When I first learned of the Nepal trip in the fall of 2014, I would never have imagined myself boarding the plane to Abu Dhabi airport for the second time two years later. While I have witnessed the issue of homelessness in New York City, I did not understand poverty in its purest form. We are exposed to tragic stories and statistics about people who live in poverty, but reading a statistic is quite different from walking the streets of one. It was during this trip that I was confronted with the truly unbearable living conditions of the Nepali people.
In the spring of 2015, ten students participated in the service learning experience that consisted of four days of teaching at the Sanjeewani Primary School in Nagarkot, a rural village approximately an hour and half from Kathmandu. When we first arrived at the school we were greeted warmly and the principal placed red powder on our foreheads and white scarves around our necks. The main purpose of the journey was to teach English to the students, but also to help widen their creative comprehension using materials they do not have access to in the area.
The children wore blue uniforms that were streaked with dirt and covered in a layer of dust. Their flip flops looked old and tired as they have to walk to school every morning. Despite their situation, the students came to school everyday with a smile on their faces. They were eager to learn and to interact. In the classroom, they participated in all our activities with great enthusiasm.
There was one student in particular who seemed to cling on to me. She has a delicate and warm smile that illuminates her face. Ironically enough, her name is Swastika. We became quite close during my first visit to the school. She was so determined to answer every question in class correctly and always sat at the front. During play time she would grab my hand and tug at my shirt, signaling for a piggy back ride. It was very difficult for me to leave her last year. I wanted to help her pursue her educational interests, so that she would have a greater chance of living a better life.
During this spring break, I together with 18 students traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal (nine students were returning for a second time). I was so fortunate to have this opportunity. The Nepal Club raised over $7,000 for the school, and we were committed to return.
When we arrived at the school, we were shocked to see that the students remembered us. They ran into our arms shouting, "Namaste! Namaste!" (Hello, Hello) as they were surprised to see a familiar faces. Many international students travel to the school throughout the year, but it is rare for a group to return. I was worried when we first arrived because I could not find Swastika. I made sure I was teaching 2nd grade, so that I might be able to see her. When she finally walked into the classroom, her face lit up and she grabbed my hand.
On the final night of our stay in Nagarkot, one of the directors of Himalayan Voluntourism, Prabin Gautam was discussing the importance of connection and consistency when attempting to develop a relationship with these students. He said that one of the students told him: "I feel sad because I know they will leave and continue on with their lives, but I will stay here."
Every student should have the opportunity to travel to a community and develop a relationship with another student or a cause. Not only does it provide a foundation for the student to educate themselves on a certain global issue, but it also works to motivate the student to help change the situation because they better understand it. It is important that all students understand the purpose of this trip. We cannot think of it as one unique opportunity and simply move on with our daily lives once we return. The purpose is so that we can continue to help the community in any way we can, even if we are thousands of miles away.
(Article by Sarah B., photos by Anna L.)