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.