By Kristen Giersch
Nepal is a small kingdom in the beautiful Himalayas. With a rich culture and history, Nepal is famous for its spectacular mountains, and the opportunity to trek highest peak in the world, Mt. Everest. However, there is another side to Nepal. Blinding the tourist vision, you learn that Nepal remains one of the ten least-developed countries in the world, and that the majority of its people live in abject poverty. Nepal is emerging from decades of political unrest that stalled the country’s development. This lack of development has left it with a primitive economic status, high unemployment, and low literacy levels.
World Youth International (WYI) is an organisation that is committed to sustainable humanitarian projects in Nepal. Founded in 1988 by the Late Robert Hoey, WYI is a not-for-profit, non-religious and non-political organisation that works in collaboration with global partners to implement community development projects in the areas of Primary Health, Income Generation, and Education and Training. WYI is also a signatory to the Australian Council for International Development code and an approved AusAID organisation. WYI believes in creating sustainable community development projects to produce self-reliance and community empowerment. WYI participants are committed to ensure their projects are demand-driven, directly or indirectly contribute to poverty reduction and involve the community.
In November 2012, I was fortunate to be able to join WYI to live and work in the rural community of Maaitar in Nepal as a community development volunteer for five weeks. For the duration of my time in Nepal, I worked as part of a team of volunteers to complete a major community development project and a number of smaller projects. The major community development project I contributed to was for water irrigation. A 150,000 litre water tank was constructed to allow for water storage in the dry season and to increase the agricultural productivity and income in the community. Primary Health in Nepal remains poor by international standards despite recent improvements, especially in rural areas.
To contribute to improving the overall health of the Nepalese people, a smaller project I helped with was teaching the local community basic first aid and CPR. A discussion of signs and symptoms of health problems such as stroke, heart attack and epilepsy was also conducted to provide education and awareness of common health issues. Other small projects our team contributed to were rope swings for the children, constructing rubbish bins for the community, donating books and sporting equipment to a local youth community centre, providing women with education on basic foot and skincare, and assisting in teaching classes at a local primary school.
While it was the experience of a lifetime, volunteering overseas will also assist in my professional future, as employers are increasingly seeking to employ people who possess an international perspective and hold cross-cultural understanding. My experiences and knowledge of sustainable community projects and issues surrounding poverty were very limited and it is not a topic focused on within my undergraduate study. As a student of nursing, I hold a strong interest in primary health care with career objectives in community development and health promotion. Volunteering has assisted me in grasping a general understanding of the issues that are faced and overcome to plan and implement effective and sustainable community development programs.
Above all, the opportunity to immerse myself, by living and working within a Nepalese community, provided a cultural experience unmatched by travelling as a tourist. Developing a cross-cultural understanding is an invaluable part of my time in Maaitar. The knowledge gained is not only valuable to a health professional working in a culturally-competent manner but also as member of a multicultural society. The final major significance of being an overseas volunteer is gaining the exposure and education that I would never have experienced within the classroom. I would like to sincerely thank the Global Experience program for providing the GE Travel Grant and the incredible support that enabled me to have the opportunity to participate in such an amazing experience.