Emma Stowe '18
On May 28, 2008, the Himalayan country Nepal abolished its monarchy to establish itself as a Federal Democratic Republic. The two hundred and forty year old monarchical government had ingrained in Nepali society the social system of patriarchy. Women in Nepal have far fewer rights than men and face insurmountable inequality. While Nepali men have full access to an education and employment opportunities, women are taught to stay home with the family to cook and clean. The government provides minimal protection for the rights of Nepali females, which further encourages discrimination.
The issue of women’s rights has always been an important subject to me. With the recent contentious election and voices speaking out against gender inequality, my interest grew even larger. When presented with the opportunity to apply for the Haney fellowship, I immediately desired to pursue a project relating to the rights of women. I spent many hours researching online about the way women are treated all over the globe, and was especially disturbed reading about the tribulations Nepali women face daily. The patriarchal traditions frustrated me, and I began focusing specifically on how I could help the women of Nepal.
For my fellowship, I connected with the third party organization “GoEco” that referred me to the Idex volunteer company. The Idex volunteer association has a wide range of projects in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Nepal. Volunteers from around the world travel to Idex locations to participate in volunteering activities such as childcare, teaching, beautification of schools, and more. For three weeks, I stayed at the Idex volunteer house in Kathmandu, Nepal teaching English, empowerment skills, hygiene, and leadership to Nepali women.
Embarking on the twenty-two hour journey to Nepal, I felt a strange mix of excitement and nervousness. For the next three weeks I would be living in a foreign country half way across the world in a different continent. Stepping off the plane I was greeted by an Idex employee named Trisan who drove me to the volunteer house just five minutes away in Chuchepati, Kathmandu. My heart dropped as I experienced the awful Kathmandu road conditions for the first time. Cars, taxis, and motorbikes flew by us as we traveled down the muddy streets of Nepal.
The volunteer house boasted three stories with a downstairs kitchen and eating area, computer room for planning lessons, a living room, and rooftop access with views overlooking all of Kathmandu. The bedrooms each had three sets of bunk beds, where volunteers shared living quarters. Arriving at camp for the first time, a fellow volunteer welcomed me with a big hug and placed a traditional red bindi dot on my forehead for good luck. I was amazed by the sizable number of volunteers currently living in the house from all different countries including Spain, The Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Italy, and The United States.
My first morning in Nepal I awoke to the loud noises of dogs barking, car horns, bells, and locals chanting loudly. Breakfast every day ran from seven thirty to eight thirty. I enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers, and hearing about the many different cultures of their countries. Following the first breakfast the other new volunteers and I received an orientation meeting from the location manager explaining the camp rules, our responsibilities, and a brief history of Nepal. The Idex cooks then offered a small cooking demonstration on how to make the staple food of Nepal momos, and a popular type of tea called masala. The spicy flavors of the food initially frightened me, but by my third momo I was hooked. Part of the cultural immersion program also included a traditional henna and sari dress workshop. An Idex worker helped me into a bright red sari while another created a traditional henna design on my hand.
The night closed with a journey across town to a middle class Nepalese family’s home, where they served me a traditional meal of lentil curry, spiced chicken, potatoes, and rice. The family was very kind, and eager to share many facts about their culture so different from my own. Common customs they shared with me include only eating with their right hands, not stepping over someone else’s legs, no pointing, and that they consider it rude to point the bottoms of your feet in the direction of someone you are speaking with.
My second day in Nepal was considered my observation day. At ten thirty I embarked on the half an hour walk to the Saraswati School for women with my project executive, Anil, and a fellow Irish volunteer named Matilda. Matilda had previously been with Idex for four weeks, and would be leaving the following day. Anil served as the interpreter for the class, and assisted with explaining subject material the Nepali women did not understand. I introduced myself to the women, explaining I would be their new teacher for the next three weeks. Each woman offered me a warm smile, and was dedicated, motivated, and eager to learn as much English as possible. I observed Matilda teach both classes that ran from eleven to one and one thirty to three thirty, with a half hour lunch break in between.
The rest of my time in Kathmandu consisted of a more organized schedule. Every morning after breakfast I was responsible for planning the lessons for my classes, and gathering all the materials I would need for teaching. I prepared daily activities and worksheets for both my morning and afternoon classes in addition to extra exercises for the few women at lower levels than the others. The women in my morning class were slightly more advanced than the second class, but every woman shared the same desire to learn. Each day I began the classes with a quick review of what the women had learned the previous day, and would continue the subject if they had not fully comprehended it yet. My lesson plans mainly focused on English grammar such as the verb “to be”, pronouns, sentence structure, verb tenses, and adjectives. Some women needed individual attention to practice the alphabet and numbers. Each lesson I weaved in different vocabulary in categories such as foods, the body, animals, etc.. The women especially enjoyed participating in interactive learning games such as Simon Says, catching a ball to answer a question, and coming up to the board to fill in examples. I initially struggled with the language barrier, but soon realized how to work around it with the help of Anil.
After my daily classes, I returned to the volunteer house around four in the afternoon. Most days I spent additional time during the night creating tests, quizzes, and plans for my classes the following days. I also had the opportunity to explore many of the local temples with other volunteers in Kathmandu, and the surrounding cities. Kathmandu itself boasted bustling streets full of vendors, stray dogs, and-believe it or not-cows roaming along the sidewalks. For a couple days after my classes, I was able to visit the local orphanage for children injured from the earthquake with the Idex volunteers who went their daily. It was an emotional experience to see the disabled children in such happy states of mind, eager to just play with the volunteers. I wore a mask outside daily due to the poor air quality and pollution.
During my last week in Nepal, for one day the school closed for the festival of women named “Teej”. The festival is celebrated annually where women are honored and pray to the Hindu Gods Lord Shiva and Parvati for marital success. The women celebrate with music, dancing, and dress up in bright red saris. During the festival I travelled outside the camp to the Kathmandu Durbar Square to observe the festivities. I looked on in a massive group of Nepali locals as many women danced to traditional music. However, locals quickly pulled me into the center of the circle to dance with the women. I smiled as one Nepali woman grabbed my hand to teach me some traditional dance moves, and celebrate the festival with them.
On my last day of teaching I prepared bingo boards with English vocabulary on them for the women. I stopped at the local market to buy some traditional candy as prizes, and to make the game even more enjoyable for the women. After doing a final review of the material we had covered that week, we began playing bingo. The Nepali women laughed and beamed as they enjoyed the activity while learning the new English vocabulary. At the end of both classes, the women placed prayer scarves around my neck and individually hugged me. I felt a strong sense of sadness and gratitude towards the women whom I would miss immensely.
My experience in Nepal was one of excitement, appreciation, and adventure. Seeing Nepal’s vastly different culture was eye opening to the numerous life styles lived all around the world. The Nepali women I taught expressed a level of kindness and happiness I had previously never seen before. My Haney Fellowship gave me a better appreciation for every opportunity I have in life such as the chance for a Portsmouth Abbey education, and a set of basic rights. In addition, I have a deeper respect for my teachers. Stepping into the role of teacher proved a greater challenge than I could have ever imagined, and I am truly humbled by the patience and dedication the Portsmouth Abbey teachers provide every day. Thank you to the Haney Family and Portsmouth Abbey for allowing me the chance to have this once in a lifetime experience I will cherish forever. Namaste.