Summer in Nepal

Aug. 4, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. - How did Stanford gymnasts Allyse Ishino and Tenaya West spend their summer?: Volunteering at a children's hospital in Nepal.

This is their account:

Hey SWG fans!

Having always lived in an area where hot water was readily available, we didn't think we possessed the ability to become accustomed to cold showers to a point where we would willingly take one after being deprived of hot water for 2 and a half weeks. That is, we thought this unfathomable until we returned home from Nepal. Yup, it was precisely at this moment of realization that we instantly knew we could do anything in life. And yes, we are now cold shower masters.

We just returned from an amazing trip to Nepal, and wanted to share a bit of it with you! We needed to do an internship for our human biology degree, and decided that we wanted to go off the beaten path (literally) and give back a little in the process. After lots of searching, we decided on an organization called Volunteer Nepal. It has a very small, family oriented feel, and the proceeds are used to fund three orphanages. The director, Michael, has done an amazing job with the program, and the kids in the orphanages are truly lucky to be under his care.

We spent our first few days at the volunteer house in Kathmandu, doing a bit of touring and getting our feet on the ground. We also got to visit with the kids in the orphanages and help them get ready for school in the morning. Our hair-braiding abilities weren't quite up to par, but fortunately we were just giggled at and told to try again. The Nepalese lifestyle took a little getting used to, but the people are amazingly warm, friendly, and welcoming. The children especially were a joy to be around, and have a great sense of humor.

When we felt comfortable, Michael talked to us about the options we had for our volunteer placement. We ultimately decided on the HRDC (Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children), located a few hours east of Kathmandu. We moved in with a local doctor and spent two weeks there, working at the hospital during the day and doing some sightseeing in the evenings and on the weekends.

At the hospital we helped with casting and physical therapy, and shadowed doctors in the outpatient clinic. However, the best part for both of us was just spending time with the kids in the ward, all between the ages of 1 month and 16 years old. These kids have the most inspirational attitudes, and are always smiling. One little boy in particular captured both of our hearts. Jibam had to go into surgery once a week, but you'd never know it if it weren't for the green cap he wore every Tuesday. Come Wednesday, he was the same happy, bubbly kid as he always was, working on his ABCs and teaching us our Nepali numbers.

One of the most culturally enriching trips we've ever had the opportunity to experience, our time in Nepal was absolutely incredible. In retrospect, we still feel as though we were just slightly older Dora the Explorers who embarked on a very surreal excursion to an under- appreciated destination. Replete with some of the most beautiful scenic views imaginable, Nepal was a new world to us. It was eye opening to see the toughest women in salwar kurtas (traditional female clothing) walking up steep mountainsides with heavy baskets on their heads filled with either food to feed their families or bricks with which to build their own houses. The Nepali people's ability to cope with everyday hardship was commendable; these were hardworking individuals who would do anything to support their families under some of the worst circumstances imaginable. Yet they always expressed enthusiasm for life and exhibited pride for their culture.

Making these observations was just one of the perks of living with the local doctor. We were also able to taste the true flavor of life in a Nepalese city. We ate everything from curd to water buffalo, rode on the roofs of buses, and hiked up to Hindu and Buddhist temples. It was really great to have had made friends with some of the locals as well as volunteers from around the world. We gained so much through our interactions with the Nepali people, and will continue to be amazed by the way they approach their lives. On our glorious 15 hour flight back to the States, we realized that we had learned a lot about both ourselves and each other, and are so glad that we were able to share this experience together.

Although it was sad to leave all of the kids, it felt great to get back to SWG. Our class (seniors already!?) was pretty excited to be reunited... we're not too good dealing with the whole distance thing. :)

Thanks for stopping by,
T & Weedge
(Tenaya West and Allyse Ishino)

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