With the first month of 2017 gone life is now returning back to some form of normality for most of us. The winter chill in Kathmandu is slowly disappearing and I have to admit how grateful I am to be here in Nepal experiencing the cold whilst viewing from afar the hot summer temperatures my friends and family are experiencing in Australia.
Living in Kathmandu I get to meet expats and tourists who are here for many different reasons. A subject which has occupied a lot of discussion on social media and as a general conversation topic of late is volunteering or ‘voluntourism’ especially in orphanages or children’s homes. I thought I would put it out there for discussion…yes folks nothing like living dangerously!
Recently The Umbrella Foundation Australia made the decision that we are no longer supporting the volunteer program here in Nepal. Our last Australian volunteer has now left and whilst Umbrella Nepal still operate a volunteer program we feel there are far better ways and opportunities to support communities here in Nepal and elsewhere.
When I get enquiries about volunteering, my first questions are always; 1. Why do you want to volunteer? 2. Why Nepal?
The usual answer is; “I want to make a difference and I want to experience the country and the culture”.
I am the last to judge as like many I was a volunteer with the Umbrella Foundation Nepal in 2012, I was one of those people who read ‘Little Princes, One Man’s journey to save the children of Nepal’ and I had no suitable skills other than life experience, being a mother and a piano teacher. I paid my volunteer fees and signed up for a three month stint which helped fund the many costs involved in running an INGO. Back when I volunteered I had a lot of contact with the Umbrella children in the homes which at that time were open for visitors and tourist to come, take photos and even share dal baht. I remember hiding in a room with the children when a group of visitors were brought to the home to meet and take photos. The children informed me that they felt like zoo animals on display.
My relationship with the children was and is as a friend and I am privileged that many of those children have grown up and still occasionally send me a message to say hi, these children are amazing individuals. Did this come about because I volunteered and shared a few months of their lives…….absolutely no way! It is because they were given opportunity & education by foreign sponsorship and guidance by foster parents who live 24/7 with them and care for them as their own children in a loving home environment.
Don’t get me wrong, volunteering in another country is a wonderful experience, it looks great on your resume and can bring about lifelong friendships and even change your lifes journey. I have come out the other end of my volunteering program and started a charity….it is life changing. It is also a decision that has to be made responsibly and most important, ethically…. do your research! Make it a worthwhile experience as it is costly (much more expensive than a holiday) and you don’t want to spend your time sitting in an office on the other side of the world twiddling your thumbs and taking local jobs or worse still supporting a children’s home that is neglecting and profiteering from vulnerable kids who have been taken from their families.
There are also the alternatives to volunteering overseas, how can we make a difference and bring about positive change for vulnerable children, their families and communities by volunteering in our own country......do you see where I'm going with this?
Why not share your skills at home with an organization such as The Umbrella Foundation Australia who are assisting these communities from a bottom up development level. Umbrella Australia would so appreciate an hour or two a month from people wanting to help us promote the organization through social media, fundraising or even attending one of our board meetings to hear about our work, plans and what we are doing. We need ideas people, anyone who can give us the opportunity to expand as an Australian charity and assist communities here in Nepal and our vulnerable kids in Australia.
Another option is ethical tourism. Why not take the opportunity to visit communities, stay in local guest houses which support the families and the education of their children by giving them a purpose and business opportunity.
One such ethical tourism opportunity is happening in October this year ...drum roll please. Our first EVEREST BASE CAMP CHALLENGE!
Our partner in trekking here in Nepal, Nature Treks are organizing an 18 day experience starting 15th October, 2017. Not only do you get the opportunity to stand under the highest mountain in the world, you also experience a day of rafting in the beautiful Sunkoshi river, visit our new project (to be announced shortly) and explore the many exciting streets and cultural delights of Kathmandu. Our Umbrella youth will also gain employment opportunities and training as trekking guides with all profits supporting a rural school project.
We can all make positive changes so why not get those joggers out, start training and take on our 2017 Challenge! Do some hard core volunteering…..contact us at Umbrella Australia for further info and watch this space.