Last week marked our one year anniversary in Nepal. Amazingly on one hand, time has really flown by. On the other hand however, considering all the changes we have experienced, our time here has felt much, MUCH longer.
I can say one thing for sure, I have definitely learned and grown a lot since I first stepped off that plane, more than I could have ever imagined. Perhaps it is because I had the chance to step away from the rat race and the normalcy of my daily life back in Vancouver. While adapting to life in Nepal, I also had the time to reflect about what I really wanted out of life, what my real strengths and weaknesses are, and what really matters to me the most. I don’t want to sound cliché, but it has truly been a tremendous “soul searching” experience for both me and my wife.
What do I miss most from back home?
Doritos chips and high speed internet.
The things that I have come to love about Nepal?
The people, it is definitely the people – the people who I work with, laugh with, learn new things with, and at the same time the people who sometimes drives me crazy, my uncanny neighbours, and the fruit vendor down the street who occasionally tries to charge just a little extra for a kilo of apples.
What they all have in common though is their unconditional perseverance. Along with the political instability, the surmounting daily problems and barriers to basic opportunities that we often take for granted, are unimaginable to endure in my mind yet it is a normal part of their daily lives.
And so, they keep moving on, routinely going through the motions of their daily lives often either day-dreaming of a better life or apathetic or indifferent. Yet they are always “present” and “grounded” living each day one day at a time.
Regarding my work and challenges
I work in VSO Nepal’s HIV/AIDS programme as an IT Advisor. However, I feel like I have been more than what my ID cards says I am. I have worn “many hats” as they say, played many roles, and adapted a MacGyver style of working when it comes to helping people grow and learn. Working along with several local Nepali NGO’s regarding information management and related technologies, I have acted as a capacity builder, a trouble shooter, a teacher, a coach/motivator, a mentor, a facilitator, and even a councilor (that’s long story).
Depending on my colleague’s needs, activities have ranged from brainstorming ideas on how to build and maintain their library, developing policies and best practices regarding computer usage/maintenance to testing out new software and going shopping with them to look for the best computer deals and services. So far, my work has not only been interesting but genuine and authentic in way – real, raw, and down-to-earth grassroots.
Of course, the culture and language barriers were difficult at first, but it definitely got easier as time went on (and as my Nepali got better). However, the most challenging aspect of my job is actually figuring out how to learn and work in a totally different way that I am used to working back home.
On being a volunteer
I’ve learned that to be a volunteer (or any type of job that sees you working in different cultures), you really have to be flexible, adaptable, and creative since “anything” can unexpectedly happen. Most importantly I had to learn to be comfortable about “letting go” of some of my own expectations and convictions. On many occasions it has been frustrating and I felt like saying “Arggh, just let me do it and it will get done.” I had to remind myself, it is not about me but about the community that I am helping.
“Change” can be excruciatingly slow but it is definitely happening. As a “changed” person myself, I am simply along for the ride, supporting my colleagues through their necessary growing pains.
Highlights so far…
Work-wise, one of my most proudest moments is seeing my colleagues excited about the projects that we are working on. It’s amazing but simply teaching someone a new skill or trick on the computer, it feels like you are bringing water to a community village.
One colleague was ecstatic that she can now call herself a “Web Content Manager” after learning how to blog or edit their organization’s web site and another is jubilant that he can now optimize the performance of their computer networks. No longer do they say that the computer is just an expensive type writer.
Sometimes I found that a person just needed reassurance that the existing knowledge and skills that they have learned on their own is not inadequate. They often see me as the “Expert” but I often say, “Hey now, you are an expert as well!” I also found that often encouragement is needed for them to continue to explore new ideas, think critically, converse with their peers, and most importantly to not be afraid to make mistakes. It may sound easy to us “Westerners” but in reality, the concept is sometimes foreign in some cultures.
Finally, like any job, I look forward to vacation time. To be tourist when technically you are not one is such a great feeling. Let’s be honest here, travelling, seeing the sights, and learning about new cultures is a big plus about volunteering overseas.
It has been such an amazing experience so far and even though our placement ends in January, our adventure isn’t over yet.