Strandies abroad to share knowledge and expertise
Like last year, two of our Strandies volunteered to go to Nepal and help the Audrey Jacobs Foundation with a few of its projects. Curious as we are, we asked a million questions about their experience, their stay, the projects they contributed to and what they would recommend for the next ones taking on a challenge like this. Find out more about their adventure and the way they supported a good cause below.
"The welcome in Nepal was super warm. Suresh (head of Sama Nepal) and his wife Bina (head of Surya Vinayak English school) were waiting for us at the airport and brought us to their apartment in Kathmandu, where we received a delicious dinner. Their English is very good, and the communication was always open and comprehendible.
We talked about the expectations for the coming days and they brought us to the B&B where we would sleep during our stay. It was at walking distance from the school and the office where we would spend a lot of time and in a good neighbourhood to get to know Nepal in a different way."
Meeting the Nepalese people / local habits
"In Nepal, people are very disciplined and there is a high level of respect between everyone. That means the Nepalese culture is also very polite and indirect, what makes it sometimes difficult to understand what they really want. Besides that, they are open, warm and friendly people that take all your needs and wants into account."
"Furthermore, we both noticed that the Nepalese learn everything by heart and don’t make connections or create insights in what they learn. They only learn in concepts.
For example, if you ask kids to draw a house, they will all make the exact same drawing. And if you ask them to draw something extra that goes with the house, they just don’t know what they could draw. You really need to say 'draw a tree next to the house' before they will draw something else. Also, it is more important for the children to deliver a notebook with beautiful handwriting than that they understand what they wrote."
Daphne: “Initially, my task was to teach math, but it immediately became clear that they were more in need of storytelling, which could help the children and teachers to really understand the meaning of what they are learning and think for themselves instead of in concepts. An additional goal was for them to create their own sentences in English.”
The process of storytelling and understanding went as follow:
1) Start to tell a basic story and make it bigger by providing the words of English definitions.
2) Let the kids repeat the story in their own words and ask questions to see if they understand the meaning of what they are telling.
3) Let them tell the story through role play where they would need to use their own sentences.
4) Define the elements of a story and let them build their own story based on these elements. (only for the older ones)
“So, the kids were taught to learn in a different way and the teachers were shown another approach to teaching, mainly by explaining the content of school books in their own words to the children. This all fitted into the core focus of the school, which is to stimulate creativity and improve English.”
Yoga & meditation
“Besides storytelling, the adolescents could use more exercise. They sit and learn all day and don’t practice a lot of sports. Therefore, I introduced yoga to them.
Moreover, I showed the teachers a few tips and tricks to guide the morning meditation session so that the kids could concentrate better and be more aware of themselves.”
Sama Nepal is an organization that makes sure children with disabilities also get a good education. To realize this, they need a lot of visibility and attract attention from politicians, directors and doctors that monitor children. Therefore, Jana worked with the marketing team to optimize their tactics.
The team was very young and included two physically handicapped students, to give them the opportunity to learn directly from and with the marketing team.
Jana: "Here too, I noticed that Nepalese people have difficulties to think for themselves and make connections. So, the first order of business, was make them think about and discuss what they could do differently or better. It was quite the process to show them how they could actively think about what they wanted to achieve and how to get there, but eventually they did. At the end of the project, they were not just copy pasting content anymore but discussing in group which message they needed to bring and how they were going to build their content.
Besides, they learned how to use Photoshop to optimize their own pictures, how to make logo’s, movies and include more own content in their marketing plan."
Feelings about the projects
Daphne: “I really felt it meant something for them the moment I was there. They were also very open to receiving new information and learning from us. Of course, their lives are very busy and my stay there very short, so I would need to follow-up to see if they really integrated the new tactics.”
Jana: “In the beginning, I really needed to propose ideas and examples myself but at the end of the project, they were able to discuss and come up with ideas too. That made me feel proud and satisfied. Also, since I’m back in Belgium, they keep asking questions and running new ideas by me via the Messenger group I created. That makes me believe I truly inspired them to be more creative and think for themselves.”
Besides volunteering in these projects, our two Strandies took the opportunity to soak up the Nepalese culture and discover its nature.
“We encountered Nepal’s beautiful nature through a two-day hike and a visit to the hills of Nagarkot, where we witnessed a breath-taking sunset. Furthermore, we went sightseeing in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur to discover the city life and the Nepalese religion. And lastly, we were lucky to be part of the Festival of Lights, which was a great experience of the Nepalese culture and how important family is to them. The beauty of this festival is that it exceeds ethnic and geographical differences.”
Festival of Lights
This festival is an occasion for the Nepalese people to strengthen bonds between brothers and sisters, but also between animals and people. Every evening during the five-day festival, families come together to eat and celebrate. The last two days they also dance on the streets, decorated with flowers, bright colours and special scents everywhere.
Tips for the next adventurers
When I asked Daphne and Jana if they wanted to do it all over again, they both enthusiastically answered “immediately”.
Daphne: “It was a GREAT experience. Everyone is always cheerful and there are no complaints or aggressivity. Their culture is so open and joyful that I felt truly happy.”
Both were willing to share a few tips for the next volunteers too.
Jana: “The most important thing is to go with an open mind and be ready to adjust yourself to their needs. In Nepal, everything changes from day to day so if you’re a very structured person, you’ll come back disappointed.”
Daphne: “I would recommend bringing a lot of warm clothes if you go during the same period we went (October-November). During the day it is warm enough, but the evenings and nights are cold. Also, it is important to know a bit more about their culture before going. For example, you can never explicitly say that you’re going to play a game with the Nepalese kids in school because when they go home and tell about it, the parents will take them to another school, since school is only for learning. Lastly, if I could go back, I would also make sure there’s a good follow-up system for the projects we rolled out.”
Thanks to Daphne Wens and Jana Lauwers for their time and effort to tell us more about their experience!
- Ineke Smeulders, Marketing Manager