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!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Catching up on the last 2 PoD-weeks!

You know how a dog has seven years for every human year?  I feel like every PoD week is just a day in real life...time goes sooooooooooooooo quickly here!  So, without me even realising it, another 2 weeks have gone by and I haven’t updated anyone.  I had better stop rambling and just get on with telling you about life here hadn’t I???

Bishal, Abisech and Pradip singing at APS
Despite a busy exam schedule, the children at Annurpurna Primary have still been finding the time to work with and enjoy Jane.  She has mostly been working in the nursery class, introducing the little ones to their ABCs and 123s, comforting those still feeling sad when mum or dad drops them off and just generally helping the staff there.  Once the day’s exams are over, the older children also join Jane to play games, sing songs, dance and let off steam after a hard day’s work!  My highlight of the week would have to be the full school hokey-kokey we did with the kids last Monday.  It was very raucous and out of control – I think we scared the smaller children with all of our inning and outing and shaking it all abouting, but on the whole it was just great.

Sarah has been getting on fantastically at Ward 6.  Every day she is in charge of ‘reading time’ with the children.  The staff support the session by keeping everyone quiet and settled whilst Sarah reads aloud to them.  They are running a bit low on new reading material, mostly because the children are ripping up the books, but regardless of the reasons, we are going to arrange for some new children’s books to be donated there. 

One boy at Ward 6 has been showing some particularly aggressive and violent behaviour towards both staff and children.  The staff seem to largely ignore this, resigned to the fact that he is ‘a naughty boy’, however, Sarah has been working hard at modifying this behaviour by using techniques and understandings she has from her work as a Teaching Assistant in the UK.  It is hoped that the staff will pick up on these methods and continue using them after she has left and with children in the future.

Teachers keen to learn at Bhalam
We had a fantastic session at Shree Bhalam Primary School last week.  Louise, our first ever volunteer at the village, is a qualified teacher in the UK and so made great use of her skills and experience by not only teaching the children, but by providing training for staff.  This was an ongoing process throughout the duration of her placement, however, on her final day we travelled there as a team and delivered a training session on how to plan and run interactive classes and make good use of resources.  We were conscious that the school has little budget for or access to specialist resources, so with this in mind we took along a selection of our own homemade resources to demonstrate what can be done with a few bits of paper and coloured pens.  The feedback from the session was great and the school and host family couldn’t say enough good things about Louise.  They are all desperate for another PoD volunteer, so if you think you are up to the challenge of village life, let us know!

There were three new arrivals at the Street Kids which was a little bit tough because new boys are generally hard work.  They want to show off, assert their position in the group and grab all of our resources.  This is largely because they are used to having to take what they can, where they can and are not yet used to the confines and comforts of life in a home.  Thankfully, there were enough of our regular children there to set an example for them.  If the new boys tried to take something away, the other children pulled them back and made them use the resources at the table.  One of the boys started to ‘showcase’ by singing and prancing about.  Sarah turned this around beautifully by getting him to teach her the song, this engaged him and stopped him disrupting the session.  That meant that we could all get on with making spinning tops, a brilliant idea of Jane’s.

Happy faces at Asha
We also took our spinning top project to the Asha Foundation this week.  It was a resounding success there, everyone was decorating and modifying their top for the best aesthetics and performance.  We had children sharpening their sticks, weighting their tops, polishing surfaces...it was quite the operation!  We also spent time watching some ‘Teej’ songs on DVD.  Teej is an upcoming festival celebrated by women in Nepal and we are looking forward to joining in with some dancing, clapping and general merriment in the next week.

Jane and I had a brilliant session at SCIAN.  Our regular client there, Esther, again managed a full introductory conversation which was fab.  She was joined this week by another of SCIAN’s clients who is staying with her for a few weeks whilst completing a vocational training programme.  This meant we could have a more interactive session with both students working together.  We taught the ladies various body parts and then set up a ‘Simon says’ competition between them.  What was particularly good about this was the confidence boost it gave to Esther.  Her English skills were clearer higher than those of her friend meaning she generally won each game.  It was great to see how much more confident she grew throughout the session, a big chance for an otherwise extremely shy and meek lady.

Other things that have kept us amused this week have been the 7 a-side football tournament that finished with the victors and all of their supporters careening around town on their motorcycles, waving flags, trophies, banners, football tops and cheering, screaming and singing in celebration.  Jane got a smile and some enthusiasm from a child who has been glum and disengaged in sessions so far.  Sarah has been making friends all over town by striking up conversations with random folk in bookshops, restaurants, cafes...she has also been making friends with some local people, teaching English to new Nepali guides whilst kayaking on the lake.  This is a great way to get the most out of Lakeside, taking advantage of the many activities available and getting to know the local community at the same time.

Tips and advice for future volunteers
·         Prepare for your placement.  If you are planning to teach, really think about and research effective teaching methods, lesson ideas, resources and classroom management techniques.  If you arrive at your placement unprepared it will be uncomfortable and difficult for you, but more importantly it will damage the education of those you have travelled here to support.  If you need ideas or guidance on where to find such information, talk to us!

·         We could really do with some new books.  We have a fair few basic books for young children and complete beginners, however, we work with several children who are quite proficient at English and could benefit from something more complicated.  If you are coming to join us anytime soon, try to bring some story books aimed at children aged around 7-10 that have good stories, but simple language and short paragraphs.

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.  If you want to hear about what past volunteers have to say, visit our testimonials page.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lovely times in Nepal!

Yes, lovely.  I think that that is the best word to describe our week in Pod Nepal-land this week.  We have had some new team members arrive and some really positive, productive and enjoyable sessions at our placements too. 

We may as well start with introducing our new team members, Sarah from the UK and Jane from Singapore.  The girls met each other at the airport in Kathmandu, did a bit of exploring in the capital together before getting a bus to Pokhara the next day.  Despite bumping, twisting and sweating their way through Nepal for 7 hours, they were still fresh and enthusiastic enough to get stuck right into volunteering at the Street Kids Centre that afternoon. 

Getting wet at the Street Kids Centre
Our time with the Street Kids went well with all of the children happy to see us, welcoming the new faces and joining in with our activities (no, this is not always the case!).  Alongside some creative activities there was also some learning and testing going on, although we were the ones getting tested!  Sarah discovered very quickly that she is not, in fact, smarter than a 10 year old.  One of the centre’s neighbours came in to quiz her on a range of topics including spelling (amphibian) and geography (name the longest river in China?), Sarah let him down with her answers...Jane became an instant superstar with her gift of two water pistols.  The children took turns with the pistols whilst others improvised grabbing buckets, cups etc. to soak their brothers with.  Most joined in and everyone got wet.  Good times.

Sarah started volunteering at Ward 6 who were delighted to have another PoD volunteer with them.  She had a challenging first day dealing with first day nerves and crying children.  On a more serious note, it was difficult to witness how roughly the children are handled by staff and so we have had to come up with some ways by which Sarah can lead by example and make it clear that children do not need to be smacked.  In more positive news though, overall the staff were friendly and welcoming and kept Sarah busy throughout the day.  She was even handed some flash cards hand made by previous PoD volunteers to work with the children with!

We also had an encouraging time with Esther at SCIAN who demonstrated the full extent of her new found English skills.  She was able to have a complete introductory conversation with Sarah, something she wouldn’t have even been able to begin 6 months ago.  It was really good to see such huge progress which reflects both her hard work and the effort put in by us PoD folk.  Despite wanting to build further on her English, her room was simply too hot and stuffy to stay in, so we went out for a walk around the local area, visited a temple and popped in to SCIAN's vocational training centre.  Here we met with Hari Krishna, the organisation's founder, who brought us up to date with their latest training programme.  He has brought 25 physically disabled people from all over Nepal to receive training in bag making using sewing machines.  Each trainee is provided with accommodation, food and training for 3 months in Pokhara, but most importantly, they get the opportunity to seek paid employment and thus finanacial independence in the future.  Unfortunately, persistant discriminatory and prejudiced attitudes often hampers this groups efforts at finding employment.  Thus, Hari's next dream is to rent and furnish a shop in which his trainees can work, develop their skills and earn money.  We wish him the best of luck and hope to be able to offer support with this in the near future.

Look at that concentration!
We are pleased to report that our ‘good behaviour programme’ at Annurpurna Primary School seems to be a runaway success.   We developed this for two reasons; firstly to gain control of a raucous bunch of kids and secondly to encourage struggling students to get involved and pay attention.  We start each session by getting each child to write their name on the board and each time they behave well or are helpful or try very hard they get a point.  At the end of the class the children line up in order of how many points they have, and whoever got the most points gets the first choice of sticker, second place gets second choice and so on.  This week I forgot the stickers and owned up to this in the first few minutes of the class and then panicked that my class would subsequently be a disaster, but the children simply shrugged their shoulders and still behaved as if their stickers were at stake.  In addition ensuring classes are not interrupted by constantly having to tell children to sit down, listen, don’t fight, no, it’s definitely not breaktime yet...we have seen some really huge changes in the effort levels of children who were previously dismissed as ‘no good’.  Now that they know they can be rewarded for trying, regardless of their results, they are getting more involved in class and subsequently their marks are increasing.  Fab.

Other than that we have been making many phone calls to Louise our volunteer doing some fab work at our rural placement up in Bhalam Village.  We are planning a teacher training session for staff there which will hopefully be fun and informative for all involved and contribute to the longer term development of the school.  Jane and Sarah have also been getting themselves settled well into Lakeside, floating around the lake on a wooden boat and helping some trainee raft guides practice their English.  See, I told you we have had a lovely week!

Tips for upcoming volunteers
·         We could really do with some more stickers, if you are coming to Nepal please bring some bright, small, colourful stickers of different varieties.
·         Sticky backed plastic would be a great resource to have to ‘laminate’ our resources and protect them from sticky fingers.
·         Bring a torch with you – Pokhara’s roads are uneven, often flooded and dark at night!

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

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Long time no speak!

Well hello there everyone, sorry for the long delay since my last update, I’ll try to make up for it with an information packed blog this week!

Tom's farewell
So, as always there has been a fair bit of chopping and changing with our team members.  We said goodbye to Kari and Tom who have served Nepal well with their great work.  Tom was treated to the full works of a goodbye from Annurpurna Primary, singing, dancing, red powder all over his face, flowers, treats...as always, this kind of party was good fun but tough because it’s the end of a mini-era.  Kari had a much more reserved, though no less meaningful send off from Shree Krishna.  Hers was conducted in the staff room with just a smudge of red powder from the Head Teacher and a snack of the finest biscuits available.  Nice!

We also said hello to Louise who has wasted no time in getting herself off to and settled in Bhalam Village where she is staying in a homestay and working at the local community school there.  We haven’t seen so much of her because she literally flew by Pokhara on her way between Kathmandu and the village and is making the most of her time off by heading off trekking with her host’s daughter.  That said, she seems to be most happy there whenever we talk on the phone and staff at the school have nothing but positive things to say about her.  Louise is a qualified teacher in the UK and so has been supporting and training staff at the school.  As in the other schools we work with, classes here tend to run at the pace set by the textbook and are rarely modified to take into account the levels or needs of the children.  As such, the whole team are planning to head up there next week to support Lousie in delivering a full afternoon’s training at Bhalam focussing on recognising and adapting to the needs of individual within the class.

Shree Krishna school finally opened up after its monsoon holidays and so Kari got a good week of teaching in there.  Despite being a very different environment from which she is used to teaching in at home she had a great time and the children and staff loved having her there.  They were particularly excited by her delivery of stickers for good work and came up with all manner of ingenious methods to try to wheedle extras from her.  The children took advantage of the 40+ class size and general chaos and mayhem within the school to come up for their sticker before promptly rejoining the back of the queue to get another.  This scam was quickly foiled when Kari noticed the torn paper in their exercise books where they had ripped off their previous sticker.  Unfazed by this they simply adapted their plans and rejoined the queue after re-writing their entire class notes out a second time on a fresh page.  Kari was rightly pleased with herself for spotting these underhand dealings, but we suspect that many a child succeeded in taking home an extra sticker or two or three...!
APS Kids writing their letters to the UK
Annurpurna Primary School is also open again now with brand new toilets courtesy of a new government initiative to ensure all schools are suitably hygienic.  Very good news.  They are delighted to have Victoria back again this year, one teacher said she thought she was dreaming when she saw her face!  Victoria also seems to be just as happy to be back with her class and is doing a great job.  We had a lovely session there last week courtesy of Kerra who volunteered at APS earlier this year.  During her time here she got the children to write letters to her class in the UK and a few weeks ago we received replies from them.  We took these letters and photos into the children at APS who were most excited to see their letters on the wall in a school in the UK.  We quickly got to work in sending our own replies to our new found international friends telling them all about ourselves, our time off and our town.   

Our weekly visits to the Asha Foundation are still lots of fun.  Kari took all of the children and some staff to the Mountain Museum on the bus, quite an adventure but most definitely worth it!  We’ve also had a few good sessions at the home.  At the request of the older children we brought along some nail varnish and left with garish blue and red nails.  Some of the older kids had guitar classes from Tom, although these were slightly interrupted by the youngest child, Assim, sneaking up behind them and un-tuning their guitars!  This week we took along some straws and a bottle of washing up liquid, mixed it with water and let the children blow bubbles.  This was most fun but did get slightly out of hand when we realised that there was now slippery washing up liquid ALL over the steps, oops?!  We did clean it up though and everywhere smelled lovely and lemon fresh afterwards...

We have seen some changes at SCIAN too.  One of the ladies we used to work with is now back in full time education which is great news as this has been her main ambition since an accident left her paralysed 5 years ago.  This left us with just one lady to work with, Esther.  Until recently she lived alone, close to SCIAN’s vocational training centre where she is employed as a seamstress.  Last month, however, she was joined by 3 more ladies which makes her life much more sociable and has given us some new friends to work with.  All are keen to spend time with us learning English and sharing our cultures and experiences.  Last week Kari and Philippa took Esther into town for momos and cold drinks.  Not only was this a tasty and fun excursion, it also gave Esther the chance to get out and about somewhere that is difficult for her to get to alone given the wheelchair un-friendly streets of Pokhara!

The Street Kids are still being their usual boisterous entertaining selves, treating us to impromptu displays of acrobatics, singing and dancing.  We had a nice time with them for Kari’s last day sharing biscuits and mango drinks (although the latter were saved for breakfast the next day) and all of the children got a nice new coloured name plate for their beds.  We were a bit sad to see that one of the younger children has now left the centre, but happy to hear that he has been moved to a permanent children’s home down the road.

PoD made worksheets for teaching
Outside of our volunteering hours we have been making new resources to be shared between placements, grading each at a different level to suit different ages and abilities.  We’ve been enjoying the run up to Teej, a Nepali festival in which women all dress up in their finest red saris, paint their hands with elaborate henna and decorate their arms with colourful bangles.  We’ve also spent a lot of time getting wet in big monsoon rains, eating nice cake and relaxing at the Silk Road with live music and amazing cocktails.  That’s about it for this whistlestop tour of the past few weeks of PoD Life.  All that remains is for me to give you some tips about what to bring if you are coming, or thinking of coming soon...

·         We have started to make books and worksheets using pictures from magazines and asking questions about them, i.e. there are 5 people in this picture, how do they know each other, where do they live etc. etc.  If you have any interesting pictures that could prompt a discussion then do bring that.
·         Our crayon and pencil stocks are running low so replenishments for this would be good.
·         A power monkey is good value for charging up mobiles, cameras etc.  for when there is no power – which is fairly often!

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.