Nepal: Volunteers central

Nepal: Volunteers central
Teo Zi Tong, 27, Cristal Lim, 26 and Wong Kin Sin, 27, who distributed 900 polaroids of children in Nepal to their families, after realising that the parents there do not have pictures of their children, pictured on 8 April, 2014.

Exotic. Mysterious. A place where much can be done.

These are some of the reasons young Singaporeans and local chapters of international groups have been flocking to Nepal in recent years to do volunteer work and conduct projects.

Singapore Management University (SMU) undergraduate Peng Bojie, 23, who has been there twice in the past two years to do community service, says: "Nepal seems mysterious. We do not hear much about it, apart from knowing that Mount Everest is there."

Mrs Foo Pek Hong, chief executive officer of World Vision Singapore, says Nepal has "many prevalent needs", both social and economic. According to United Nations Development Programme's human development index last year, which evaluates income indices, besides life expectancy and education, Nepal was ranked 157 out of 187 countries, she notes. World Vision is an international Christian humanitarian organisation.

There are no figures to show if the number of volunteers going to Nepal has grown, but there are signs that it is becoming the go-to place for young do-gooders.

For example, students from SMU went there in 2006 on its first school-supported, student-initiated group community service trip. Since then, its students have made annual trips to Nepal in an initiative called Project Namaste.

Singapore Polytechnic's first Nepal project was in March 2012. In the past two years, it has held seven community service projects there. Over at Nanyang Technological University, the first two overseas community service projects to Nepal were undertaken last year.

Nepal has also been on the radar of organisations here.

The National Youth Council has been supporting Youth Expedition Projects (YEP) to Nepal since 2011. As Nepal was not part of ASEAN, India or China, it did not qualify for youth expedition funding and support. However, under the guidance of the YEP Advisory Panel in 2008, the youth council began supporting some community projects beyond ASEAN, India and China.

Over the past three years, it has supported an average of five overseas community projects to Nepal a year.

Dr Kumaran Rasappan, an orthopaedic surgical resident with the National Healthcare Group and a council member of the National Youth Council, says: "Overseas volunteerism is not a new trend, but we have seen increasing interest from young people to be involved in community projects in Nepal and other regional countries."

World Vision Singapore started a child sponsorship programme this year in Nepal, under the Sindhuli East Area Development Programme. Mrs Foo says: "This is our first project in Nepal, although World Vision International has been working in Nepal since 1982."

She says Sindhuli is one of the poorest districts there. "The community suffers from poor quality of education. About 40 per cent of children under five years old are stunted and about 60 per cent of the people live below the poverty line."

Besides the desire to meet the country's needs, volunteers say a good working relationship with partner organisations in Nepal contributes to a positive experience.

Ms Oh Ai Ye, a lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic's School of Chemical and Life Sciences, has been on three trips to Nepal with the school, most recently as a teacher- in-charge.

"The organisation that I worked with was very transparent in the way it handled cash transactions and was very trust- worthy. It also provided very good medical support," she says.

For others, however, the intangible gains from a volunteer trip to Nepal are what keep them going back.

SMU student Elaine Teo, 21, spells out what these are for her: "Seeing shooting stars on a clear night, dancing with the local villagers, living humbly and learning what it means to be out of my comfort zone."

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