Monday, June 27, 2011

(PoD) Life is a Rollercoaster!

The PoD Band playing at the Silk Road
This has been an emotional week for the PoD Team with as many ups and downs as you can see in the Himalayas around us!  Highs included the arrival of Brogan, The PoD Band’s debut performance and some time soaring about Pokhara in a paraglider.  Low points were the departure of Prayagha and Ovia, everyone getting stomach bugs and the PoD Band’s insistance that they sing Ronan Keeting’s ‘Life is a rollercoaster’.   Add to this all the highs and lows of volunteering and it’s been quite a week here...

We got a shock on Wednesday with the news that 4 year old Prakash, a new arrival at the Street Kids’ Centre, had ran away.  Fortunately, he was found later that day and is now back at the centre receiving extra support and attention to help him settle in.  Unfortunately, this is a pretty routine situation for those who find it difficult to adjust to the confines and rules of living in a home after life on the streets.  Others, like Prakash, are simply trying to get back to their families.  This incident served to remind us that behind the smiles and friendships we share with the children, the reality of their lives is much harsher than we could ever comprehend.  With this in mind, we are now even more determined to do all that we can to support staff in making the home as welcoming and positive a place as possible and to provide the children with opportunity and space to just be children for a while.

Our ongoing summer school projects are making great progress with volunteers working hard at getting as many children as possible to a standard, basic level in reading, writing and maths.  In doing this we aim to address one of the biggest issues for teachers and volunteers in Nepal, that of the vast range of abilities within one classroom.  We often find ourselves tasked with teaching simple addition to a class in which some children are unable to count to 10 and others are already competent with long division.  This leaves some children totally confused, others bored and teachers at a complete loss, arghhh!  The feedback is that big steps are being made in all areas and, come term time, this should prove invaluable in supporting children in catching up and moving on with their classmates. 

Another high this week came courtesy of some very hard work by Alice.  Concerned by the minimal hygiene levels at the Ward 6 Day Care Centre she has taken it upon herself to improve them.  After designing and producing a poster on why and how hands should be washed, buying some soap and giving a demonstration, the staff now have children lining up to wash their hands properly before and after eating.  Hurrah!  Well done Alice!

APS sending Prayagha off in style
Other small things that put us on a big high this week were a water fight with the Street Kids, getting a child to stop eating a book and actually start reading it, learning Nepali from the children at the Asha Foundation, a fun and heartwarming farewell ceremony for Prayagha at APS and discovering the most tasty cake in the world, ever.

And finally...our current team of PoD volunteers have set themselves a project.  They are looking to fundraise around £600 to furnish both Annurpurna Primary School and Shree Krishna Secondary with whiteboards.  Currently, both schools are using blackboards which are dusty and in desperate need of repair.  Whiteboards would provide a much cleaner, clearer way of teaching.  They will be organising their own fundraisers when they get home, but if you would like to contribute in the meantime, you can visit our fundraising page to make a donation.

Tips for upcoming volunteers
·         Remember that travel and induction days will eat into your placement time and account for this when you are booking.  For example, if you fly from home on Monday you will arrive in Kathmandu on Tuesday, travel to Pokhara on Wednesday , have an induction day on Thursday, join with our PoD day on Friday, have 2 days rest for the weekend and only start at your placement the following Monday.  You will also need to take out 2 days at the end of your trip for travelling back to Kathmandu to catch your flight.  Just something to bear in mind when booking flights and dates, particularly if you are doing a shorter trip, as some of our current volunteers didn’t think about this and have found themselves wishing for extra time!
·         Just say yes!  There is a whole world of opportunities and activities available in Pokhara, so as soon as you get here throw yourself into as many things as possible as quickly as possible.  The sooner you get involved with your placement and the other volunteers, the sooner you will start to reap the rewards of volunteering and Nepal itself.

If you are interested in joining our Team and contributing to the hard work we are doing here, visit our website for more information on how to apply.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer holidays and challenges in Nepal

The summer holidays are here!  Well, in Nepal anyways...of course, that doesn’t mean that our volunteers are kicking back and relaxing, oh no, they are hard at work planning and running summer schools at Annurpurna Primary (APS) and Shree Krishna Secondary (SKSS) schools.  Whilst schools provide the venue for classes, the projects are essentially PoD initiatives run and resourced 100% by our volunteers.  Attendance is voluntary but the popularity of the sessions ensures that we get on average 8-10 children each day at APS – not bad for a school with 30 students!  Unfortunately, our sessions at SKSS turned out to be a little less successful...

Ready for class at the Street Kids' Centre
Our summer programme at SKSS was all set to go, but come Monday morning when our volunteers rocked up armed with resources and games, no students came.  It soon emerged that most crucial part of the preparations had been overlooked – the teachers had forgotten to tell the pupils and there was no way to contact students once school had broken up, arghhh!  Undeterred, our volunteers transferred their sessions to the Street Kids Centre.  Whilst this is obviously unfortunate for students at SKSS, there is a general sense of agreement within the PoD Team that this is potentially a much more worthwhile venue.  Many of the children living at the centre have had a disrupted or non-existent education up to this point, so the extra tuition and attention they are currently receiving is invaluable in giving them an opportunity to catch up to and progress with their classmates.

In another setback, torrential monsoon rained off our weekly visit to the Asha Foundation, but we did have a very productive and focussed volunteers’ meeting.  A recurrent issue apparent at all of our placements is a lack of resources and access to fundamental amenities.  Local staff and the community work very hard to provide children with decent facilities, but with little or no resources or training this is not always possible.  Our key concern is the hygiene standards at placements.  Some children have no access to running water and all placements are hindered by poor understandings of basic hygiene issues such as washing hands and keeping kitchen and toilet activities separate.  So, in true PoD spirit we saw this as a challenge and an opportunity to do some good and concluded our meeting determined to fundraise money for water tanks and to look into commissioning hygiene training for staff. If you would like to contribute to this you can visit our fundraising page to donate.

Alice making our elephant
In more successful news, we got very creative making resources.  Bangles were fashioned out of water bottles, snakes and rockets grew out of toilet roll tubes and a fantastic pin the nose on the elephant game was drawn out by Alice.  Other achievements included teaching children at Street Kids the Macarena and, perhaps more productively, teaching 4 digit subtraction to the children at APS and starting kids at Ward 6 daycare centre off on learning how to write.  Phew! We even managed to squeeze in a couple of exciting white water rafting trips.

Despite the challenges that this week has thrown up, I'm left with an overall sense of achievement and pride in the way in which our amazing volunteers have overcome these issues and gone on to serve the local community as best we can.

Tips for upcoming volunteers:
·         Bring a red pen!  The children get very excited if you act like a ‘real’ teacher and mark their work in red ink!
 Homework guides Schofield and Sims Key Stage 2 upwards are useful for lesson planning and ideas.
·         If you like the sound of what we are doing here, just get stuck in!  There is no need to be nervous as there is heaps of support available and the rewards are immeasurable.

If you are interested in joining our Team and contributing to the hard work we are doing here, visit our website for more information on projects and how to apply.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Khurtas, guitars and watermelons!

So, this week our team grew again with two new arrivals.  Cian received a warm welcome from Shree Krishna Lower Secondary School whilst staff and pupils at Annupurna Primary could barely contain their excitement at the return of Thomas.  Thomas taught here for 8 weeks last summer and loved everything so much that he has come back to do the same again.  These lovely chaps are not only excellent teachers and role models to local children, but also fantastically talented musicians who have been hard at work keeping our team and indeed everyone around us entertained. 

Looking good in our new khurtas
The boys' welcome dinner was glitzed up significantly by the girls who all wore their new, custom made khurtas for the occasion.  Our evening was full of good food and great company, we heard all about the girls’ adventures on their Kaligandaki rafting trip, gained some words of wisdom from Phil (PoD Placement Co-ordinator) and randomly discussed which celebrities we were missing from home (in case you are interested,  Jeremy Paxman got a majority, but by no means unanimous, vote).

As is to be expected, our hard work at placements has thrown up some challenges for our volunteers.  The key issue appears to be how to keep yourself busy and interested when the staff and children around you are occupied with their own activities.  After brainstorming for solutions at the volunteers’ meeting, we thought that teaching volunteers could try to spend time children who were struggling or left out and that childcare volunteers could use downtime to get to know the staff and learn about the amazing country and culture they are living in.  If anyone has any more ideas, please let us know!

We have also seen some great achievements this week.  The biggest has to be the huge improvement in students’ behaviour during class.  Last week we were all struggling with how to control children when you have little or no means to communicate with them?  We worked together to devise and implement a points system to reward good behaviour which seems to have worked fantastically well.  The children are so focussed on getting points by paying attention, being helpful and generally just working well that they have forgotten to get up to any mischief.  Success!

Other things made us smile this week included students at Shree Krishna treating volunteers to a medley of Justin Bieber songs, the Street Kids following up an intense and tiring (for us at least!) football and skipping session with an impromptu and highly entertaining comedy and music performance and seeing the ladies at SCIAN getting more and more capable and confident in using their English. 

PoD Team heading to Asha
Friday saw us heading up to the Asha foundation with 10kg of watermelon and a guitar.  Our idea was to share the fruit together whilst enjoying a bit of a jam session from the boys.  However, the watermelons were kept for an after dinner treat and the kids were much more interested in learning how to play the guitar themselves than they were in listening to us.  Despite that, a good afternoon was had by all.

So there you have it.  Another successful and worthwhile week of work by PoD Nepal.  Well done team!

Tips and suggestions for future volunteers:
·         Plan and budget for activities to fill in your time off before you come– click here for ideas of what's available in and around Pokhara.
·         If you are planning to bring games/resources, we really need a Frisbee and craft materials

Monday, June 6, 2011

Brand New Volunteer Team in Nepal!

Our week started pretty quietly with just one volunteer, Alice.  But, what we lacked for in quantity we made up for with quality.  Alice quickly got stuck into volunteering at Ward 6 Day Care Centre, SCIAN and the Street Kid’s Centre along with joining in with our Friday Volunteers’ Day and managing to squeeze in her 19th birthday celebrations too – wow!  We were joined in the middle of the week by Ovia and Prayagha, arriving together in a whirlwind of enthusiasm and positive energy.  They began teaching at Shree Krishna Lower Secondary School and Annurpurna Primary School as well as helping out at Street Kids in the evenings and the Asha Foundation on Friday – another wow! 

With all of our volunteers being new this week there have understandably been some challenges and confusions that need sorting out, mainly how to deal with rowdy and uncooperative children and language barriers.  We shared all of these in our weekly volunteers’ meeting on Friday and are now all armed with new approaches and ideas for the upcoming week.

Volunteer and mum in khurtas
Highlights of the week have included Alice managing to get a smile and a play session out of a young girl who generally sits in a corner stealing toys and making other children cry, Ovia got some fantastic and impromptu artworks from the children in her class and Prayagha got lots of help and enthusiasm from a boy who used to be very distracted and uninterested in classes.  We also had a fun shopping trip buying ‘khurtas’ for all of the volunteers.  ‘Khurtas’ are the traditional dress worn by women in Nepal and they come in every colour and pattern you can imagine.  The materials are currently with the tailor and we are keenly awaiting the arrival of the finished products which gives us an excuse for a get together and dressing up session.

We have the beginnings of a plan for a fundraising session for the Street Kids Centre.  This will involve some Hindi singing, dancing and performing at a venue in Lakeside.  This very exciting project is just in its beginning stages and we are all looking forward to seeing how this will work out!

 Right now all of our volunteers are making the most of their hard earned time off white water rafting on the Kaligandaki River and our PoD staff are getting ready to welcome our new volunteers Cian and Thomas next week.

This week’s tips for upcoming volunteers:
·         When packing check the average temperature for your stay so you don’t bring along unnecessary clothing.  Also, check with Gemma/Philippa as to what is available in Lakeside as all volunteers have carried heavy, bulky toiletries from home that they could easily buy here.
Homemade animal snap cards
·         If you are bringing resources paints, pencils, paper etc. are readily available here, however, specialist craft materials i.e. sequins, confetti, felt, ribbon etc. are not so bring the latter.
·         Don’t spend big money on resources before you come, go to Early Learning Centre for ideas and then recreate the games/resources cheaply and easily in Pokhara.
·         Prepare some ideas/topics that you would like to teach, but leave detailed lesson plans until you arrive here and understand the existing classroom culture and teaching methods.