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!

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