Traveling with Purpose in Nepal
“There were several moments on the trip when I was overcome with feelings that are difficult to describe. Feelings of excitement, happiness, gratitude, appreciation, and several moments that almost, and in some cases did, bring me to tears because the experiences our entire group were having were so powerful.” Amy – Teacher, Besant Hill School
When most high school students consider spring and summer break, they invariably think of the beach, hanging out with friends or laying by the pool. But for eight high school students from Ojai, California, laying cement, playing soccer with children at an orphanage, and dancing at a Hindu wedding in Nepal gave a whole new meaning to their spring break.
Deep in the heart of this mystic and peaceful country, a Children’s Village was built alongside a rural lakeside community. This village is home to approximately 60 children who have lost their parents, or whose parents do not have the means to care for them. Children as young as a few months old to teenagers readying for high school live together in the village. What makes the Children’s Village so special is that it is an integral part of the surrounding community. Although everyone lives on very limited means, the community operates as one solid unit that supports each child as if he or she were family.
When the community and children found out American high school students would be living in the Children’s Village for a week, they were very excited. You see, the community and children are used to seeing foreigners. Their community is located near a resting point where tourists seeking adventure prepare to trek some of the most sought after mountains in the world, the Himalayas. But, rarely do tourists visit their small community.
As tourists, we feed our hunger to see and do as much as possible in an allotted amount of time. We see a variety of life through an optical zoom, and bring home pictures telling a story of local realities from an outsider’s perspective. We have all been tourists at some point, but have you ever felt something was missing from your trip? Maybe the feeling when seeing widespread poverty from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus, or the feeling after ignoring a woman at the market selling her handicrafts because you wanted to shop around. That feeling is our natural instinct to want to do good, to help others and make the world a better place.
Consider The Besant Hill School trip. These eight students (and two teacher chaperones) were not tourists, but rather travelers. They came to Nepal to learn about this Zen-like country and culture from the inside, a true cultural immersion experience.
The teachers provided an opportunity for travel as a powerful educational tool where every experience was an extension of the classroom, and giving back was an integral part of the lesson.
Over several days, while living in the Children’s Village and bonding with the children, the students worked with a local foreman to complete a stalled project, turning a roof and four wooden posts into a functional community building.
Many building projects in developing nations are not funded by the government, but by community members themselves. A family’s hard earned money puts food on the table and barely covers the necessities. If the community is interested in any major projects, they will need to dig deeper into their own pockets. If you have ever been to a developing country, this one of the reasons you may see many partially completed buildings.
This community building would unquestionably enhance the community’s pride and feeling of oneness. Locals would have a place to be heard, and the leaders would feel organized and structured in their decision-making. As the students began to understand local realities, it was not a surprise that it had gone untouched, until now.
The group’s first task was to level the ground within the current structure. The best part of the morning was when school let out and the children came to the work site and taught the American students a lesson or two in using a shovel and pickaxe. Step two consisted of finding rocks around of the community to place on the ground to provide the structure needed for the cement that would be used for the floor. The group worked as a team and divided the labor to ensure the project stayed on track.
Next, students mixed the cement and laid the bricks for the walls. This was a very important task as an uneven wall is certain to crumble over time and pressure. The students learned to use primitive but efficient building methods such as using string to level the bricks. They nailed the wooden doors and windows together and completed the room. With great excitement, the community thanked group and made it clear that if it wasn’t for the students, it is unlikely the building would have been complete in the near future.
“If there is one thing I would wish for my students, it would be to have such an experience. Feeling like you are positively contributing to the needs of a community, and at the same time understanding that as a result, that particular community is positively affecting your life.” Amy – Teacher, Besant Hill School
One afternoon at the work site, the community mother’s cooked a traditional lunch of Dal Bhat (boiled rice and lentil soup) as a thank you to the group. This, along with the group’s elaborate welcome ceremony where the mothers tied flowers together into necklaces and gave each student a traditional bindi (a red forehead decoration), were very powerful cultural experiences. Another cultural highlight for the group was walking hand-in-hand with the children to the soccer field. They walked through rice fields with yaks (animals that are a mix between a cow and ox) by their sides, and played in the shadows of the Himalayas. The soccer game had little order, but it will be a match the students will always remember.
“The people in Nepal were so happy and welcoming. Working and playing with the children was truly life changing. They influenced me to appreciate the small things in life.” Raskal – Student, Besant Hill School
That evening the group was invited to a Hindu wedding in the community. They were grateful and excited to be a part of such an intimate event. The children weaved the students to the front of the crowd so they could see the proceedings unfold. It was a truly magical experience. When the dancing started, the students gathered around a circle of men to watch the celebration continue. The students were urged by the community to jump in the center of the circle and start dancing, and they did just that!
It was in these moments of service and cultural immersion the members of the group expressed their utmost joy and gratitude for this experience, and it was then that the two teachers saw the tangible growth in their students. The impact the Besant Hill School group had on the community and the Children’s Village is immeasurable. In the same respect, the students will always carry Nepal with them as they search for ways to recreate this experience and prepare for an exciting life as a part of the global community.