Living and Working in Nepal

VSO February 95 volunteer groupI first went to Nepal in 1995 as a volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) for a 27 month posting. As it turned out, I spent only 15 months there, having decided to leave early for a number of personal and professional reasons. This did not diminish my enthusiasm and fondness for the country and its people. When I arrived, I spent 2 months in Kathmandu with 9 other VSO volunteers learning the Nepali language. Tuition was classroom based with 1 tutor per 2 students and only 1 day off in 6. This was followed by a 3 week village stay to practice and consolidate language skills and experience some rural culture. After this there was a week off to relax and travel before heading off to post. Mine was in Baglung in Dhaulagiri Zone of Western Region. An established volunteer from a nearby town accompanied me to help me find accommodation but vanished after a day. Luckily a US Peace Corps volunteer, already living in Baglung, got me sorted for digs.

Training a Forest User GroupImmediately, I started work as a development volunteer in the government-run community forestry programme at the Baglung District District Forest Office (DFO) which was one of three in the Western Region supported by the British government funded Nepal-UK Community Forestry Project. My tasks included preparation and facilitation of training, field work and mapping, and administrative assistance. The most important function of the role, however, which had little to do with forestry, was rapport building with office colleagues and the local community to encourage the changing of negative attitudes and practices. Having come from a technical forestry background, I found I was ill-qualified and inexperienced for this part of the role.

Working as a volunteer in Nepal is both rewarding and frustrating. For me, the biggest frustrations were the lackadaisical attitude to work and the obsequiousness within the office culture. I found it difficult to define my role when the technical knowledge and skills for which I had been recruited, were not generally lacking among my counterparts (although motivation was). My rejection of a job paying ten times the salary in favour of a frugal (although by my colleagues' standards, comparatively wealthy) existence in Nepal was hard for them to understand. It certainly formed the topic of many office conversations over afternoon tea!

Ama & ILanguage and cultural 'barriers' were quickly overcome and I became integrated into the local community and was treated like a son of the family I lodged with. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the Nepali people and have developed friendships that have been more than just transitory. Since leaving Nepal in 1996, I have returned seven times and was even re-married to my wife in a mock Nepali Hindu wedding. I sponsored the visit of my close friend, Raghu, who came to the UK in 1996, and provided some financial support to my family to assist with the costs of my Nepali sister's wedding. Living in Nepal made a big impact on me and was probably the most intense and rewarding 15 months of my life. Nepal for me will always be a home away from home.