It’s amazing what you can do in one week! A team of 35 students and 6 chaperones travelled from Tianjin, China to Pokhara, Nepal and had a week full of amazing learning experiences. They made great contributions to our projects and went home with broader understanding of our world. This experiential learning is significant in building a depth of understanding for students and staff alike and reflecting on the experiences is important as it consolidates and expands thoughts and ideas.
Our staff met the Tianjin team at Kathmandu airport in the late evening. The group had a mixture of excitement and nerves and were also happy for a good night’s sleep. Next morning we travelled by bus to Pokhara. Although it’s a long journey there is so much to see; mountain villages, the Trisuli river, fabulous scenery and people going about their day to day lives in Nepal. It set the scene for developing an understanding of life in Nepal.
On arrival in Pokhara we settled quickly into the accommodation and took a walking tour around the area. Lake Fewa was a spectacular surprise. As anyone who has been to Nepal knows, it’s even better than the photos and the peaceful effect the lake has on you doesn’t take long to get into your system. Already the students were making comments about the differences between life here and in China.
The next two days were our main service days and the students contributed to the painting and refurbishment of two schools. One in a village beside the lake and the other, a village by the foothills of the Annapurna ranges. The students had no qualms about scrubbing and cleaning followed by painting and achieved a lot in a short time. Their work contributed to our ongoing objective of improving facilities to support learning goals. The schools where we worked were a stark contrast to their own school and we discussed with the students not only the availability of resources but also the impact of this in the longer term for students of these Nepalese schools.
We split the group into two for the afternoons of the Service Days so that each team could experience SASANE. SASANE is an anti-trafficking organization and the session the students attended involved a momo making lesson run by the women, a traditional Nepali lunch which allows the women to practise their hospitality skills and then an education session about Human trafficking. There is no doubt that this session had an impact on every student and chaperone in some way. This was just a small introduction for them into the enormous issues of trafficking and child marriage in Nepal and many other countries. Some of the students are already thinking about how they might help address this issue.
The following two days we worked in two groups. The students all got to experience a trek and a cultural day. The trek was to Australian Base Camp in the foothills of the Annupurnas. We were able to provide a day with a basic trek and one that was a little more challenging, to suit the different levels in the group.
Both groups came back from the trek full of enjoyment. For some they overcame personal challenges, for others it was the first chance they have had to do a mountain trek and for all, they loved the experience of walking through mountain villages and experiencing the stunning views that Nepal has to offer. A really important part of the trekking experience is that the team has a chance to meet and interact with the Nepali guides. These guides come from a broad range of experiences and chatting to them was an important part of the experience for the students.
On the cultural tour the group had the experience of travelling by boat to a Hindu Temple and walking to the World Peace Pagoda to enjoy the calm outlook over Pokhara Valley. They also went to the longest suspension bridge in Pokhara. This is a highlight for many visitors to Pokhara and the students were no exception. It was also a chance to draw the student’s attention to the challenges the Nepali people face as they transport food and water across the wide rivers to get to their families and not all bridges are as strong and stable as the one we experienced.
The cultural day concluded with a reflection evening for the group and we took the time to do a pair and share task where everyone got to discuss a range of topics and questions to help clarify and add value to their experience in Nepal. There was an overriding feeling that the groups had a better understanding of Nepal and its challenges as well as a different perspective of their own lives. It was also significant that within the group the students had made new friends, other students that had been in their class for a few years but they had now shared a unique experience on this trip. The trip undoubtedly had ongoing benefits for their own school community.
The following morning, it was time to farewell Pokhara and take the bus ride back to Kathmandu. The final day was a chance for the group to visit Bhaktapur. This is an amazing Newari City in Kathmandu, some describe it as a living museum. Significant is the fact that the effects of the earthquake are evident so aside from the architecture, music and traditional dress that surround you, this city it is also a reminder of the devastation that hit the country in 2015. China which shares the Himalayan border is no stranger to this type of devastation either.
We had time to return for last minute shopping in Thamel, a farewell dinner and then on to the airport for the journey home. It had been a busy eight days, with a range of experiences and plenty to think about for every individual participant.
Every single person gets something different out of an Experiential Learning week, including our GVI staff. For us, sharing the experience with a group of International students and teachers was very rewarding and if every one of us goes away with at least one piece of new understanding about ourselves and one piece of understanding about our world, it’s a positive step in making change and all part of our mission which is, ” To build a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.”