December 28th 2009
A holiday that really helps
If you have ever travelled in a developing country it is likely you may have felt a little like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt - becoming the centre of attention, surrounded by poor people you are compariatively far wealthier than, you might as well be Angelina or Brad. The desire to be generous – especially when poor village children approach you with trinkets or flowers – is intense. But when you learn that it's a begging racket and the child is 'run' by a shifty adult, you see that good intentions, in a place that you have, at best, a “Lonely Planet understanding of, can be a minefield. It's with this desire - to make an informed, positive difference to peoples' lives - that inspired one Islander, Anne Cole, after recent trips overseas, to resolve that she would put those good intentions to the most effective use.
Anne has since returned from Nepal where she put that resolution to good use. Following is an email interview with Anne that begins..
Can you tell us why you chose Nepal for your holiday and fundraising efforts?
I've always been fascinated with Nepal - something about it being a tiny country and having such huge mountains. I tried to go there a few years ago but decided to delay my trip due to the political instability at the time. Nepal is a very poor country but full of contradictions. There are many electronic goods there due to the Chinese influence so you see women washing clothes in the streets by the well while others pass by talking on mobile phones. Sanitation is very poor and the remoteness of many people is a huge issue for health. Some have to walk for 7 days to get to a clinic.
Anne and the Nepalese landscape
How did you find out about the Nepal Australia Friendship Association (NAFA)?
I found out about NAFA a few years ago through a work colleague who was the president of NAFA. He was doing some fund raising and showing photos of his most recent trip to Nepal. I had been wanting to go to Nepal for some time and I figured that this was the perfect way to go - to visit a country and also to give back to the people who live there.
Anne with group of teachers at the school.
Can you tell us tell us what NAFA do and why you decided to get involved with them and not other charitable groups?
NAFA (QLD) was formed in 1989 as a result of Nepal’s contribution to the World Expo 88. It is a Brisbane based non-political, non-profit organisation without religious affiliation. It is run entirely by volunteers and 100% of donations are allocated directly to projects in Nepal without any administration costs involved.
I was really inspired by NAFA as an organisation and their dedication to raising funds for projects in one of the poorest countries in the world. Having been there I can now see that just a small amount of money can make a huge difference to people’s lives there.
When I've traveled to third world countries I've always wanted to give something back and help out but then I'd come home and get caught up in every day life and I just didn’t get to it.
As it turned out being with NAFA was the best way to travel. I had contacts all through the country and got to meet some really interesting people as a result of this.
What kind of fundraising did you do before you went to Nepal?
I had a fund raising dinner before I left and asked people to bring along some food and a donation. Many Magnetic Islanders came along and very generously donated over $1,200. It was a really wonderful response and I would like to thank everyone who contributed.
How will the fundraising money be used?
This money will be used for a variety of things. It will go towards setting up some computers in the school I volunteered at and also for training for teachers at remote schools. I have also asked that some go to a school for children with disabilities. I visited this school when I was there and they have very little in the way of equipment.
Nepalese school children
Can you tell us about the school and its setting?
The school is in a village called Thimi in the Kathmandu valley. Even though Thimi is quite close to Kathmandu it is a very separate village with its own culture. It is predominantly agriculturally based with most families working in the fields during the day. Family groups live together in high set houses, sometimes up to 18 family members living together. I requested to stay with a family but actually stayed in a room at the school and had meals with the principal’s family or at the school.
In Nepal there are more private schools than government schools – the school I was at is a private school but does a lot of community development work. Some of the children at the school are sponsored by people from Australia through NAFA. Sponsorship is for the school fees and for school uniforms. All the children wear uniforms to school so they can be seen as equals despite the level of income of the family.
The school was started by Surendra as a child minding centre for working parents and has developed from there. I was the only volunteer at the school and I think the only non-local in the village. The school regularly has volunteers for cultural exchange, to help the children’s education and to help the school financially (I paid US$60 a week for room and board). The school is now well established and takes children from 2 ½ years old up until grade 10. After that if the kids want to continue school they go to college for 2 years.
Schools often have limited space in Nepal
What did your work at the school entail?
I was with the kindergarten classes and helped out with the English and also gave some conversation English classes to the teachers. Although they know English quite well they weren’t very confident in speaking it. The children are very well disciplined and learn mostly by rote learning. There are about 30 to a class in a very small room. There is a space for them to play but they don’t have any play equipment so I went out and bought some balls to play with which was a great success. The children speak their caste language at home (Newali) and learn Nepali (the national language) and English at school so at a pretty young age they can speak, read and write in three languages. Impressive!
I also visited another school in a remote area and the students there weren’t learning English as the teachers couldn’t speak it very well. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to use some of the money for training teachers in remote areas as these schools are even more disadvantaged. This remote school is also looking for volunteers to live at the school and teach English. You only have to walk about 20 minutes to get to this school and it is on a hilltop with beautiful mountain views.
Share some highlights of your trip with us.
I arrived at the time of Dewali and other celebrations such as the Newali New Year and the Brothers and Sisters ceremony. I was really fortunate in being able to join in all these celebrations. Everyone hung lights outside their houses (some with Christmas carols playing!) and lit small oil lamps on each side of the door and windows. They also had community Mandelas made from sand and paint in the streets. This was a great community event as people of all ages joined in. There was a long parade through the town the next day to celebrate the New Year and the day after there was a rally of motor bikes and trucks from Kathmandu to Bakhtapur the neighbouring town.
Community mandela making
The brothers and sisters celebration is when the sisters honour their brothers by giving them gifts and food. The men sit on the floor with offerings in front of them and the women give food and offerings to the men. It’s a lovely ceremony and I did ask if they had one where the brothers honour their sisters but the answer to that was a negative.
Brothers and sisters celebration
Another highlight for me was that Thimi is a pottery village so I was able to watch the whole process of pots being made and dried and fired in the streets.
Will you be doing any more sponsored work with NAFA?
I would like to do it again in the future and go to some of the more remote areas. I think it is the best way to travel as you get to know a community and the people there rather than just passing through and you also feel that you might be helping just a little bit.
Thimi - pottery village
More information of NAFA activities including sponsorship for children to attend school can be found on www.nafa.org.au or to email NAFA click here.
story: Pen Sheridan
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