I first decided to volunteer when I visited Nepal in 2002. I had travelled over the years, but I had never visited that part of the world before. I remember at the time being both excited and apprehensive as I only had a vague idea of what to expect. I can only say that I wasn’t disappointed.
I had arranged to teach English as a foreign language in Nepal, with the support of a local NGO based in Kathmandu. The first stage of training covered language and cultural orientation, also getting to know all about the local food and local customs. It was also a good opportunity to meet up with other volunteers and discover different views on the journey we had all embarked on. In preparation for my volunteer placement, the next stage involved spending a few days living with a Nepalese family in a training village on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Then it was off to my placement, fully prepared!
The 8 hour bus journey from Kathmandu took me to the Terai region in the south of the country. I spent the next 3 months living with a local family in a rural village called Patihani. Patihani was situated by the Chitwan National Park located approximately 40 miles from the border with India. My new Nepali family treated me extremely well during my stay. The living conditions were better than I had expected, the food was absolutely amazing and all in all I was really made to feel part of the family. Next onto the teaching!
I was to teach in a resource centre in the village, which basically consisted of a single room, containing some desks, a window, a white board and an overhead fan that didn’t always work. There were approximately 45 students in total ranging in age from 15 to 32, with the average age being around 18/19 (there was only on guy of 32). The students were split into 5 classes lasting 1 hour. My brief was to help build generally on the English the students were learning at school. In the end, what the students actually wanted was to practice conversation, practice more conversation and practice even more conversation. I felt that I should also cover stuff like grammar and vocabulary, which we did cover, but to be fair it probably bored me as much as it bored them!
What struck me most of all was that I had a selection of kids here, all roughly the same age, from the same schools, but with such a wide range of abilities. The position at the government school was explained to me by one of my students Mohan – A (I had two Mohans in the class – no prizes for guessing what the other Mohan was called). Mohan told me that in class the teacher asks a question, a bright kid answers and the teacher moves on. If a student doesn’t get it, too bad, they’re left behind.
My small class sizes meant that I could do it a bit differently from the schools. I could check understanding before moving on, the student hated this, as they were embarrassed when they got things wrong. We soon overcame this problem as confidence grew and everyone tended to join in more as time went by.
I don’t know if what I did made any difference to the lives of these kids. I did see improvements in a number of students and I think they were generally far more confident at the end of the course than at the start of the course, this was particularly the case with the girls. I was just happy that I could help a little with something I enjoyed doing and if the students got as much out of it as I did, then my efforts were not in vain.
In addition, during subsequent visits to Nepal in 2003, 2004 & 2005 I designed a lesson guide to be used by future volunteers and also assisted the NGO director with various roles including the induction and placement of new volunteers.
In 2011 & 2012 I volunteered with SCIAF (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund). SCIAF is the official aid and international development charity of the Catholic Church in Scotland. SCIAF work in over 16 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, to help some of the poorest people in the world, regardless of religion, to work their way out of poverty.
I volunteered at SCIAF’s office in Glasgow, Scotland in the supporter services department, mainly carrying out administration and data input functions.
I also carried out the role of parish contact for St. Patrick’s Church in Greenock, Scotland. This role involves a variety of different functions but mainly attempts to ensure that more people can hear about SCIAF and how their support makes a difference for some of the world’s poorest people.