari and everyone is heading to Bandipur, an amazingly beautiful hilltop town not so far from Pokhara.

But, school’s not out just yet and so we are still hard at work here.  Sarah has been getting on leaps and bounds at Annurpurna Primary School, putting her UK teaching skills and experience to the test!  I joined her for her first class when she introduced the idea of a weather board.  The children were asked to choose the weather symbol that best described the weather that day and stick it on the board.  They rightly chose ‘cloudy’ and fixed it in the right place, but as we were leaving class all of the children were crowding around the board and starting to take it down.  We marched back in telling them not to play with it and then had to retreat as they explained that the sun had now come out and so they were merely updating the board.  Fantastic initiative I feel!

Sarah has also introduced the concept of ‘phonics’ to APS, something that is not routinely taught in Nepali schools.  Children learn their ABC and learn how to spell and recognise certain words, but they struggle to read new words as they don’t know how to sound out what they are reading.  Not only is this improving the children’s reading skills, but the teachers and parents are also getting on board with it, sitting in on classes, taking notes and learning to read.  Hopefully, this is the start of a long lasting change for the children there.

Brotherly love at the Street Kids Centre
Our visits to the Street Kids’ just keep getting better and better.  Not only do the children behave marvellously well for us, but they are so nice with each other!  Always sharing and caring between themselves.  Really heart warming stuff.  We had a lovely session there making friendship bands.  We arrived armed with a ‘how to make friendship bracelets’ book and a few hours practice under our belt ready to teach them.  Turns out our efforts were unnecessary as all they needed was the thread and they were away churning out designs far more complex than anything we had planned!

We are having a week off from the Asha Foundation this week as it is exam time for them.  The older girls told us it was better they used Friday to study rather than play.  This met with some dissent from the younger ones, but they were overruled!

Shree Krishna Secondary School is delighted to have two volunteers at the moment.  Nishma is starting to get her own classes to teach and seems to be in high demand – children come searching for her and request her to teach them!  Marilyn is also working here now and is specialising in science.  Until now, children and staff learn and teach science from the textbook.  Marilyn has been astounding her charges with practical demonstrations and experiments and really igniting an interest in science.

Last but not least, Reta has been doing fantastically well at Ward 6.  She is an absolute trooper untroubled by the temper tantrums, the sickness and general chaos surrounding her.  She is carrying on with our mission to get the centre a little more hygienic by making sure all hands are washed prior to eating and after the toilet.  Her laid back, no nonsense manner is just what’s needed here.

Momo Chefs Nishma and Marilyn
In other news, we are all now very pleased to call ourselves momo chefs.  We spent a highly enjoyable afternoon at the Silk Road playing golf, drinking cold drinks and learning to make vegetable and cheese momos.  We got into quite a mess and never quite mastered the technique, all of our momos came out slightly mis-shaped.  Actually, totally deformed is a better description, but they tasted amazing all the same and a good time was had by all!

 Advice for future volunteers
·         A Frisbee and / or water pistols would be great resources to bring out for fun sessions.
·         We really need some small whiteboards to use when teaching younger children who can’t reach the board.   They don’t need to be high quality, flimsy ones are fine!

Our tasty - if slightly mishapen - momos
·         Think about the skills you already have and whether or not they could be developed or used here, for example if you are a first aider, could you develop this so that you are in a position to train placement staff over here?  

Monday, September 19, 2011

PoD Nepal needs you!

Swings are built to celebrate upcoming Dashain 

So let’s start with news of the PoD Team.  Since I last wrote, we have said goodbye to both Jane and Sarah which was sad, but sweetened up a little by fun and fond farewells from the placements.  Nishma arrived in Pokhara last Monday and was all alone for 10 days!  She is now very happy to have the company of Sarah (another Sarah), who arrived yesterday, remarkably cheery and bouncy after her long, windy and hot bus ride from Kathmanudu.  It seems as though ‘alone time’ for any of the PoD Team is going be a rarity for the next few weeks as we due to be fully booked with volunteers until the end of October!  This is most exciting as there are some major festivals coming up in Nepal and so we will have lots of new friends to celebrate with.

So, first things first.  We need your help.  We at PoD Nepal have spent a long time working with projects in Pokhara and are keen to develop our existing services here by complimenting our voluntary work with some practical support for placements.  We have spent the past few months consulting with project staff and PoD volunteers and drawing upon our own experiences to identify what resources, equipment and supplies would most improve the quality of life for the people we work with.  Our wish list includes – but is most certainly not limited to – whiteboards for all of the schools we work with, a new roof for the Street Kids’s Centre, funding towards a vocational training and independent living centre at SCIAN, funding for excursions with clients, furnishings for the Asha Foundation’s new home, funding for midday snacks at APS, an educational sponsorship to get one of SCIAN’s clients back into school...the list goes on! 

Obviously, to provide these items we need money, and that’s where you come in... We need around 6,000GBP to fund everything on our list, this is undoubtedly a big amount, but most definitely attainable.  I’ve been chatting to some past volunteers recently and have heard of a few fundraising plans in the pipeline – the SOAS University Great Dumpling Exchange sounds like a particularly tasty and effective way to raise some money!  Join our facebook discussion to share your fundraising ideas or successes.  You can also check our fundraising page to donate or see how much we have raised so far.  Of course, we will be sure to keep you updated on where you money is going and if you email me and let me know how much you raised and how, I will give a special PoD Nepal Blog mention – you really don’t get more prestigious than that!

Morning exercises at Shree Krishna - and a late arrival at the back!
So, back to this week.  Nishma has been hard at work volunteering at Shree Krishna Lower Secondary School, teaching children of all ages and abilities.  She has a timetable to follow and has been officially paired up with Bedhari, the school’s head English teacher.  However, this being Nepal, there hasn’t been an awful lot of structure to her week!  There was a random school holiday one day, another day all of the female teachers left to visit a colleague and her new baby for the afternoon (leaving 2 male teachers and Nishma running the school), and yet another day where there just didn’t seem to be all that many teachers around.  Despite this, there has been no slacking on Miss Nishma’s watch and her classes have been running as normal, much to the disappointment of some of her charges!  That said, she has been brightening up the days with some song and dance classes which have been going down a storm.  All in all, good times are being had by all.

It was all change for me at Annupurna Primary School this week.  I took Class 1 for the first time and spent a lot of time teaching the letters A, B and C.  To avoid the session becoming repetitive, we had a big class treasure hunt for the different letters which was chaotic, but lots of fun!  For the first time in a very long time, the school have no volunteers teaching there, but no worries, this is soon to be rectified by Sarah, our new volunteer who will start on Monday.  She is a qualified teacher in the UK so she should settle in quickly enough and start to make a real difference there.

Little ones at the Asha Foundation
Our trip to the Asha Foundation this week was a little bit uneventful.  We had prepared a great session for making colourful, glittery, sparkly mobiles for the children to hang above their beds.  However, when we got there, all of the children were out!  Three of the smallest children were home and being taken care of by one of the older boys.  We sat with them, did some colouring and watched Nepali movies against the backdrop of mountains and rice paddies.  Not quite the session we had in mind, but a nice enough way to spend the afternoon.

Our mobile making project was, however, a great success at the Street Kids’ Centre.  Well, it was once we backtracked and explained that the mobiles we would be making were actually made of wood, string and paper and for decorating their rooms and not, as they had initially understood, mobile telephones..! It was particularly heart warming to see that all of the three recent arrivals are still here and appearing to be settling in well (there are high incidences new arrivals running away).  It’s also interesting and encouraging to see how their attitudes have already changed after just 3 weeks.  During our first session with them, they were desperately snatching at everything and begging for us to let them keep every little scrap of paper or pencil.  This is common behaviour in new arrivals who are used to having to grab what they can, where they can.  Now, after realising that they are being, and will continue to be, well cared and provided for, they are much calmer and less concerned with collecting and saving everything.  This is a great step and testament to the fantastic work of the centre staff.

Lakeside scene
And so I think that’s about it for this week.  We’re enjoying life here as always and looking forward to the next few weeks which will see the arrival of a very many new volunteers, some great festivals in Nepal and hopefully the start of some busy fundraising activities by you guys!

 Tips and suggestions for future volunteers
·         Mini whiteboards would be a great thing to bring.  Just one or two would be really helpful, particularly when running interactive sessions with smaller kids who can’t reach the board at the front of the class!
·         We really need some zip lock style sandwich bags of different sizes.  At the moment we have a huge supply of glitter, stickers, sequins, googly eyes and various other craft materials, and it’s very hard to get them to our sessions without them spilling out all over the place!  Sandwich bags would be perfect for dividing them up and transporting them.
·         Research what there is to do in Lakeside and plan and budget accordingly.  This way you will be sure to make the most of your time off.

If you want to join our team in Nepal, contact Becky in the PoD UK office or by phone, 0044 (0)1242 250 901

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Village Life!

Access to the village is over this
stunning footbridge
So, our first ever Bhalam Village volunteer has just completed her placement and, all sides agree, it was a resounding success.  Whilst staff from PoD and the school had spent a lot of time preparing and planning for volunteers, neither us, nor they, nor Louise really knew what we were getting into.  Now, thanks to our wonderful guinea pig, we are able to give you a bit more information about living and working in rural Nepal and hopefully inspire some of you to step up and contribute to a truly worthwhile project.

A typical day in the village is as follows:

·         5.30am – Wake up and drink tea with the family.  The household rises early to make the most of daylight hours.  Chores are done early on in the day.
·         9am – First dal bhat of the day. 
·         9.30am – Go to school
·         1pm or thereabouts, until 1.45 – The school provides the volunteer with snacks for lunch
·         4.30pm – Return home for ‘tiffin’ time.  This is more snacks and is usually popcorn or noodles with tea.
·         9pm – Evening dal bhat followed quickly by bedtime.

The Chhetri Family
What, you may be thinking, is 'dal bhat’?  Good question, it is the national dish here consistin of a lot of rice, lentils and then various pickles and curries to make each meal a little different.  Food is mainly provided by your host family, the Chhetri’s, although most of the village with most likely try to feed you at some point!  Many of the family members speak English, however, communication with mum and older family members can sometimes be challenging.  Just make sure you take a phrase book and are ready to conduct conversations in sign language!

The Chhetri family kitchen
Village life offers little in the way of home comforts and conditions outside of the home can take some getting used to.  There is no hot water, the toilet and shower are outside and there is no toilet paper.  In the summer months there are many insects to deal with and in wet times leeches are not uncommon.  There is a power supply and internet access in the village, however this is sporadic and unreliable (power can be out for days at a time).  All of these trials and tribulations, however, are surmountable and merely add to the sense of adventure.

At weekends you are welcome to come back to Lakeside to meet with PoD staff and other volunteers, but if you do choose to stay in Bhalam, there is plenty to keep you amused there.  A 30 minute, steep ascent on foot takes you up to a temple which gives stunning views over Pokhara and beyond.  From there you can explore the highest parts of the area. You can also walk to Old Pokhara quite easily from Bhalam.  A taxi from the bridge to Lakeside should be no more than 300 rupees and many buses go from the main road to Lakeside.

School photo
You will work at Shree Bhalam Community Primary, a small and overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming school.  There are 5 classes from nursery to class 3 with an average of about 9 children in each.  There is a sense of order and calm amongst these pupils that will not be found in our city schools!  Thankfully, this seems to arise out of a sense of respect rather than being something forced upon children through harsh disciplinary measures.

You can expect to be thrown in at the deep end and just handed a class to teach alone.  Teachers are on hand and all have at least basic English, some are more proficient.  Many of the teaching staff are new to the profession and are willing and eager to learn new methods, techniques and ideas.  This means there is the scope for you to broaden your role to include some teacher training sessions and thus leave a more lasting impression on the school.

Bhalam high street!
Thanks to Louise’s hard work and positive attitude, the community in Bhalam are eager to welcome more PoD volunteers into their lives.  As such, your arrival in Bhalam will be treated as a ‘big deal’ by staff, pupils and the community.  You have big shoes to fill, so to make sure you are up to the challenge, we have come up with the following hints on how to prepare for village life.

·         If you are not a qualified teacher we recommend that you take some sort of teaching course before volunteering in the village.  You will not have access to the support that city volunteers have, thus, you need to be capable and confident at lesson planning, making resources and running sessions independently.
·         You should consider taking a short Nepali course before leaving for the village.  If you are able to communicate at a basic level in Nepali, you will find more friendships and opportunities will open up to you than would be possible if they are limited to only talking to people who can speak English.  Classes can be arranged in Pokhara and can be completed in one or two full days of tuition (these will need to be booked in advance to make sure the teacher is available).  Spending a few days in Pokhara will also give you the chance to acclimatise to Nepal and get to know other volunteers and staff.
·         Pack well!  PoD can give you ideas on what to pack in order to make your life in Bhalam as comfortable as possible.

Ultimately, living and working in the village gives you a unique opportunity to experience Nepal at its best.  You will immediately become part of a very special, welcoming community and be fully immersed in Nepali culture and family, something which is very difficult to do based in Lakeside with all of its pizza houses, foreigners and discos! 

So, does this sound like your kind of thing?  If so, get in touch with Gemma in our UK office to get more information or arrange an interview.  You can also look at our facebook page for more photos of the village, school and accommodation.  We look forward to seeing you soon!