Michael Situ, Southwark Councillor tells of his volunteer experience in Nepal 2013
It feels like a distance memory now but it was only last summer that I had the opportunity to gain an experience of a lifetime. Travelling with my sister, I had spent few days shy of 6 weeks in Nepal. Whilst a notable highlight of my trip was my marathon 7 days trek to Mount Everest Base Camp, my most fond memory is however the 3 weeks I spent on a volunteer placement teaching English to a state primary school in the unique Newari town of Bandipur. This is a 150 km or so from the capital city Kathmandu.
Teaching class 4 and 5 English language was very challenging and particularly more so because we had a comparable limited grasp of the Nepali language. Although, the atmosphere was frosty in the beginning, things soon improved and we began to understand each other better as our Nepali improved as did their English. We found out that playing games such as ‘hangman’ not only improved their spelling but it also lightened their spirit. We often used role play beyond what the pupils had ever experienced, with the students sometime playing the teachers. We encouraged the pupils to act on their intuition who were by the end of our time constructing sentences and using vocabularies, which were previously not open to them. We also encouraged some of the teachers to observe us so that they could continue in a similar style and most importantly not to feel negatively challenged and see it as a continuation of the methods already being used.
Despite all the language challenges, what proved pivotal to our positive experience was the inspiring love of learning which the pupils at the school possessed. Notwithstanding their daily challenging life experiences, most of the students were always beaming with smiles; eager to learn, follow instructions and canning ineptitude to repeat exercises until they grew acumstanced to them. Often it was this enthusiasm that kept the lessons vibrant in what commonly are dull. The pupils taught me that however little you have, it is in keeping a positive attitude that you move beyond your situation; a lesson that amongst others could be of benefit to some of our students in the UK.
In addition I have found out that there is so much to gain in volunteering abroad or in an environment which you are not familiar with. Whatever you think you know is likely either to be challenged or enriched. You learn a great deal more by the natural practices of others because they are often shaped by years of customs and culture, which are formed by decades of experience and reason. However much you may think you know, volunteering teaches you that there is so much more you can learn from others.
Finally, I would like to thank Springs of Hope UK without which the above enduring experience would have been a figment of my imagination. Right from the community information day which captivated me to the huge amount of learning resources provided to support our travel, we never felt alone or on our own. This shows how important the role organisations like Springs of Hope UK can play in broadening the horizon of our young people.
Michael Situ is a Southwark Councillor and chairs the Tayo Situ Foundation which works to develop leadership skills amongst our young people.
He can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org