- Shreena Thapa
Shreena organized various activities in Canada for raise some funds for AYON’s relief and rebuilding initiatives, later she came to Kathmandu and participated at various youth work camps. Here’s her experience
The norms for NRN’s visiting Nepal has mostly been to shop, meet family and friends, de-stress and relax, and of course take a gazillion pictures and tons of goodies back. I am no exception and have always indulged on amusement whenever I visited Nepal. I now find it surprising how I manage the time and effort to do volunteer work here but have never thought about it while visiting Nepal. However, all that changed by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal. When I saw my history, identity, and nation go down into rumbles, I knew something had to be done immediately. Like many people across the globe we raised funds to help the nation, informed others of how they can be of help, and guided them to donate wisely.
Regardless of the positive outcome of the fundraiser, I still felt like it wasn’t sufficient. So I decided to make a trip to Nepal and join AYON to help in the rebuilding efforts. My first involvement was in Lakure Bhanjyhang, which is 13 kilometers further up from Lalitpur. I joined the Youth Work Camp jointly organized by Association of Youth Organizations (AYON) & YATRA (Founding member of AYON), and travelled by local transportation up until Lele and started to hike up to the main site. It was a novel experience for me as I had never been hiking and was not prepared to hike. Luckily, towards the third quarter of our hike we managed to stop a truck and hop on for the remainder of the trip. We conducted a PEC (Primary Environmental Care) program to educate the children about hygiene and proper sanitation. I was also given the opportunity to see how the youths have taken up the responsibility of transforming and restoring the nation.
My second and most remarkable experience was joining the youth camp held at Chaughare. The team spent 8 days helping the locals build temporary shelters as well as a temporary learning center for Bhag Bhairav School which was labelled unsafe after the earthquake. I also had the chance to utilize my teaching skills and teach grade 3 science since there were essentially no teachers present in the school. Although the team was happy in helping everyone that came up to us for help, the utmost satisfaction for the team was being able to help a 17 year old girl, Sunita Blone, who lived on her own and required assistance in building a shelter.
This mission was unquestionably out of my comfort zone as we slept in a small hut (which I always feared would come down on me if a big shake occurred) with just sleeping bags and a few blankets. We did face water problems but somehow managed to have drinking water when needed. In fact, I even managed to shower. Let’s not get into how or where but the point is that you have to make the best of what you have. Cooking on the other hand was a task if not most, some despised. Since there was no gas, we had to find firewood, light it up, and cook food. Don’t ask how long it took to get the fire started. However, all these challenging situations were set aside when it came to helping the locals and waking up to the beautiful scenery of mists and fog floating around the surrounding hills. Not to forget the perks of waking up earlymeant that you were rewarded with malpuaand a cup of milk tea. That was the highlight of everyone’s morning.
The team essentially became a small family and shared many good times and disappointing times. At the end of the day most of us would assemble around the small kitchen and help in preparing dinner. Some people also took on the responsibility of entertaining the team by cracking jokes,playing music (mostly old songs), and just sharing their experiences in other camps or similar events. Working with a diverse team in terms of background and skill-sets allowed us to stick together and set differences aside. One has to remember that not everyone has the same personality and while it may be easy for some people to get along and go with the flow, it might be extremely challenging for others to actually open up and feel like they are a part of the team. After seven days of construction and travel to nearby villages, we held a program at the school to engage the locals and students in developing their community. Apart from a PEC led by the interns of YATRA, we had fun games and songs led by the Nepal Scout, and a gender and woman empowerment session led by myself. Since we borrowed quite a few trees from the forests, we wanted the locals to understand the concept of giving back to nature. Therefore, we organized a tree plantation event at the end of the day and requested everyone to plant trees.
Although it was one of the camps that the team succeeded in, it was a perspective changing experience for me. I discovered a different culture from what I was always exposed to. The humility and hospitality that the people portrayed was nowhere to be found in the cities that I had mostly visited. Adversities that I could never imagine were brought to my attention and I acknowledged that there is so much more that I needed to learn and discover about Nepal.
My final camp site was at Thansing. One of the team members belonged to that village and was requested by the people to help them. I had joined three other team members for a site visit and spent the night there. Although I was informed that it would be a 15 minute hike, an hour and a half later I realized what 15 minutes meant. Nonetheless, I was glad to go for the site visit and the team did a lot of demolition as most of the houses there had cracks inside and had to be taken down. Although I was unable to be a part of the youth camp at Thansing, I was tremendously proud of the team.
If you ask me what I would think the next steps should be, I would definitely say following up with the communities that have been helped so far. It is a kind gesture when you help someone in need, but what truly matters is knowing that the help they received has benefitted them. It also allows one to know what else is missing and what other forms of help can be delivered to those communities. It may be something like organizing volunteers to teach in a school and prepare the students for examinations or leading workshops on topics that may not be accessible to the students. For example, many students will be completing their grade 10 this year, so why not have a workshop on what comes after, the options they have, how to apply to colleges, and if there are any forms of scholarships available to help them with financial needs. A medical/dental team could also be organized giving communities the opportunity to seek medical and dental help.
The list can go on forever of the needs that the community and the whole nation is in need of. The rebuilding process itself will take many years which also means that the necessity for funds and volunteers will unceasingly exist. So I urge everyone reading this to consider giving their time, even if it is a day or two to be a part of something worthwhile. If that is not an option for you, get together with your friends and family to organize a fundraiser. Remember, all it takes is to sacrifice a cup of latte to help be a part of Nepal’s rebuilding efforts.