The following post is a interview with United Planet volunteer Carrie Schramm, who has just returned from a Volunteer Abroad Quest to Nepal
What was most surprising to you about Nepal or your time there?
I went to Nepal not knowing what to expect. I wanted to experience something different and I actually knew very little about Nepal and the culture of the people that lived there. What I found was a country that truly accepted people and their differences. Life in Nepal is full of surprises. Kathmandu
was a bustling city full of electricity cut-offs and strikes. School was canceled at least once each week for strikes or some religious holiday. However, the students were friendly and always excited to learn and to talk and, mostly, to simply interact with foreigners. Then I took the most amazing vacation of my life as I went on a 6-day trek to Sermathang. I started each day in Sermathang by walking up a hill to watch the sun rise over the Himilayas and ended most days (when it wasn’t snowing or hailing) watching the sun set beyond the hills. I taught math to nursery through grade four and ate lunch of rice and lentils in their cafeteria with the students who lived in the hostel. Communication with the students was minimal because few volunteers had been there and they had little experience learning and speaking English. The teachers were still learning English themselves but could include me in most of their conversations. I made friends in Nepal like I have never had in America because they truly accept you for who you are as long as you are respectful and helpful. I shared my biscuits with the teachers during our morning tea one day and one of the teachers said “oh wow.” I looked at him confused and he said that volunteers who come here never share their food or material with the locals. I became a part of their families and their village and am grateful for every minute I got to spend with them. People came to recognize me and would always invite me in for tea when they saw me walk by – even though many of them couldn’t say anything in English other than “tea,” biscuits,” and “how are you?” Most important lesson from Nepal – Do the best with what you have, work hard, and always be willing to share your life with others.
We’ve heard your sponsoring a student in Nepal now, is that true? Tell us more!
When I lived in the village of Sermathang I stayed with a family that ran a lodge for trekkers or other visitors coming through. A part of that business was feeding and housing a young girl in exchange for her help with cooking/cleaning and other daily tasks. The girl that lived in the lodge I stayed in was a very sweet 13-year-old who had an amazing work ethic and always had a smile on her face. Her family was too poor to feed and cloth her so my host family was supporting her. She had never been to school, but often went to the Folk High School (an informal medium for locals to learn English and other culturally important trades) in the evenings to learn English. She could only attend when there were no people staying in the lodge and was missing out on math, science and socializing with other kids her age. Another volunteer and I believed in her and wanted to see her attend regular school with the other children in the village. I am pleased to say that she has been at Yangrima Boarding School for a month now and is in the 3rd grade. Because she is attending school and no longer helping at the lodge we are paying for her to live in the school’s hostel as well as her tuition. She is an amazing young girl and as she goes through school I hope some day we will be able to have a conversation in English and talk to her about life at school.
What’s the most valuable lesson or ideal that you’ve taken from your experience and how it will effect your future?
I am a very different person back in America because I understand the importance of accepting people’s differences and appreciating what you have. Living in a Buddhist community taught me to never take anything for granted because everything is connected. I also smile a lot more because I can take pleasure in the simple things in life. Patience is a lesson taught every day in Nepal: meetings never happen on time, electricity is cut off by the government 8-16 hours a day, political strikes don’t allow for travel on certain days. In short, it is impossible to make definite plans and you simply have to understand that things will happen when they happen. I found this lifestyle frustrating at first, but refreshing and freeing by the time I left.
What advice would you give someone considering volunteering abroad?
My advice is that there is nothing to consider. Volunteering abroad had some difficult days because it is hard to be away from friends and family and some of the customs really can make you uncomfortable. However, I can’t think of a more fun and influential way to improve yourself and improve the world. I guess I would say: Take the leap and don’t look back – you will never regret helping to make the world a better place. And somewhere along the way you will become a better person.
To plan your own Quest to Nepal, visit our website!