Volunteering at Snowland School, Kathmandu

By Gautam Rao (Nov 2012 team, Indian, Barclays Technology)

6468359The crowd sang loudly, clearly, and in unison. The motley group of 7 soaked in the adulation and the loving, and graciously accepted the garlands being hung around their necks. They were silenced for a while, not really expecting such a reception.  No, this wasn’t a rock concert. A group of about 150 children sang a beautiful song in a language none of us knew, while seven of us, bewildered volunteers that we were, walked into Snowland Ranag Light of Education School with a cool breeze behind our backs, and the morning sun shining bright. People told me volunteering was rewarding; they never told me I’d feel like a rockstar.

I came to Nepal for a few reasons; I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to see Nepal, breathe in the fresh mountain air for a while, and most importantly, I wanted to be among children again. Just working for 2 and a half years at a big organisation, I felt I had lost a certain energy, and a certain sense of curiosity. I hoped this trip would replenish that.

It did, and splendidly. I had come with 6 other volunteers from Barclays; from India, China, Indonesia and Singapore. Diverse backgrounds, diverse teams, but all equally touched by the splendour and the smiles of this fantastic mountain kingdom. If the welcome reception does not convince you, then spending just a day with the incredible kids at Snowland will. The children at Snowland come from some of the most remote  and destitute regions of Nepal; Dolpo and Humla, far away from Kathmandu, Nepal’s nucleus. There is almost no means of transport to get to these places, and a journey from Dolpo to Kathmandu in today’s day and age will take more than a week, with a lot of it on foot. These children had come all the way to Kathmandu to study, and to seek a better life for themselves and their families. With the hassles they faced in going back home, many of them hadn’t seen their parents or siblings in years.

And yet they were more cheerful, more precocious and more full of hope than many other children their age. A lot of them wanted to be doctors. One even wanted to be an actor. The teachers at Snowland had taught them to dream big, to be curious, and to work hard. Our job as volunteers was simple. To help them have fun, and to remind them that there were people out there who cared. We were to be brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and mothers and fathers to 150 children, from the ages of 5 to 18.

After the rousing reception on day one, we sat down with the principal and teachers, and took stock of the situation at the school. We went on a short tour of the classrooms, filled with rows of smiling children, happy to be sitting there. We saw the dorm rooms, filled with posters of global cultural icons. All the while, we were accompanied by some of the younger kids at the school, who weren’t camera shy at all. After a sumptuous lunch, it was time to get down to business. Not really sure about the intelligence and awareness levels of the kids, we had prepared a geography quiz, that was neither easy, nor too hard. The children, from classes 7 and 8, were split into groups and assigned 1 volunteer each. This was to be the acid test.

We passed with flying colours. I’m not sure who was more relieved; the team that won, or us volunteers. The students loved every bit of the quiz. It was now time for something more audacious. It was time for Gangnam Style.

With the sun setting in the background, about 20 kids (19 girls, 1 boy) gathered to follow one of our volunteers as she took them through the steps of the Korean superhit. It is a strange sight indeed to see underprivileged kids, in a school an hour outside Kathmandu, surrounded by hills and empty fields, dance to a most ridiculous song from a country far far away, with all the energy in the world.

We had got through day 1. It was just 1 day at the school, but that night we ate like we had climbed till Everest base camp. Things would only get harder the next day; we were to take on the younger kids!

Day 2 began with Jenga, which was a smashing success. Groups were formed, strategies discussed, and the best players from every team sweated it out at the table in the middle of the courtyard, while the others watched on with bated breath. You could have heard a pin drop. I bet the teachers looked on enviously as we had managed to do the impossible; get the kids to be quiet.

For the rest of the day, we had a group discussion, and we filmed a few mini documentaries consisting of interviews with various kids. With the really young kids, we were clueless. However, kids are more resourceful than we give them credit for, and seeing our confusion, they formed a game of their own; mouthing dialogues of Bollywood movies for the boys, and romantic Korean films for the girls.

To cap off the day, we took photos with all the kids and all the teachers at the school. It wasn’t all fun and games though; we spent some time in the principal’s office, deciding what needed to be done to help the school further. Sweaters for the kids in the brutal Nepali winter seemed to be the primary concern, and we promised the school we’d buy them as soon as we could.

It was time to say goodbye now. It had barely been two days, but even then, some of us had our favourites among the kids. The kids too, had their favourites among us, and we could hear each of our names being shouted as we made our way to the car. I don’t think any of us stopped waving until the school was truly out of sight, and I think some of us were thinking of coming back at some point in the future.

As we left the place, I realised I had already gotten answers to some my burning questions. By just spending two days here, I had made a lot of children happier, and myself a lot happier too. It wasn’t difficult; I did not need a lot of money, or a lot of skill to achieve this. A little quote on one of the notice boards in the school summed it up best:

We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.

The car rumbled on. We were all smiling.

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