Michelle at Bramastani Awareness Society (BAS) doing some mobilization exercises with one of the Cerebral Palsy girls, Sangita (all photo credits to Michelle)

Namaste (Hello in Nepali)

My name is Michelle Barnard, but in Nepal I am known as Maya; my Nepali name. It was given to me by our in-country partner and means love, and love is all I have for my experience in Nepal.

Why you signed up:
I absolutely love travelling! My heart belongs to the places I have yet to see, and the people I have yet to meet 🙂 I heard that you could take an elective at Sydney University called FHS abroad where you could travel overseas. Wait, Going overseas counts for credit points in University??? I was sold. The next question was which company would I choose? That’s when I found Antipodeans Abroad. After doing some research about the company and hearing some great recommendations I paid my deposit and enrolled for the course. I had the choice to go to Vietnam, Cambodia, India or Nepal. I am often asked why I chose Nepal and like many people that were in my group I will tell you that Nepal is a place which calls to you (and is amazing if you are an adrenaline junkie like me)

How long did you go for?
I completed one month of placement in Nepal, consisting of working in a rehabilitation and physiotherapy hospital, as well as numerous visits to another placement site called Bramastani Awareness Society (BAS) for three weeks. I then completed one week of placement in two separate government owned school where I taught nutrition alongside Kristin Lawrence (A dietetics student from Brisbane). After we finished placement myself and three other girls from Antipodeans set off on a yoga trek into the Himalayan Mountains with the fantastic and friendly team of Purna Yoga.

What did you enjoy most:
Having such a close knit antipodeans group was one of the best parts of my trip. We would always stick together, plan things together, talk about the challenges we were facing and the things were enjoying. Having a group; a family really is so helpful because you are all in it together. You’re all away from home, being adventurous and trying to make a difference. I absolutely love the culture In Nepal! The food, the people, the religion, the buildings, the landscape, the mountains! Amazing!
I also obviously loved the adventure side of Nepal – we bridge swung, white water rafted, camped, watched sunrises and sunsets, hiked through the Himalayas , did yoga, went paragliding and so much more!

Staying with a host family was one of the most educational and memorable times. You immerse yourself into the culture. You learn the language in more depth, and we even learnt how to cook some traditional Nepali dishes. We were a part of the family, and I would not have wanted it any other way.

One of the most rewarding experiences that I had in Nepal was being able to give back to the community; I was able to raise quite a lot of money, some of which was put towards a water purification system in Shree Dhapasi Secondary School. The other half of the money I donated to BAS, a patient shelter home. The experience I got from helping the Cerebral Palsy children and the founder of BAS, Rita (A Nepali woman with the bravery of a lion and the heart of an angel), is something I will never forget.

The November 2012 Antipodeans Group dressed in the traditional Nepali dress that we were all fitted for and had tailor made.

What did you find most challenging:
I caught onto the language quite quickly, just enough to get me by in the markets. However I found that communicating with patients in the hospital was challenging, as often they would not understand my accent, or I would not understand their questions or replies. I would recommend learning as much of a country’s language as you can before you go there, it is not a prerequisite but it will defiantly make life much easier.

I found the litter, dust and poverty very unsettling. It is something you definitely get used to as the weeks go, by but it is a big adjustment coming from such a wealthy and clean country.

Why would you recommend other students take up the opportunity
To be honest, travelling and volunteering isn’t for everyone, but I recommend that everyone try it at least once in their lives. It may or may not be your cup of tea but you will never know until you try. It is an experience that cannot be gained in a classroom and the lessons you learn cannot come from a book. Volunteering forces you to open your mind, to step out of your comfort zone, to challenge yourself. You may even find that volunteering to help others may help YOU more. I would give my experience in Nepal a 5/5. And not because it was luxury or relaxing or easy but because it was the raw, minority country experience I was looking for.
If you are thinking about travelling to Nepal – A few things you should know:

  • There are a few vaccinations you will need. I definitely recommend them, especially the cholera vaccine, which also covers you for travellers diarrhoea for 3 months (best decision I ever made)
  • The locals will respect you if you try to speak their language, and more often than not they will know some English.
  • It is a sign of disrespect if women show any skin of the shoulders and legs, often the same goes for men.
  • PDoA: Public Display of affection. Men and Women DO NOT make contact in public. It is perfectly fine for people of the same sex to link arms and hold hands but the opposite sex is forbidden.
  • You always use your right hand to eat, receive and pass things, your left hand is considered dirty.
  • Depending on how much you would like to pay for flights, and how many connections you an deal with , there are a number of ways you can go about getting to Nepal. I personally flew to Bangkok and then to Kathmandu but others flew to Singapore and even Hanoi.
  • The amount of money you take can vary from $1000 to $5000 – it depends on how adventurous you want to be and how much you’d like to bring home with you. Nepal is a very cheap country however it can all add up over time. Make sure you keep track of your spending.

Nepal, the amazing bonds I created, and the truly unforgettable memories I made will forever be in my heart. I will carry the lessons I learnt with me through life and into my career.

A quote I love to live by and take with me where ever I go :)

N – never

E – ending

P – peace

A – and

L – love

To learn more about volunteering through Antipodeans Abroad, check out their site!

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