A Journey Full of Encounters

In March 2020 I traveled again to Nepal, through Volunteer Nepal. I came my second time to the Ghurjung Primary School. I arrived there at Holi festival and it couldn’t have been a better day as people in the hilly region love to celebrate this festival. The kids played with the colors, music was played so that the whole valley was music-flooded, and we all danced. The festival indicates the start of spring and, this time, also welcomed me back to the school.  

I was overwhelmed — these Nepalese people, who met me for only the second time in their lives, welcomed me in a way that I couldn’t ever expect. I had come back to a place where I felt fully integrated and respected, just for being there and as I am.

I had already fallen in love with Nepal during some trekking trips about 10 years ago.  After some volunteering in Bangladesh, I decided to start a new project in Nepal and to join a volunteering program during the winter of 2019. I found Volunteer Nepal which helped me find a school in the mountains — and so I made my way to Ghurjung. 

Rarely before have I had the opportunity to get to know a country and its people so intensely and I have to say that this country fascinated me with its people, breathtaking beauty, and diversity of cultures. For me, it was a trip of discovery to a country that hit me right in the heart. 

Upon arriving in Kathmandu, I always try to get all my trekking permits as soon as possible. As the little school is right on the Annapurna Base Camp Trek it takes about 2 days to go there from Kathmandu via Pokhara. I enjoy going by local buses to Ghandruk, sitting there just being lost in my thoughts. The bus ride is amazing, quite an adventure and so is the trekking to the school which takes me a couple of hours hiking, carrying my big backpack with some little gifts for the kids and teachers. Together with a guide from Volunteer Nepal, it’s easy to find the way to the school.

I go there to give English classes for teachers and children and to provide active support wherever possible. The Ghurjung School is a very small one and there are only about 25 kids, which makes it easy to build a deep relationship with each of them. 

Out of my own comfort zone, into the school class: I admit, in the beginning I had a queasy feeling that only lasted for a short time. I was very impressed by the openness of the children meeting me as a foreigner, their motivation to learn new things, but also their patience to teach me Nepali. We loved playing games together. And so it became a routine to meet after school at the lodge where I slept to play Memory, Uno or any other game. It’s so relaxing to see these kids playing and laughing, and sometimes enjoying a piece of chocolate. I felt the kids’ trust and couldn’t have been more proud when they picked me up in morning to go to school together or dropped me off after school – surely, not leaving before having a game together. 

The school doesn’t have enough teachers for having one in each of the 5 classes and therefore they took a donation box on the trek to ensure that additional teachers could be paid. The teachers are amazing and I cannot express how much I admire their commitment to the school. Besides the hard work they are doing every day up there in the mountains, they spent time with me to learn and play games. 

I met teachers who not only see the school as their workplace, but have made it part of their family. They face their challenges with full motivation, grow together as a team, prepare for school exams, are open to new teaching approaches, want to expand their English skills and are particularly concerned about the well-being of children. We had so much fun together during our afternoon games, and making chains and bracelets with the children.

In addition to all the joy and positive mood during my visits, I don’t want to forget the challenges that teachers and students face every day: Having no warm shower, no running computer, no Wi-Fi, bad phone connections, no separate rooms for girls and boys, almost no privacy, only basic kitchen facilities for providing meals for the kids as half of them stay there in the hostel and many, many more.

Overcoming all these challenges: In the school, children find a place where they can simply be children and look to the future with confidence. And for this, the hostel children accept being away from their families for almost the whole school year, and the others accept walking distances for more than 30 minutes each way.

They were not the only ones learning — I learned a lot from them on my trips, how a community like this can work, and what is needed to build an inclusive culture like the one you find there. And I learned a lot about myself: that we can have a great impact making the changes we want to see if we all play our part. I’m proud and grateful that I can call myself, after only my second trip, a member of this little community. I miss them every day and can’t wait until we meet again. 

I always enjoy my accommodation at the trekkers’ lodge which is owned by the chairman of the school, I love his commitment for the school. I couldn’t be more thankful for the family’s great hospitality. I enjoyed great food, hot showers, my own room, and last but not least — a digital detoxing opportunity, that took me a while to accept and enjoy.  

It is difficult for me to put my many experiences and encounters into words during my trips. Every day was characterized by an unbelievable number of encounters, which unfortunately I cannot name individually. Basically, I was amazed how only with a little interest in the people and some sentences of the Nepali language that I tried to learn and that children and teachers were happy to teach me, I was always shown such an honest warmth and openness. That alone touched me a lot. Especially that they organized a little celebration during my second time there, where I could connect with many of the villagers, who joined the little festival.

There are many people I would like to thank warmly, who have already supported me in the preparation for these trips: 

  • My mother made a lot of handicraft gifts. I am always very impressed by her ideas and the love for my trips. Technology made it possible for my family to follow my journey by phone and computer.
  • Volunteer Nepal: Not only for organizing many things for the trip, Volunteer Nepal also gave me the chance to stay in their Volunteer House in Kathmandu. It’s always amazing to meet people from around the world there, meet the kids living in Papa’s House and be welcomed into their cheerful community, making me proud by calling me “sister.”
  • Friends giving me little travel companions to use as gifts for the kids and teachers.
  • Last but not least, my employer, too, who supported the trip with additional days of a special leave.
  • I can echo the advice that I heard and read several times: Stop waiting for the “right time” for having the opportunity of a lifetime experience. You can decide later if it is a one-time experience or if you’ll hold onto some people in your heart who bring you back again and again. I decided to go the second way and there hasn’t been a single day that I don’t think about the people who gave me the chance to step into their lives and rewarded me again and again with the most heartfelt smiles and warmest hugs ever. It was just awesome.

When I was planning this trip, I would never have thought how generously I would be treated and how intense the warm glow within myself would be. I very much hope to be able to travel to Nepal again soon to continue my projects with the teachers and students, and I can’t wait for it to happen. 

I know that COVID-19 is affecting all of our lives right now. But there will be a time when the world will be more open again, with a different ”normal,“ with a new perspective on hope, security, and encouragement. We need to remember, there will not be rainbows without a storm. You’d better get prepared to start right away. 

I can recommend this place, this school, and going with Volunteer Nepal — these people deserve your support! Please go there and enjoy the magic of this place! Let me know if you are interested to go — there is always a way to go together! NAMASTE.