As I was pondering about how to start this post, it got me thinking of the point when the seeds of desire to travel to Nepal was planted in my mind. Why did I decide to visit Nepal out of 195 countries in the world?
Rewinding 5 years back, in 2018, I have just came home to Singapore from a year of travels in New Zealand. Amongst the many lovely kiwi people I met, I was most fortunate to have met Erica Austin-Knopp in Christchurch. Through her, I got to know about the Seeds podcast which is hosted by Steven Moe. His podcast focuses on deep conversations with people making a positive impact on their lives (and those around them). Listen to the podcast episode of Erica Austin-Knopp on being an Experience Curator. I daresay, she is an inspiration to many people, including myself. I’ll share more on how I met Erica in another blog post.
In one of the podcast episodes, Steven Moe interviewed Jonathan H. Lee on Photography as Art. This resonated deeply with me as I shared a similar interest as him in photography. As I listened to the podcast, these words in particular, struck me. I quote :
“I talk about service of others but really, you’re serving yourself. It can be a by-product. It’s not one or the other first. You need to serve yourself first. While you’re taking care of yourself, and ensuring your needs are fulfilled, whatever it is, you can also take that on to other people. Often people who are in need of service…your local community or global community. Helping to find what tickles your fancy. Finding that kind of like a Venn diagram where it all overlaps…
Going back to your question about what this next year and the future holds, I really want to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Which is not feeling the societal pressure to conform. Not feeling this pressure to bend my moral and ethical values while doing what I’m passionate about. Passionate may be an overused word but it is still absolutely and necessarily applicable. I don’t want to water it down, but I am passionate about photography and capturing moments, and the environmental and social good of our planet and society. That sadly, in our modern society, doesn’t usually pay. But you’ll find creative ways to make ends meet. While being open to be supported by people who think and feel and act that way. There’s that support… There are people who are living and working and breathing with purpose each and every single day. Those are the people you want to surround yourself with. ” – Jonathan H. Lee of Subtle Dreams photography
In this podcast episode with Jonathan, he spoke about volunteering with Conscious Impact for 9 months in Nepal. It is a non profit organisation that helps with sustainable rebuilding efforts in Nepal. Intrigued, I googled to find out more about this organisation.
In 2015, an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck Nepal. Thousands were killed and many lost their homes. The founders of Conscious Impact, Allen Gula, Orion Haas and Juliette Maas, were in Nepal when the earthquake struck. Takure village was located close to the epicentre of the earthquake and all but one of the 245 homes were destroyed. Takure is a small village in the Sindhupalchok district is about 50km (5 hours) northeast of Kathmandu. This is where Conscious Impact chose to set up their base to help the local community rebuild their homes in a sustainable way.
What I liked about Conscious Impact is their focus on empowering the local communities by teaching them sustainable building techniques that are of minimal impact to the environment. They also encourage the locals to plant trees, engage in regenerative agriculture like coffee, permaculture and agroforestry. Growing cash crops like mushroom and coffee provides the community with a source of income.
When I read about their story, I wanted to volunteer with them but there was always an apprehension to go. I was mostly worried about the living conditions. How rural is it? What if I fall sick? I would come up with reasons not to go, like it’s too cold… or I don’t have a tent, etc.
When the pandemic started in 2020, we did not expect that it would last for 2 years. Travel was restricted for those 2 years and it was an unimaginably tough period for everyone. Even if you did not travel out of the country, you could get sick and die (of covid). That was when I decided that when the pandemic is over (or at least when we can travel safely again), I would have to go. It’s something that I really want to do and there’s never a better time to go. So one day, I woke up feeling brave and just went ahead and signed up to go.
Honestly, after I signed up, I was still scared and anxious about the trip. I’ve never been to Nepal and I’m going to a rural village on my own. Part of me was wishing that I did not sign up, whilst the other more adventurous part of me was excited to visit a new country! It was also a particularly turbulent time for me at work and this trip was meant for me to (hopefully) find some peace (and direction) in Nepal.
I participated in programme 4 : Youth, Agriculture and an Introduction to Natural Building which was held from 5 to 12 Jan 2023. These projects are funded almost entirely by volunteers hence as part of the programme, each volunteer is encouraged to fundraise at least US$950. This was the first time I’ve attempted a fundraise and I’m glad that I have managed to raise US$2,073. Check out my fundraising page.
After I submitted the volunteer interest form, I received an email from Beth, the International Program Director for Conscious Impact. She provided some basic information on what to expect while I’m there and I coordinated with her regarding my accommodation and transport. Since January is in the middle of winter in Nepal, I was worried about the cold weather as it can get as low as 0 degrees Celcius. So I was very relieved when Beth told me that they would allocate a room for me in “The Nest”, which is a row of rooms which they built for volunteers to stay in. There are only about 5 or 6 rooms in The Nest. They have sleeping bags and a sleeping mat provided in the rooms, but you can also bring your own sleeping bag if you prefer to do so. Going in winter ended up being a blessing for me because there were fewer volunteers. This means that you’ll have higher chances of getting a room in The Nest rather than sleeping in a tent in the cold weather! I’ll elaborate more about The Nest later.
Read Day 1 in Kathmandu