Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘Volunteer Abroad’

A Summer in Nepal

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

April 5, 2009

Colin Macdonald’s trip to Kathmandu started with a conversation at a breakfast table in Montreal. His friend Mishuka Adikary was contemplating volunteer service in Nepal with an organization called Volunteer Abroad. Colin didn’t know where Nepal was, but he was captivated by the idea.

Colin and Mishuka — “Mish,” as she’s known — are Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation “laureates,” whose scholarships are based on leadership and community service as well as grades. The two had become chapter co-ordinators, organizing events for the laureates in their regions and participating in national conferences and workshops.

Among the features of the merit scholarships is a $2500 Millennium Project Grant designed to support laureates doing summer work with Canadian non-profit organizations. Mish had been awarded one, and in January, 2007, at a co-ordinators’ meeting in Montreal, she mentioned the Nepal idea to her friend Natalie Poole, from Saskatchewan. Natalie instantly offered to go along, as did four other students at the table. Two were from Prince Edward Island, Mary Ann McSwain and Colin Macdonald.

The group grew to eleven students, from all across Canada. Mish set up a Facebook page so that everyone could participate equally in the planning. When they presented themselves to Volunteer Abroad, the organization looked for a project that could utilize the whole group. It chose the Grace Home/St. Grace School, a non-profit organization in Kathmandu which gives a home and provides an education to vulnerable and orphaned children. It also takes in disabled and destitute elders, who can learn skills and help with child care in return for food and lodging.

During a five-week stay, what can eleven Canadian students do for an orphanage in Kathmandu? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

“It’s an orphanage and a school for about fourteen children who live there, and an additional six to ten from low income families who just attend school there,” Colin explains, sitting in a coffee shop in Halifax, where he now studies education at Mount St. Vincent University. The Grace Home, he says, was little more than “four brick walls and half a roof, almost like a compound, and the ground was covered in broken bricks.

“We lifted up all those broken bricks and laid new bricks, and painted all the walls. We added a classroom with a roof which provided a place where the children could distinguish home life from school life. Before we did this, the children were being taught in their bedrooms, because there just wasn’t anywhere else.”

The Canadian students built playground equipment — swings and slides — and redecorated all the bedrooms. Because the school’s water supply produced rusty water, the Grace Home had been forced to buy expensive drinking water. The students passed the hat among themselves, raised a little money, and erected a small water tower with a proper filtration system. They also started a composting system and a small organic garden in the school yard.

Nepali tradesmen don’t normally work much during the rainy season — but the Canadians only had a few weeks, so they stretched tarps over the work sites and kept on working, which made a real impact on the neighbours. Before the project, says Mish, local people hadn’t paid much attention to the orphanage — “but now, here were all these volunteers working in the rain to help these kids,” which greatly raised the profile of the orphanage within its own community.

“I was interested in education, but I wasn’t sure if it was really for me,” Colin says. “Well, while we were there, I was able to teach throughout the mornings at the school. I have a theatre background, so I got the children learning English through theatre. We did health and medical checkups, nutrition, health and hygiene how to wash your hands, how to brush your teeth, things like that.” They also enlisted local doctors, and started a proper system of medical records.

Colin believes that the Nepali kids got a lot out of the project — “but I got a lot more out of it. And there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about the school, and the children, and that amazing country.”