Oli J's experience in Phusretar

The small Newari village of Phusretar is located five kilometers north of the bazaar of Dumre. This roadside town lies on the main communication line between India and Kathmandu, the Prithvi Highway. It is set in the stunning Himalayan foothills of Nepal, the Mahabharat Range. With the absence of clouds, one can see the awesome sight of the 6000m+ Himalayan peaks of the Annapurna range. It is an ideal setting for volunteering thanks to the beauty and serenity of the area, the amazing locals and the chance for cultural immersion.

Transport to the village starts off with a microbus or large local or tourist bus from one of Kathmandu’s bus parks. Dumre is located approximately 150 kilometers west of Kathmandu and the journey takes 3.5 to 4 hours. From Dumre you can take a local bus or 4x4 to the village in the hills, fifteen minutes above the bazaar. Alternatively, you can walk the steep valley side to Pushretar via a beautiful wooded trail.

Pushretar is an extremely tight-knit village of around seventy-five people. One automatically feels at home thanks to the warm welcome from all villagers and everyone making you feel part of the family. Children, animals and elders alike stroll in and out of each other's houses as if it was their own. The village really is like one big family.

The village's occupants are mainly children, women and elders. The majority of men of working age usually seek employment abroad, often in India or the Middle East and are only sometimes in the village to visit family and play cards. The remaining villagers work mainly in the stunning surrounding fields of rice, corn and mustard plants. The children usually attend school between ten and three unless their parents require their help in the fields, as often is the case.

The climate of the village is typical of that of the Mahbarat Range. It is a two-season year made up of the monsoon in the summer and dry, cold winter months. The summer brings high temperatures and regular heavy downpours — make sure to pack your umbrella for rain and shine. On the contrary, winter here is very cold but with it comes clearer skies and the awe-inspiring views of the peaks which draw your eyes higher than you could imagine possible.

Thanks to the beauty of the hills it is situated in, one can wander the surrounding villages for hours on end. Fifteen minutes walk from the village, you can find idyllic riverside grass beaches, which are perfect places to sit and read, write and sunbathe. Or, when the river's flow is at an ideal level, swimming is not only cooling and relaxing but a fun way to spend the afternoon with the local kids. As there is a lack of Internet, Nepali eateries and Thamel style bars in the village (thank goodness), any required company beyond that which Phusretar provides can be found not through electronic means but, as ever, in a good book, which is always recommended. Nepal currently has load shedding as well as un-scheduled power outs so a torch is also useful for those late night toilet trips.

The village is ideal for someone looking for an authentic rural and cultural experience but wants the comfort of having electricity (when it’s not switched off) to charge those all-important camera batteries. Water for drinking and washing is taken from either the community well in the center of the village or from your host's own pump well in the back garden, which usually consists of a patch of maize, fruit trees and a toilet. The toilets are typical of those of Nepal, made of a small outhouse with the usual squat/bucket flush set-up.

Of course, the staple of your diet whilst in the village is rice. Daal bhaat (rice and lentils) is served twice daily, often with a vegetable curry and sometimes with a meat; usually buffalo, chicken or mutton. Noodles and biscuits are available at the small local shops, which provide a nice alternative or supplement to the large quantities of rice (multi-vitamins are also a good idea for long stays). The water, as like anywhere in Nepal, is generally undrinkable, and therefore, it is a good idea to buy bottled water or use purification; tablets or a pump.

Like many volunteering placements, ideally one would stay long term — at least four weeks to a year, but for many this duration is a large commitment and unrealistic. However, a good length time of stay means that not only can you immerse yourself in cultural and village life and learn lots of the local dialect but also, if you are teaching English for example, you can follow the children's progress and make a real difference to their education. If you do plan to stay long term, it is recommended to have the odd break from village life, even just to let Mum know you still care. Dumre is easily accessible but has no decent Internet access; alternatively, the beautiful and serene mountainside village of Bandipur is close by and the area's largest town, Damauli has access to Internet and places to eat.

Whilst teaching, it's best to loosely follow the government's curriculum and the children's compulsory textbook as to not disrupt previous teachings, but some freedom is given for your own ideas and teaching styles. For those of us that cannot survive without contact with a fellow English (or other language) speaker, a good solution is to volunteer in Phusretar, or indeed other remote placements, with another volunteer. Not only does this give you a person to talk to without referring to your Nepali language guide, but helps with teaching ideas and the like.

In the village of Phusretar, there are two local schools within walking distance. Both have classes one to three only, roughly speaking from five to ten years old. They are set in picturesque surroundings and are no more than small one-story buildings with a sheet metal roof. Each school has only three classrooms, three teachers and a room for the tiny faculty. Of course, a teaching day wouldn't be complete without classroom invasions from the local goats and the buffalo and cows wandering outside! The English is taught from a textbook by teachers who can speak a little English at best and their pronunciation is typical of Nepali English speakers — not ideal. The difference in levels of English-speaking children from a private school to the small government schools is quite large but one cannot denigrate from the job that the teachers do. This does however mean that a lot can be done from an English speaking (as a first or second language) volunteer teacher in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Volunteering, contrary to many people's perceptions, is not just about teaching English and building schools. It can be as individual and tailored as one desires. Whilst in the village, one of us recorded the histories of local women for a research project commissioned by a professor at her university. This involved talking to a diverse range of women, young and old, as well as a jankri (medicine woman) — incredibly interesting and eye opening. This is not only useful from an academic research stance but also means that local, personal and tribal histories are recorded, something realistically rarely done on such local levels.