My student’s Nepal meaningful travel experience: 3 days of volunteer work

So one of my students recently went to Nepal to do some volunteer work. I think this experience and what she got out of it is a perfect example of what meaningful travel should be. I don’t know that I could have gotten as much from the experience as my student did – maybe it will come across in her story but just in case it does not, I will tell you that she is a remarkable young woman. For example, I know that she volunteered a couple of years ago to visit a rural town in Korea and help out the old farmers. This involved working on the farm, giving the old people back rubs, outhouses for bathrooms, 5 minutes shower time per day, etc. I respect people who do that kind of volunteer work because I never have.

Here’s her meaningful travel in Nepal experience (first a summary from me and then her own words):

She was looking for something out of the ordinary and to learn something outside of school. She went to some website where Korean college students go to learn about activities for university students and saw an opportunity to go to Nepal doing volunteer work. All expenses would be paid by a corporate sponsor.

Seeing this as her only opportunity to go abroad (she’s a poor college student after all) she applied. I understand that they took 20 people, 1 out of every 80 who applied. She got in and after some hesitation decided to go even though she’d be missing the first 2 weeks of the semester.

The trip to Nepal was 3 days – I believe the rest of the time was training for the mission. They stayed in Kathmandu and worked at a school for the deaf named Bahira Barak. In Korean culture it’s not uncommon to play with, touch, hug other people’s children in public and my student played with the younger kids at the school (ages ranged from 8-20). She was warned no to touch their heads with her left hand.

Her team’s job was to clean and paint four classrooms and paint a corridor. I’ll have to ask her if she knows why they needed Korean volunteers for that. Surely they have untrained painters in Nepal…

Anyway, the condition of the classrooms was heartbreaking: spider webs, broken chairs, dust, etc. After 10 of them spent 5 hours cleaning the painting started. The smell made them nauseous so they started working in shifts.

During one of her breaks my student met a girl named Sushma. She spoke Nepali sign language while my student speaks English and Korean. They communicated through drawing and isolated English words. My student learned how to sign “Sushma,” her new friend’s name.

Three days later they showed the results of their work and everyone loved it. They performed a flag dance, a traditional Korean dance, and some tae kwon do. And then they left. Now my summary ends and I leave you with my student’s own words:

We promised not to cry in front of our Nepali friends. I avoided eye contact with my Nepali friends so that I could control my feelings. But when I saw my friend Sushma I could not stop crying. We hugged each other. I got in the bus and saw Sushma standing outside. She had tears in her eyes but she tried to smile at me.

We only had three days to get to know our Nepali friends. These three days gave me so many things that I might not have known if I had stayed in Korea. How could our Nepali friends be so open to us and give us unconditional love without getting anything in return? After I visited Bahira Barak School, I learned that sign language is the most powerful and beautiful language; it can move people’s hearts. My friend changed her facial expression with every sign. You could see what she was saying by looking in her eyes. The love I learned from my friends will become a seed that will help me grow and mature. The smiles my Nepali friends gave me will be treasures that will cheer me up when I am having a hard time.

Filed Under: Meaningful TravelVacation experiences

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  1. Sharon says:

    What a wonderful story! We need more smiles, hugs, and friendship in our lives. She is to be commended for her unselfishness and caring.

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