How to Volunteer for Free in Nepal

Do you want to go volunteering and feel its outrageous that you have to pay to work for free? I was surprised to learn, that if you want to volunteer somewhere in Asia, you have to pay. However, there’re many ways around it! Here is an example, how I got to teach English in a school in Kathmandu to the most wonderful Nepali kids.

I really don’t want to underestimate the work of volunteer placement organizations. They do amazing jobs, placing volunteers on interesting and important projects, helping local communities. For those traveling abroad for the first time, this could be a great ‘safer’, ‘organized’ option. But ‘rates’ look outrageous to me: usually one week would cost you $250, two weeks – $400, etc. Plus a lot of times there’s a non-refundable application fee (around $150!).

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Volunteering is incredibly fun and rewarding

What is offered for this money (besides the actual ‘job’) can easily be arranged by yourself for much cheaper. For example, accommodation and food. Usually, they offer simple living, often shared; and food is something simple too, like rice and lentils. Also placement organizations may offer cultural orientation and a language class. When you travel though, every moment is a cultural orientation.

However, I’m talking about it in a hindsight:) I did pay for volunteering in a monastery (no regrets though!). I was placed with an awesome Nepali-Sherpa family, where I met another volunteer Paul. His friend from England gave him a contact of our host Chan, and Chan set up volunteering projects for Paul: at the monastery (same as mine) and at a local public school. So Paul was just paying Chan’s family for a room and two meals a day. It was about $5/ day. Big difference!

We taught a class at the monastery together and I asked to take me to school as well. When I came, I met the school’s principle Buddha and he immediately welcomed me to the school.  Few times I was helping Paul with his school classes (checking students’ notes, etc), and few times I substituted him when he was away traveling. Teaching at school was a totally different experience compared to teaching at the monastery.

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Shram Joti Public School. You would never find that school yourself. It’s located in a super remote Attarkhel neighborhood of Kathmandu, in the city’s very outskirts, from where you can see the footsteps of the mountains. And piles of trash too. The road to the school was so beaten, twisty and complicated, and you’d never ever see a tourist there, I swear. I loved this obscure location!

The school was founded “in order to provide a schooling facility for the children in poverty, disables, child laborers, street children and orphans“. A lot of kids are from Dalit – a marginalized ethnic group. That school year started with 350 students, aged from 2.5 to 14 years old. Over 50% student are on full scholarship. The rest pay less then $4 per month (there’s no free education in Nepal). Unfortunately, some kids eventually drop out and go back to the streets. But majority sticks!

Classrooms have dirt floors, no proper roofs, metal bars in windows. Kids wear uniforms, beaten boots and torn stockings. Books and equipment are scarce or non-existent. BUT the atmosphere is so lively and generally happy and welcoming. There’s a big soccer field where kids run during breaks, and on Fridays they have a half day dedicated to sports and games. Teachers are mostly young and dedicated to do the best job they can.

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A Typical Classroom: dirt floors, no real windows and lots of curious kids:)

We had two classes: class two (kids 10-11 y.o.) and class three (11-12 y.o.) Surprisingly, you could really tell the difference in their knowledge of English and general knowledge. Mostly, we would do same activities and exercises, but would go more in-depth with class 3.

Paul was reading and (somewhat) discussing a simplified version of Riki-Tiki-Tavi from the Jungle Book with them. Note, that you need to bring all the supplies for the class yourself (markers, print-outs, paper for name tags, etc).

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A Christmas Letter to a Future American Pen Pal:)

Then we did something great. It was Christmas time, so Paul organized writing Xmas letters to a real American teacher Mrs. Hayden from Colorado, USA. So that she then distributes these letters to real American students and they become pen pals. We also had a picture day, teaching them how to take pictures of one another.

We also brought in a map of the world to classes, and learnt about the world and the countries. Kids were so curious, they jumped up to see the map. They wanted to know and write down the names of the oceans, to learn what the continents are, etc.

Kids were very eager to learn. They were also way more disciplined than my monastery students and very respectful. You walk in the classroom – and they sing a little welcome song to you. The same in the end of the class. They would occasionally draw some pictures and present us (like a picture of a tree, or a dinosaur, or a toilet:)

In the end, we had a big Christmas celebration. Most kids are Hindu, some Buddhist, few are Christian, but all were happy to celebrate. A day before we put up a Christmas tree and some decorations (this was the first time they celebrated this holiday and had a tree).

Principle Buddha and the teachers did such an amazing job putting together a concert. The kids danced, sang, played musical instruments, recited, in the end they invited us, volunteers, Paul, Jennifer (another volunteer who lived at Chan’s) and myself to dance, and we were showing each other moves, and running in circles, and fooling around. One girl gave me a very elaborate card she made, saying I’m her favorite teacher and that I should never ever be sad:)

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We had Santa Clause auditions, making them say ‘Ho-ho-ho’. In the end we had two Santas:)

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Paul was a true Santa Clause. For our two classes he bought books for each kid! That was such a big occasion to them. Now, that’s a great way to spend money: instead of paying some organization to place him there, he directly spent this money on the needs of the kids! He also bought candy for every kid in school and a projector for the school. Amazing gifts!

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Instead of paying to placement organizations, you can spend the money directly on school/ kids needs

On our last day, Buddha gathered all teachers together and they acknowledged and thanked us, and gave us special ‘prayer’ scarfs that you get in Nepal, when you accomplish something. This meant a lot for us! On a break, all kids got out to the yard to say goodbye. A sad and yet such a happy fulfilling moment!

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Paul and I wanted to take a pic in our new scarves. All of a sudden it was more than two of us in the picture:)

Update after the 04/2015 Nepal’s devastating earthquake: thanks God all kids and teachers are alive and well. The school though has partially been destroyed, including 4 classrooms and the hall. Currently they are looking for donors to help them restore it. The immediate need is $3,000. But life didn’t stop, they are running relief programs, do sports, health programs and therapies. Principal Buddha also wrote to me that they would love to have volunteers. Let me know if you would like to go volunteer at that school:)

So how to get on a free volunteering project?:

♦ I’d say the surest way is networking. If a friend knows a friend who has connections in Nepal or elsewhere, use that. Offer your services, get in touch. They’ll be most likely thrilled to have you.

♦ Or could be even better: where you’re already in the country, find an establishment that interests you, and go speak to the management directly. Be it school, monastery, camp, kindergarten, any other facility. This way you feel out the atmosphere and really pick where you wanna be. In my imagination the coolest places are in some lost remote villages, mountains… There’s just NO WAY they will turn you down. They might even offer you accommodation, or whatever they can. Also, they probably never even had volunteers and you’ll be a star!

♦ Local (Online) communities can help you find free volunteering projects. I found one talking to locals on couchsurfing.org, an interesting one too, but then decided to do the monastery.

♦ Try to get to live in a local host family though. This way you will get you the most unique insight. Sleep in their house. Share meals. Follow the lifestyle. Learn their language. Share your culture.

♦ Types of volunteering work vary: from teaching to construction. When you teach, for example, English, you end up (and you’re encouraged) not only to teach the language, but also a little bit of everything: geography, history, crafts, hygiene (!), etc.

♦ And like I mentioned before, I really do think that the money that you’d otherwise spend paying to the placement organization, you can better spend directly on the needs of the place where you volunteer, if you choose to do so. Buying books, toys, equipment, and what not. When you see joy in specific kid’s eye from your present, it’s priceless!

And truly, go volunteer. Make that difference! In all the reality, you’re first and foremost making a huge difference in your own life. It really shifts your perspective!

Here’re some pics from the Picture Day we had:

Jamuna Ghale Gurung

Jamuna Ghale Gurung

Sudip BK

Sudip BK

Bhawana KC

Bhawana KC

Abhishek Thapa

Abhishek Thapa

Pasang Tamang

Pasang Tamang

Agrim Tamang

Agrim Tamang

Alisha Tamang

Alisha Tamang

Ranjaya Rai

Ranjaya Rai

Ritika Thapa

Ritika Thapa

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Paul (left) presents a projector to the school’s principal Buddha

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Looking after one another is typical for Nepal

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Practicing English songs

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11 Comments:

  1. I have a friend who went to Nepal to teach for a few months… And it is definitely something I would love to do! Now, I just want it more! Haha!

  2. Great advice, thank you! I would love to get to Nepal on my next trip, and I’m really interested in doing some volunteering too, but I don’t want to (and can’t afford to) choose a placement with an expensive voluntourism company. This post is really useful! :)

  3. hi Lena ! so happy i came across your blog thankyou for sharing all this info :) i feel a calling to volunteer in nepal in a monestary but i am open to wherever and whatever experience my heart guides me…be it a monestary, or a school, especially in some remote village. loved to see all those smiling faces and shiny eyes of the kids in the pics. all the best!

    • Thank you so much Sivane! Yes, definitely I encourage you to go and volunteer! It’s the most rewarding (and yes, difficult!) thing! Let me know if you need more information and perhaps contacts in Nepal. All the best:)

  4. I can’t stop reading about your beautiful travel experiences. To get involved with locals and help their community is definitely something I’m most looking forward to during our upcoming trip. I might contact you if we get to Nepal ;-) Great you made these kids laugh even more!

  5. I can’t stop reading about your adventures! Can you tell me how long you stayed volunteering at the monastery and about the school? I am trying to volunteer in a school or with monks in a monastery in Nepal in the next two years :)

    • Thank you for your kind words! I volunteered for a couple of weeks in both places. Actually at the same time: monastery in the morning and day time in the school. This is great that you want to volunteer! Have you decided where? Let me know if you would like me to connect you to someone:)

  6. Hi there! I came across your blog while looking for volunteer opportunities in Nepal. I am looking for a fairly long-term (6-12 months) period of volunteering. I would love to hear more about how you recommend finding an organization in need!

    Best,
    Madeline

  7. Hi Lena,

    Your blog is extremely useful, thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m planning to go to Nepal from mid November to mid December and I would like to spend most of this time doing volunteering. I would like to work with kids, no matter if it’s teaching or any other kind of job, preferably in a remote area. Would you be able to provide me with some contacts?

    Thank you very much again!
    Dani

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