As many of you will know, I spent a year working in an orphanage in Nepal back in 2007-2008, as part of a volunteer exchange with ICYE-UK. For those of you that don’t know, have a look at my Nepal posts (of which there are MANY) for a flavour of my life in Nepal.
It was an incredible, and quite frankly life-defining experience for me, as it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and it changed my perspective on the world quite substantially. It was also what led me to re-define my life goals and change careers, so I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for ICYE and Aishworya. It’s also where I got my Nepali name, and pseudonym, Maya.
I wanted to write a post about it for two reasons. Firstly, because I have just spent a bank holiday weekend at the ICYE-UK On-arrival camp, and secondly because the busy bees over at Aishworya have been doing some amazing work at improving the website and it looks amazing, and brought back a lot of memories.
So, first off, let’s talk about ICYE (Inter-Cultural Youth Exchange). ICYE is a volunteer-led organisation that not only places volunteers overseas, but also hosts international volunteers in the UK. They are the ones who placed me at Aishworya, and provided me with incredible support while I was there, both from their UK office and the Nepal branch in-country. Ever since returning from Nepal, I have stayed involved with ICYE, by attending their AGMs as often as I can, participating in fundraising committees, attending social events, and most often, volunteering at their camps for newly-arrived international volunteers, teaching English at the camps, and generally having fun at the same time. It’s a great opportunity to see many of the volunteers I became friends with back in 2007, as well as a number of new friends I’ve made along the way.
Volunteering at the camps is always fun, rewarding, exhausting and interesting. Each year (often 2 or 3 times a year) they need TEFL-trained English teachers and other volunteers to cook meals, organise or facilitate trainings and help the newly-arrived volunteers adjust to British culture, traditions, and get around – we show them how to use the buses and trains, how to get discounted tickets, how to make a decent cup of tea, and other critical life skills…. 😛
I highly recommend it to anyone who fancies a few days of fun hanging out with people from all over the world, and actively supporting such a fantastic charity. Get in touch with ICYE-UK to find out how you can get involved – whether it’s to volunteer somewhere exotic or spend a weekend racing space hoppers with some awesome people in a scout camp in the UK!
The second reason I was prompted to write this post, is that I was recently contacted by another ex-volunteer at Aishworya, the children’s home I volunteered at in Nepal. She has made some changes to the website, and while I was taking a peek at it, I was struck by how incredibly well they are doing and just how far they have come.
Aishworya when I arrived was an orphanage in Kathmandu with very little money or income, the children had no beds, and slept on mats on the floor. They had very little running water/storage, and the kids would gather water from the wells almost all winter. They weren’t even able to attend school as they couldn’t afford the school fees. And yet despite all of that, the kids were happy, healthy, grinning from ear to ear most of the time, and tumbled about in a home where Amaa (the mother) and Pramila (her daughter) have provided an environment so full of love and comfort it’s hard not to feel instantly welcome.
It really is a proper home, not an orphanage, and each and every child there feels loved and part of a family. It was an incredible experience to spend 10 months living in the house with them – with Amaa and Pramila and 30-odd children! I learnt to take short bucket showers in the winter months – sometimes going for several days without washing if it was too cold, and I learned to cook traditional Nepali food. I taught the kids at first, before fundraising enough money to get them back into a proper school. We organised a very successful fundraising event, and raised enough money to pay for 1 year of school fees and all of their uniforms and shoes and books etc. Myself and some other volunteers had enough money left over to buy them some extra water storage tanks, and water treatment units, so they wouldn’t need to go to the well so often, and another donor we met bought them all bunk beds, so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor. I helped them to set up the original website, and bank accounts for regular donations, and started writing newsletters for donors to know what was going on. I also helped them to draft a volunteer handbook and code of conduct to ensure that all the future volunteers would know what to expect.
As I looked at their new website, I was really struck by how far they’ve come and how successful they are now at what they do. I mean, I am also very proud of myself and the work I put in to help them get there, but they have grown and expanded in a truly wonderful way since the day I first arrived there, and long since I left.
Now they have a regular stream of volunteers, friends, supporters and donors, and many of their regular donors and supporters go back to visit them, year after year. Anyone who visits Aishworya is amazed at the sense of family and love you feel there, and is guaranteed to go back again and again. What visitors to Aishworya will see now is a house with beds, running water, water storage and treatment facilities, and a number of other improvements that other donors and volunteers have helped to achieve. The new website is a testament to where they have come from, and where they are now, and the continued support of so many wonderful people allows them to thrive, and take in new children all the time. Of course they still need regular support, donations and volunteers in order to maintain the home and costs associated with it, but having lived there for so long, I can guarantee that every penny goes directly to supporting the children.
I am amazed to realise that the kids are still in school, 8 years after we first got them back in, thanks to continued support and donations, none of them have had to drop out of school or stop their education. Furthermore, I delight in hearing that some of the kids who have grown up and moved out have gone on to do such great things – one girl is now working as a primary school teacher for children with special needs, while another boy I knew there is now working overseas in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia after Aishworya helped him to get a passport and work permit. Two other boys were placed at apprenticeships with a local carpenter after finishing school, who liked them so much he asked them to come and live with him full time as part of his family. It’s amazing to hear all the incredible success stories and to feel so proud to have had a small part in making that happen.
My time at Aishworya will always be a life-changing moment that I will never forget, and I wanted to share it with all of you. As a direct result of my time there, I decided to change jobs, re-train, and pursue a career as an aid worker. And here I am, 8 years later, doing my thing!
Ok, enough of me splurging all my gushy feelings all over the page.
If you want to read a bit more about my personal experiences at Aishworya and in Nepal, here are a few of my favourite ones: