Part one – Journey to Semjong
I am generally a very optimistic person and I love to travel. The planning of the trip is almost the most exciting part for me, and I make the flight, accommodation, and activity arrangements myself. This year I am cautiously optimistic that I will be able to return to Nepal and I am lucky enough to have family and good friends who would like to join me in a volunteer project my good friend Gokul Thapa and I have in mind.
While we wait to book our flights I am remembering the very first time a friend and I travelled to Nepal.
On a sunny day in early September 2015, we arrived at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Our hearts were full of good intentions and our suitcases were full of children’s toys, stationery, and medical supplies, donated by our friends and the local community, our clothes for two weeks stuffed into small backpacks.
Our host, Gokul Thapa met us and, with some careful stacking, managed to get our luggage into his car for a short journey to our guesthouse in Thamel.
We spent our first day exploring the bustling streets of Thamel, discovering shops selling everything from elegant silver jewellery to rucksacks, souvenir tee-shirts to climbing ropes.
The following morning we joined an international group gathered outside the Pilgrim Guest House in Thamel, the lively heart of Kathmandu, Nepal. Over cups of delicious Chia we discovered our new friends had journeyed here from Dubai, Malaysia, and as far afield as Australia. Some had landed the evening before, some had been sightseeing in Kathmandu for a few days and one had already completed a house building project in Bhaktapur. No matter the situation, we had journeyed here with one thing in common – to volunteer to rebuild a little piece of Nepal after the dreadful devastation caused by the earthquake.
Slowly the group grew and we met each other with gentle smiles and shy hello’s. Our nervousness had a sense of energy – the kind of feeling that you get on your first day at a new job and you’re met with a room full of strangers. We were from several backgrounds and a wide age range, but I could sense a kind of similarity amongst us. We were slightly crazy, brave enough to leave our jobs and our families and cross the world to volunteer in a country most of our friends had barely heard of.
Our guide, Gokul Thapa, received a call and we scurried to gather our bags for a short walk through the back streets of Thamel to the old Nepali bus where our Nepali team of builders was waiting.
The ride would be about 4 – 6 hours to Dhunche in the Rasuwa region of Central Nepal, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Here we would leave the bus and trek to Semjong Primary School, a journey of some three hours over terrain still damaged in places by the earthquake which struck the country killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring nearly 22,000.
I found the trek difficult, the thinness of the air and my unfitness proved a challenging combination. The track was washed away in places, waterfalls strewn with huge fallen boulders, but the Nepalese in their bare feet made it look like a walk in the park.
The day after the earthquake Gokul was about to welcome a group from the USA for an Everest trek. The group were from JRM Foundation and they soon got to work on hiring a helicopter and delivering aid to the least accessible areas.
Since that day JRM Foundation and Real Himalaya have been volunteering their time repairing houses and rebuilding schools in villages where they witnessed the extensive loss of infrastructure and loss of life.