Donna and Jeremy
Goljung - September 2006-January 2007


We arrived in Nepal at the end of September after spending almost a month in China, including traveling through Tibet to Kathmandu.  We visited the INFO office when we arrived in Kathmandu and were treated to a nice dinner with Asim’s family and the volunteers at Happy Home.  There weren’t as many children staying there as normal because most of them had returned to their homes to celebrate Tihar and Dasain.  Our volunteer placement started a month later, giving us time to go trekking in the Annapurna area and do some sightseeing in Nepal.


Our time with INFO Nepal started with a few days of language classes and sightseeing in the Kathmandu area while we stayed at Happy Home.  (There were more children there at this time.)  We then moved to Sanga, a  ‘training village’ on the outskirts of the Kathmandu valley, where the language classes and sightseeing continued for a few more days.  Jeremy also experienced a Nepali-style shower, much to the amusement of the local villagers and some passers-by.  The host family there was very nice, hospitable, and served us tasty cooking.  They even treated us to some homemade chang!  As a bonus on clear mornings, we had a good view of the sun rising over the Himalaya from our bedroom window.  The house was comfortable, even though there are chickens in the attic and goats in the room below us. While we stayed in Sanga, we made two trips to nearby Dhulikel to observe a Nepali school and do a bit of teaching.  Donna’s singing must have been very entertaining for the students and teacher, Rajesh, who laughed so hard that he had tears in his eyes.


Our first placement was in Syabrubesi, in the Langtang area.  It started with a long uncomfortable bus ride on an increasing bumpy road, but we eventually made it there with only one broken window.  We arrived just before sunset, and just before the Lama arrived for a few weeks’ stay at the local gompa.  The locals chanted and drummed as he arrived and offered kata (scarves), which he then placed around their necks.


We went to the public school the next day and met the headmaster there.  He was thrilled to have some volunteers to help out at the school.  The school is pretty big with over 350 students in 10 classes.  Donna helped teach English to the older classes and Jeremy helped out in the computer lab.  The school has a new computer lab with 13 computers, which seemed a bit out of place in a village where the electricity works sporadically.


The computer lab was a quite chaotic, as there are about 40 students in each class and not enough computers to go around.  The students seemed more interested in playing on the computers than learning about Microsoft Office.  Between this and the language barrier, teaching them was a challenge.  Jeremy tried to teach them some typing skills and about the components of the computer.  He also spent some time reinstalling programs that were damaged by viruses.  It was nice to have internet access during our placement!


In addition to helping teach English to the older students in the mornings, Donna spent her afternoons with the younger physical education classes in the school’s courtyard.  It was a lot of fun for her!  The children loved to dance the hokey-pokey and play duck-duck-goose.  She also spent about a week organizing the school library.  It wasn’t always fun for her though, as some of the teachers tended to leave her in the class by herself and go outside to relax in the sun.


During our stay, we were invited to attend two picnics held by the school.  It’s a lot of work providing these picnics.  They have to bring everything to the site including plates and live goats.  The first picnic was held by the students of grade 9 and 10.  There were three meals.  The first was beaten rice with potato curry, the second meal consisted of Indian fried rice and various meat (chicken and goat guts); the third was mutton, vegetable curry and rice.  It was nicely done, especially considering that it seemed to have been planned the day before!  The second picnic, held by the teachers, was similar to the previous one, except the teachers brought an ample supply of alcohol and got quite intoxicated.


Other than the time we spent volunteering for the school we also opened the INFO Nepal Children’s Library.  It is basically a building with one chair and table and a handful of books.  (Although some new furniture did appear during our stay.)  Here the children can come before and after school to learn English with us.  We open the library twice a day for them to come, before and after school.  The older children came in the morning (if it wasn’t too cold), and there usually weren’t more than 5 or 6 of them.  The younger children came after school, and sometimes there were more than 40 of them!  We read to both groups, and they enjoyed writing and drawing.  The older group liked to play card games and we also tried to organize some short lessons for them.  The younger group liked to play games and to run back to their homes with us after we closed the library.  So between the school and the library, we were very busy each day from 7:30 to about 5:30.


Our host family’s house was fairly modern by Nepali standards, and is located in the newer part of town, right at the bus stop.  We were awoken early every morning by the excessive horn honking and engine revving that precedes every bus departure in Nepal.  Our room was relatively clean and the toilet is inside the building on the same floor.  We took some showers at the hotel next door, and also visited the local tatopani (hot spring) a few times, where we attracted some attention from the locals.  Our host family’s children were attending school in Kathmandu and seemed to miss them a lot.  They tended to retire to their room early to watch television, leaving us plenty of time to do some reading.  Fortunately we had bought a number of books before leaving Kathmandu!


We stayed in Syabrubesi for about 6 weeks before returning to Kathmandu for Christmas and to renew our visas.  During our stay we went for a few short treks in the area and enjoyed some of the spectacular Himalayan scenery.   Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a view from Syabrubesi itself.  We visited the sacred lake of Gosainkund, the orange hot spring at Tatopani, the good view from Nagthali, and the pretty Tamang village of Thuman.


Our second placement was in the village of Goljung, about 2.5 hours’ walk from Syabrubesi, on the other side of a large hill.  Fortunately (?!), there is now a bus that runs nearby.  There, we had better views of the mountains and enjoyed a real rural experience in Nepal.  There was no running water in the house, few toilets (the host family's home was one exception), no buses outside our window, no post office, and, as far as we know, there is only one occasionally-working phone in the village.  We woke up to the crow of the roosters and the voices of the host family each morning.


We opened the INFO Nepal Library every day except Saturdays, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  After dinner, we had the evenings to ourselves.  The library is big but only has one chair and one table, and a bookshelf.  Fortunately for these children, the supply seems to be better here (ok, maybe not better but definitely more).  We tried reading to them.  It's hard when there are 40 of them and they range in age from 0 years to 16 years old!  In the ended we ended up doing centre-like activities with them.  The table is where the writing, drawing and book looking occurred.  In one corner is the card game, another corner would be memory game and outside is the ball, skipping, and badminton.  When they feel like it we play some of the singing games Donna does at home with her pre-school children such as ring-around-the-rosy, wheels on the bus, etc.  They especially loved London Bridge and Hokey Pokey.


The children there love the library and if we were late in getting out off our warm sleeping bag into the cold unheated house, they would be waiting at the library or sometimes right outside our bedroom!  Often during our break between morning and afternoon session, the children would come to Dawa's (our host father) house and stand around us and stare.  They wanted to know what we were doing and want to see the things that were occupying us.  We would hear 'Nameste' from all the way across the field and 'library?" "no?".


We enjoyed staying with our host family very much!  There are 5 members and one of them is in Kathmandu living in Happy Home (INFO Nepal sponsors them to go to school there).  That leaves the mother and father and two younger sisters.  The family is Tamang and has their own language and only the father knows Nepali and a few words in English.  Somehow we managed to communicate!  Donna fell in love with the little ones right away!  They are so cute!  The older sister couldn't be more than 4 years old.  On our last day there, she had been out in the field all day picking some leafy vegetable for that night's curry.  She would copy what Donna said if she was looking at her.  The younger one is maybe 1, almost 2.  She loves to follow her big sister around.  She'll put her palms together and say 'nameste' to us and look all cute, especially if there is food in the picture.  The mother works all day, from the moment she gets up she is doing something and sometimes several things, like cooking and spinning wool.  Dawa always has a smile on his face and is very kind.


We finished our stay in the Langtang area by doing the trek to Langtang village and beyond.  There was some great scenery there, and the trail was very quiet at that time of the year.  It was hard to return to the noise and pollution in Kathmandu!

Namaste from Donna and Jeremy