Upon my arrival in Kathmandu, I was told, ‘don’t worry about a thing, we are family now’…
At the time I didn’t realise how true this would turn out to be, but after spending two and a half months with VCD, as I stand in the airport security line with tears soaking my cheeks, it feels more like I’m leaving my home and my family than simply returning from a holiday abroad.
The streets of Kathmandu are dusty and hectic. Motorbikes, trucks, cars and rickshaws bustle through ancient streets and alleys, along highways and across dirt roads, dodging people, dogs and the occasional cow gazing sleepily from the centre of the road. There is always something to do, always something amazing to see and always a story to be found.
I joined VCD as a journalism and photography intern, working closely with Santosh and Bikram, editor and publisher of Tourism Times Newspaper- the number one tourism newspaper in Nepal. My internship gave me the opportunity to not only work alongside other Nepali journalists and industry professionals, learning about international press and Nepali media; but also work independently to create my own articles which were published in the newspaper.It was sthe perfect excuse to talk to everyone; from shop owners to tour guides, travellers and locals, all happy to take a moment totell their story. The city isa journalist’s heaven, with so much to see and do.
Having said that, I also spent a while in a village and exploring the other regions of the country- from the mountains to the jungle- and once more I had the opportunity to write about my experiences and see them published.
In truth, I was only going to stay a month then travel independently through Nepal, but after speaking to Bikram about what I wanted to see and do, we had within minutes planned my whole stay; incorporating everything I was interested in, and devising a trip ten times better than I could have imagined.
So I spent two months with VCD, working at the newspaper, exploring the jungle, hiking, staying at an orphanage and helping with promotional material before I decided to extend my stay yet again, for another two weeks.
We were lucky to be visiting at the time of year we did (September- November), as we (myself and fellow volunteers) were able to visit Chitwan and stay with the Paudel family for Dashain and Tihar festivals. From the second we walked in the door we were welcomed with open arms by the Paudel family, who took us in as family of their own. We learned to cook traditional food, observed puja and received tikas from the family. You can’t help but adore Bicky’s mum and dad, the most beautiful and easy going couple I’ve met. Sorry we made your mum cry when we left!
It’s hard to say what the highlight of my placement was, as everyday seemed to be a highlight of its own. I know it sounds cliche’ but just sitting on the balcony of the lighthouse with a cup of tea, the VCD gang and a few other volunteers were some of the best times. Then of course there was seeing the sun rise over the Annapurna Range while trekking, spotting a mamma and baby rhino on our jungle safari, playing with the beautiful children at the orphanage, seeing a local soccer game in the middle of Kathmandu and learning about Hindu religion and Buddhism. There’s too much to say in just one breath.
They say you should visit Nepal for three things: the food, the culture and the people. They are right. The food is amazing (I hope you like spicy!) and the culture is so strong it seems like a festival day every other day, but above all, the people are warm and kind and welcoming. They make Nepal.
When it finally came time to leave, my new family all piled into a mini van together to see me off at the airport, waving me off until I was out of sight. If that’s not family… If I didn’t have to head home for work I’m sure I would have just missed the flight and stayed on a little while longer. The only bad part of my stay was when it came to say goodbye.
To my VCD family- thankyou, you’re the best and I’ll see you again sometime.To anybody looking to volunteer, to learn about the country, culture and people and to see their efforts actually make a difference in the community, I recommend VCD Nepal.
Jess Saxton, Australia