A few years ago, I realised that purely being a tourist had lost its appeal for me. I wanted more out of my travels, where I could ‘give back’ to the country I was visiting. I had a dormant desire to connect with people at a grass roots level and contribute in some way to help those in the disadvantaged countries I often travel.
I soon found out there are volunteer projects to suit every interest, offered by many organisations across the globe and include education, conservation, building and construction, agriculture, health, sanitation and water, sport, wildlife rehabilitation and working with underprivileged children. There was no reason why I could not contribute by sharing my knowledge with a broader cross section of society – after all, I was older, wiser and I had a wealth of experience. Age is no barrier when it comes to volunteering but it does require patience, an open mind and heart, and not to be full of one’s own importance.
Volunteering abroad can be a life changing experience – for you and the people, places or creatures you’re helping. There is something to be said about Confucius’ saying, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. My experiences with volunteering has certainly changed my attitudes and beliefs.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Nepal where I took time out to catch up with some Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) who are doing a wonderful job in Kathmandu working with orphaned children. There is no welfare system in Nepal and there are many NGOs which have been set up to try to cater for the needs of children who have been abused or abandoned. Most of Kathmandu’s street children are drug addicts and many end up in the sex industry or as victims of trafficking.
One organiaation who is doing a wonderful job in the area of health and education is the Nepal Orphans Home (NOH) which is located in Kathmandu.
NOH operates four children’s homes for more than 130 boys and girls in the Kathmandu Valley. The children are orphans or have parents unable to provide for them.
I met with Michael Hess, the founder and chatted with him while he prepared lunch for “his” children and I also had the opportunity to attend a basketball game later that afternoon. Michael is “Papa” to these children and his patience and love for each and every one of them is very evident.
Michael’s vision is simple and reflects what most parents desire for their children. Michael wants his children to feel safe in a nurturing and loving environment with the basic provisions of food, shelter and clothing, as well as schooling and health care. His mission is not just to rescue children from abject poverty, but to enable them to develop and realise their full potential.
I can vouch for the wonderful work Michael and his staff at NOH do to support the children in their care. The majority of the children are girls who have been rescued from the Kamlari System of indentured servitude, prevalent in western Nepal. If you would like to volunteer in some way, a work visa is required (even if work is unpaid). It is best to contact the Nepal Embassy for more information about visas and make sure you amend your insurance, as any form of work voids your “tourist” travel insurance. Nepal Orphans Home can always do with school stationery, such as pencils, erasers, rulers etc., and would be grateful for your support.
While there are aspects of Nepali culture which will be confronting to western travellers, it is always important to go with an open mind and more importantly, an open heart when you are considering volunteering.
Volunteers provide a wealth of badly-needed expertise which is desperately needed in developing countries throughout the world and your contribution in any small way is always appreciated.
Would you or have you ever volunteered? Where would you go and what would you most like to help with? What issues are most important to you? Tell us below.