Today was time to say good-bye to all of my new friends at the school project and move on. I had originally intended to leave tomorrow, on the 20th, but had to depart a day early due to bus schedules and logistics. The bus to Chitiwan, my next stop in Nepal, leaves at 6:30 am from Besisahar and it was necessary for me to spend the night in town in order to meet that schedule. The bus has to leave early because at 10:00 am the road is closed (somewhere along the way) for several hours due to construction so the transportation system schedules around that. Saturday is a holiday and the regular bus between Gaunsahar and Besisahar does not run so I originally thought I was faced with walking down the mountain with my duffel bag, something I was not looking forward to, at all. But one of the volunteers, Lem, who I have been working with on the computer room project, was talking to a local woman and discovered she was going down via jeep Saturday morning. She generously offered me a ride. So Lem is my hero of the day as he saved me a painful, treacherous trip down the hill!
It was hard to say good-bye to all of the great people that I have met, worked and lived with for the past three plus weeks. Even though during the whole time people have been coming and going there remained a core group of people who, like me, have been constant throughout and we have all gotten to know one another well. We’ve shared great conversations, both the ups and downs of dealing with a constantly changing crowd, the multiple tasks for which Shamser needs help, and the management of the little, but important, daily living tasks that accompany a large group of people in any situation. The teamwork and sense of community have been outstanding and I really appreciate the whole experience. I’ll also miss the ever-changing, but always beautiful mountain views. The scenery and nature around the village are amazing and so very peaceful!
Of course, the whole point of being there in the first place was to support the school project. It was impressive to see the progress that has been made even though we have had to get creative and be flexible in how we get things done. We did not always have the right tools or alternatively have had to share tools, the grey paint for the kitchen turned out to be orange (which we all actually liked better!), power was constantly coming and going (daily), it rained a lot (leeches!), and we had, at one point, 24 people sharing one toilet. During the course of my stay I have taught first through fourth grade, carried sand, shoveled sand and rock, served in the library, participated in the Friday afternoon games for the kids, painted, helped cook, fetched food from Besishahar, walked the children back and forth to the next village, and most importantly, helped get the computer lab established. It is the later that I feel the most satisfaction about. Working with Gary and Lem, and including some help from Niko and Fabi, we were able to get the computers swapped over to Linux, get the projection system set up, and even managed to teach some of the local tenth graders (all girls!) some basic computer skills.,
And I do mean “basic”. The students have exposure to the theory of computers but some of the fundamental knowledge of how to operate them- things like a touch pad, the idea of a mouse, the difference between the left and right mouse button, even that between single vs double clicks, are totally foreign. They literally have never touched a computer before, even though they have had exposure to cell phones. So while they know that YouTube, for example, exists, they were not aware of what a browser was and how to use one. So having the ability to touch and play with a computer, even if just starting with a word processing exercise, is a huge opportunity for them. I really hope that when they learn enough to get comfortable with the basics, they can then easily access the incredible wealth of knowledge at their fingertips on the world wide network. For some, with the ambition and the energy, it could be life changing! So, yes, establishing the computer lab was my favorite part of the project. Luckily Lem is staying another month or so and can build on what we have accomplished and then hand over to another long- term volunteer. We are both hoping that the tenth grade girls who are currently seeking instruction can help train other older local students.
Shamser’s project continues even though I will not be there to witness it. The cooking classes started today since we managed to finish the kitchen. The construction of the 5th grade classroom is moving forward, as is the garden project, and the plumbing supplies for the extra toilet at the school arrived the day before I left. More donated computers are arriving soon. In addition, the team is digging a hole for a much needed new toilet and shower near the “roundhouse”, the extra bunk room for volunteers. With a group of around 20, extra facilities are needed! I look forward to following all of the progress on his website.
For anyone thinking about trying a similar volunteer experience, I highly recommend it. If you approach it with an open and flexible mind, dedication, and a sense of adventure, I guarantee you will have a wonderful experience. There are so many people out there needing help and there are equally so many people out there helping — having a chance to be a part of that ecosystem is truly a privilege!