Saranpur School AidCamp

Chitwan, Nepal - November 2019

This was a two-week AidCamp at the Shree Basic School in Saranpur, near Bharatpur, Chitwan, Nepal. The project took place between 9 - 24 November 2019.

The following write-up was provided by one of the volunteers on the project - The Sunday Times bestselling author of romantic comedies, Cathy Bramley - and so, as you would expect, is in her own words.

"If adventure begins where your comfort zone ends, then joining AidCamps International on a trip to Nepal has been my biggest ever adventure yet. I and twelve other volunteers, plus Laura our project coordinator, committed to fund and finish off a computer classroom at the Saranpur Basic School in the Chitwan region of Nepal over a two-week period in November 2019.

From the moment I signed up, I knew that I was taking part in something very special: from the detailed pre-departure pack, help with fund-raising, and the updates of the progress on site in advance of our arrival, all correspondence was professional and informative and I couldn't wait to get started.

After landing at Kathmandu and finally making it through immigration, I stumbled out into the sunlight – such a welcome sight after leaving Heathrow in the depths of winter – bent double under the weight of my rucksack and to my immense relief, Laura was there to meet me. She flung my rucksack into the back of a taxi, commenting on how light it was, and whisked me off to the hotel. From then on, I felt in safe hands.

That evening over dinner, I got to meet all the other volunteers and Laura ran us through the arrangements for the rest of the trip. I was already good friends with one of the group, Linda, who had previously done an AidCamps project in Sri Lanka and had recruited me to join her on this one. In fact, most of the volunteers were on their second or third project and it was comforting to know that not only was I in the company of experts, but also that the AidCamps experience is one which people are keen to repeat!

The following morning, with our luggage strapped precariously to the roof of the minibus, we began a six-hour journey from Kathmandu to Narayangarh, where we'd stay for the next two weeks during the project. The scenery was wonderful – at least, what I saw of it between naps! We stopped several times for coffee and for lunch. I had my first delicious dhal bhat and my first visit to a squat toilet. Both memorable for very different reasons...

Our first day on site is a day I'll never forget. We arrived at the Saranpur school, armed with work gloves, safety goggles and dust masks and wearing our scruffy clothes to be given a glorious welcome by the entire community: we were given posies of flowers, flower garlands and we all had our foreheads dotted with red powder as a mark of celebration. This happened a lot and was quite difficult to remove; in fact, several members of our group went home with pink hair! After speeches and meeting the children, we got straight to work.

The computer classroom structure was up and the roof was on. Our first task was to lay the interior floor and finish rendering the outside walls. We carried stones, sifted sand, filled bags with gravel and plastered walls. It's safe to say that the building contractors we were joining were somewhat sceptical of our practical skills on day one. And day two. But we were hard workers and quick learners and what we lacked in expertise, we made up for in enthusiasm and by the end of day three, we'd won them over (or perhaps we'd just worn them down!). Another day later and even we women were allowed to do the skilled stuff of mixing cement, which we remarked to ourselves was no different to making scones but on a larger scale. My own DIY skills came on leaps and bounds and when I got a nod of approval and a thumbs-up from Mr P, our professional painter, it felt like getting a golden handshake from Bake-Off's Paul Hollywood.

Most days, after our shift at the school, we'd visit other AidCamps' projects including schools and an orphanage. The beauty of these visits was to see that the legacy of the work done by previous volunteers still remained and was still valued by the community. We also had some very interesting talks in the evenings on a range of topics from the work of RCDP in Nepal, to the changing role of women in society, to the history, politics and religion of this wonderful country. Having the subject brought to life by local people made it all the more impactful – an unexpected bonus of my stay in Nepal.

In the middle of the project we had the weekend off which we spent at the Chitwan National Park in a delightful hotel. It gave us a chance to relax and catch our breath, see a bit of nature and do a bit of shopping and we returned to Narayangarh with renewed energy to complete the project.

Thursday came around all too soon. We finished the build on time – just, and we raced back to the hotel to change out of our dusty workwear and returned with clean faces and our best clothes ready for the handover ceremony.

Walking back into the school grounds with my fellow volunteers, being greeted like VIPs with more flowers and more red dots, was such a bittersweet moment. I think we all felt the same: proud of our achievements, happy to be there amongst such wonderful people and also a little sad, knowing that our time in this beautiful place was almost at an end. The ceremony was a great success: not only did Laura do us proud with her (many) speeches but we all managed to stand up and say a few words in Nepalese too. The children sang and danced for us, and we, much to their amusement, reciprocated with a moving rendition of the Macarena (ahem).

It was over all too soon and before I knew it, we were back in Kathmandu for our final two days. We spent this reminiscing, laughing, worrying about stray dogs and cows and shopping. Mostly shopping.

Over the course of the two weeks, we met several members of RCDP International, AidCamps' local partner in Nepal. Hom, Lila and Raj were instrumental in the smooth running of the project but also made our stay all the more enjoyable with their endless patience and helpfulness, not to mention Lila teaching us all to speak Nepali for the handover ceremony!

It was so hard to say goodbye. Not only to the friends I made at RCDP and to the children, the staff and the lovely members of the community who took us in to their hearts and made us feel so welcome, but mostly to the other volunteers, whose friendship I will always treasure.

I am so proud of what we achieved in such a short time. Physically, it was the hardest challenge of my life, but infinitely rewarding. I hope we have made a positive impact on the lives of the community in Saranpur, because they have certainly made an impact on mine."

Cathy Bramley

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