Connect to Nepal – What to Expect – What to Bring
Keith Frausto – Global Community Innovations – former Executive Director of Namlo International
Purpose: In addition to enjoying a great yoga experience, the goal of this trip is to enable participants to learn about life in a remote Nepalese village directly from villagers themselves. You will be treated as guests by the community, and they will give you a great welcome. The main opportunity by visiting Dhuskun is for you to learn about the community, their issues, concerns and aspirations, strengths and weakness; to view the community not as poor people who need charity and handouts, but to respect them as capable people who are worthy of your time, friendship and partnership. For this you will have a chance to learn about what works in international development and what sometimes fails. This requires going in with flexibility and an open mind. The spirit of volunteering requires patience, willingness to learn, understand, humility and selflessness. This is different from the stereotypical “tourist” experience which is more about the individual needs of the tourist.
You will learn about how they live, engage in agriculture, secure water, dance, cook, worship and plan for their futures. We are planning that the engagement will be “hands-on” and you will have the chance to learn, in between yoga & meditation classes, harvesting techniques, food preparation, the agricultural cycle, and the role that religion, ethnic, cultural and gender play in their daily lives, dancing, cooking and even some language skills (with plenty of opportunities to practice!). The main opportunity would be for us to see you view this community as one of continued interest, engagement and investment in all that they do in education, economic development, women’s empowerment and infrastructure improvement. This is why we will set up discussions between you and the community on what they are doing. Remember that over 95 percent of structures in Sindhupalchowk district have been destroyed, and the government has been very slow on helping people to rebuild.
Dhuskun is 3 hours + northeast rom Kathmandu in Sindhupalchowk District, and is situated about 6,000 ft in altitude above the town of Bharabise, on the Sunkosi river, near the border with Tibet. In the rainy season, it is very difficult, and sometimes impossible to travel the dirt road from Bharabise to Dhuskun, which results in a 1 hour+ hike up a steep trail through forests. If the road is impassable, we will be met by community members along the way who will escort us to the community.
Almost all of the homes in Dhuskun were destroyed in the earthquake of 2015, and many homes are constructed of galvanized iron sheeting, which were distributed to almost all families during my tenure as executive director of Namlo International, Inc. For the most part, homes are scattered across the area, and there is not much in the way of a village nucleus. The women’s center, the local government offices, school and health clinic form a sort of administrative center.
The women’s center, where we will be staying was constructed by the women themselves with funding from a variety of sources channeled through Namlo International during my tenure as executive director in 2013-14.
It is a two-story, reinforced concrete structure that functions as a business incubator and veterinary office. We started the veterinary & livestock project in 2014 as an economic development activity, providing goats to an initial fifty women, who have been donating their first-born kids to other women members of the community.
Now there are over 150 women and their families (about 600 people) who are participating in the program. The women are also growing ginger, coffee, tomatoes and other vegetables to earn money and feed their families.
You will be staying as a guest of the women’s cooperative in the center, sleeping on the floor in three rooms, with access to toilets (squat toilets), with over three meals a day, tea, etc. The women are very proud of their center!
On the day after you arrive in Kathmandu and the day before you depart, we will be able to do some sightseeing with hired vehicles. We’ll be visiting the Boudhanath, the Pashupathinath, the Swyambhunath (Monkey temple) and other locations.
We will have two cooks for your group. The food is mostly Nepali, mostly vegetarian and very tasty. We will have at least three meals a day, with snacks and tea in between. You have the option to go completely vegetarian if you want. Keep in mind that when Nepalese eat, they completely finish everything on their plate, and it is considered rude to leave food on your plate, so be careful about loading up. Of course, they will make exceptions for foreigners. Bring hand sanitizer and wipes. In 2016 I over $1,000 to hire a UNDP contractor to train the women’s group on Homestay skills. This is an investment for the future so that the community of Dhuskun will be equipped to accommodate international travelers in the future and to improve their chances of harnessing tourism for their own economic development. Your coming to Dhuskun is part of the realization of their dream!
A lot of health issues depend on the experience of the volunteers and their knowledge of how to protect themselves – hand washing, no ice in drinks, not eating unpeeled, raw vegetables etc., etc. The absolute greatest thing you can do to protect yourself is to protect the water you drink, which is why I am advocating everyone bringing their own steri-pen so they can control their own consumption and not have to rely on bottled water so much. I will have one or two that we can all use, but better to bring your own. I know many of you may already be very experienced in this regard, but there needs to be common knowledge. Your health and safety is our primary concern. We will also have to have a discussion on alcohol, which is a big social problem in many communities.
What to Bring
Pack like you are going camping. There’s not much in the way of gear that you can’t in Kathmandu. I’ve bought decent backpacks, sleeping bags and hiking sticks. Some of the knock-off stuff is so-so, but others are quite well-made like rain jackets, down jackets, pants. Hiking shoes, gloves, sunglasses, tents etc are all there, but of course caveat emptor. You don’t want to be breaking in new hiking shoes the day you arrive, especially if you are doing a trek later. We can provide sleeping bags and sleeping pads for anyone who doesn’t bring their own (I would need a headcount on this) but the one thing that I did not see in KTM that was any good were sleeping pads. If you are particular about sleeping (who isn’t) better to bring your own pad. The material available in KTM is thick or not-so-thick foam pads in rolls, and I wasn’t impressed. Do bring and keep track of your personal electronics and packable solar panels are extremely useful for recharging iphones, cameras, ipads, etc. We will have a couple of solar panels there, but the priority for recharging will be for local staff for logistical and safety purposes. The women’s cooperative does have electricity but not all the time. Water is a bigger issue, is present at the cooperative, but sometimes runs out. That is when it has to be hauled by staff and the community from nearby springs and tap stands. Which is again why I emphasize the steri-pens, to avoid us having to bring in a huge amount of bottled water or having to use precious fuel to boil it. We’ll have bottled water available at mealtimes, but ensure your own supply other times, especially when working in the sun. Bring your own water bottle. Camelbak is fine but harder to use the with the steri-pen. Bring both! Keep hydrated. Keep your water bottle filled and with your daypack at all times.
At the Shoprite Store in Thamel, Kathmandu, you can find anything you might be looking for in the way of creature comforts including shampoos, deodorants, wipes, smartphone connectors, candy, maps, towels, etc. It’s either a giant 7-11 or a small Target.
Money: Your debit/credit card will work in Kathmandu, but make sure you contact your card company before you leave. There are tons of ATMs in Kathmandu, but make sure you inform your bank and card that you will be traveling in advance. Bring some dollars cash. Many stores will take dollars, and there are a lot of money changing kiosks in town.
Security & Health: I’ve never had a problem with theft in Nepal, but bring small locks and keep your bag locked up during the day. There’s always a chance for “crimes of opportunity” as opposed to outright theft. The women’s center has doors that we can lock at night. We are planning to have a doctor on staff – just in case.
By and large, you can be very healthy in Nepal if you are careful with what drink, eat and touch. Drink only purified water, and frequently wash your hands. No need to take malaria medicine. We’re at about 6,000 ft in altitude, and there are no issues with altitude sickness. I’ve never had problems in Nepal, but visit a travel clinic and equip yourself with the medicine necessary to deal with stomach issues, especially. Don’t pet animals (dogs or cats), and keep your hands clean. Bring a basic first aid kit with bandages, pain killers, etc. Nepal is a vertical world, with narrow terraces. You are usually walking either up or down, so make sure you bring bandages and moleskin for potential blisters. We will have first aid kits, but bring your own as well. We will also have a trained medical doctor present.
One thing that I think everyone should bring is a sleeping bag liner. I like cotton, but people some people prefer silk or other materials. These liners are useful when it’s too hot to crawl in the sleeping bag and even in hotels where you don’t trust the sheets.
Short Checklist. Quantities of socks, underwear, shirts etc., are up to your tastes and comfort.
- (2) Photocopies of your passport and (1) original passport
- (1) Backpack or Suitcase
- (1) Personal bag (small backpack or fanny pack (must fit in your lap or easily underneath your airplane seat) Helpful tip:(Use this bag as a carry-on for your international flight and pack 1-2 changes of underwear and t-shirts, your bathing suit and flip flops in this bag. If your primary bag is misplaced by airline it will make life easier while waiting on your bag.
- (7) Socks
- (7) Underwear
- (1) Short Sleeve Button Down Shirt (Loose & Lightweight)
- (1) Long Sleeve Button Down Shirt (Loose & Lightweight, used for sun and bug protection
- (1) Lightweight sweater or fleece (evenings can be cool in some areas)
- (5-7) T Shirts
- (2-3) Shorts (not culturally acceptable for women in the village)
- (1) Fleece Top (Light)
- (2) Pants (Loose & Lightweight, Used For Sun And Bug Protection While Working)
- (1) Light Hiking Boots (heavy duty hikers are overkill)
- (1) Closed Toed Recreational Shoes
- (1) Sandals Or Flip Flops
- (1) Towel for beach and bath (available in Kathmandu)
- (1) Lightweight Raincoat (Gore-tex or similar recommended)
- (1) Travel Size Toiletries (soap. Shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc.
- (1) each of sunblock, bugspray and hand sanitizer
- (1) Journal and pen
- ((1) Sunglasses
- (1) Baseball Hat Or Other For Sun Protection
- (1) Travel sheet sleeping bag (avail at REI or other outdoor retailer-you’ll be glad to have one. Highly Recommended
- (1) Bandana/Handkerchief
- (1) Small Camera (Optional-Digital Recommended)
- (1) Klean Kanteen Or Nalgene Canteen (32 Oz)
- (1) Headlamp or small flashlight IMPORTANT!
- (Individual Medications and small first aid kit. Bring Cipro (sometimes not available in the U.S.) or Zithromycin, Pepto Bismol and Imodium. Visit a travel clinic prior to going to get travel medicines.
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©Global Community Innovation 2017