Helping Out in Kathmandu
From mid April to mid May I had the opportunity to spend a month in Nepal. Three weeks of my trip was spent trekking the Annapurna Circuit. Of course the scenery on the trek was amazing but the most memorable part of my journey was the four days and nights spent at the new AAC Clubhouse in Kathmandu.
The clubhouse is located in the quiet neighborhood of the Maharajgunj District of Kathmandu. For $15 per night I got breakfast, dinner, an airport pickup, access to a large common area to meet other travelers, and a spacious back yard for drying tents or sorting gear. The fee also supports local volunteer and assistance efforts. Evenings are a family affair where guests are commonly entertained by Scott and Sunita’s daughter Kritan. Her dancing to Bollywood music is unsurpassed in the climbing world. Guests are of course welcome to join in.
But the most memorable day I spent at the clubhouse was when I was taken on a tour of non profits that are supported by The Mountain Fund (and the Kathmandu Clubhouse lodging fees). The Mountain Fund is run by Scott MacLennan, owner of the AAC Clubhouse. Volunteers pay the fund to come to Nepal and work in various charitable organizations managed by Nepalese. This day I was able to visit four different projects, a hospital for lower income people, a school for slum children, a day care center for low income families, and an orphanage for children affected by HIV. [Visit the Mountain Fund website for more details on volunteering your time.]
Our first stop was Helping Hands Hospital. Better then a government hospital, but not as expensive as a private one, Helping Hands is a non-profit serving lower income citizens. The driving force of this endeavor is Dr. Gupta, a Nepalese physician with a private practice who volunteers at the hospital five hours a day. There is an OBGYN center, major and minor surgeries are performed, and illnesses are treated. Mountain Fund volunteers are able to shadow Doctors making rounds, watch surgeries, and help out with small tasks. What struck me was the odd configuration of hospital facilities. Some units looked like they were housed in residential buildings. Patients sat in rows of chairs outdoors waiting to be seen. Improvisation must be a necessity when running a hospital in Kathmandu.
Stop number two was the Kosseli School. It was managed by a beautiful, passionate, Nepalese woman, Renu Shah Bagaria. The students attending this school live in the most wretched, filthy slum I have ever seen. When they arrive in the morning they are given a bath, a clean uniform to wear, food, and any medical attention they might need. Besides the basics of being taught to read and write, students learn practical skills such as how to make crafts that can be sold. These skills are useful for the children who do not finish the program. I was astounded at the resiliency of these younsters. They lived in a place I could not even bear to look at and yet they were all laughing, playing, and learning.
Our next destination was Orchid Garden, a day care center for poor working families. The center was run by yet another Nepalese saint, Rina Basnet. Rina started Orchid Garden when she discovered that poor working families were leaving their children in orphanages or at home with young siblings because they could not afford day care. Kids here were the ages of preschool, kindergarten, and class one. We seemed to arrive during a variety of activates including naps, lunch, and play time.
Our final outing was the Punarbal orphanage. This home was for children who either had HIV or had lost their parents to HIV. The orphanage was totally supported by Mountain Fund dollars. About twenty two kids live there. Half are on anti-retoviral drugs. Thirty to forty more children come during the day to learn and interact with the residents. There is a strong stigma in Nepal surrounding HIV. The hope is that resident’s interactions with children from outside the orphanage will dispel this stigma so these children can integrate back into Nepali society. Another goal of the orphanage is to educate the public about HIV through public forums and community meetings.
My day-long excursion to these four charities opened my eyes to another Nepal. The side we do not see when we are wandering through the Himalayas, snapping our photos or conquering our summits. I don’t feel the need to be Mother Theresa, but I do believe that privileged westerners have an obligation to give something back to our less fortunate hosts. Believe it or not, there is a profit on the $15 per night spent to stay the AAC Clubhouse in Kathmandu. This profit goes directly to Mountain Fund charities. So it is a win win situation for AAC members. A cheap place for us to stay, and funding for a good cause. And who knows, maybe the hospitality of the Nepalese people will entice you to stay on for a few volunteer days.
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