Posts Tagged ‘Pokhara’

Muneeza and I decided to add a week onto our stay in Pokhara to volunteer at the Butterfly Foundation, a child day care centre set-up by Govinda, the owner of the Butterfly Lodge where we have been staying, to help disadvantaged families in the local area. We turned up on Wednesday 22nd December after our trek and had a chat with Govinda’s son Keshab who is the manager at the centre.

The moment we walked through the front gate we fell in love with the place. The children came running up to us shouting “hello” and grabbing our hands and leading us to play with them (no dodgy gags please!). They were excited to see new faces who they could exhaust with their endless energy. It was hard to shake the little tigers off and head up to the office to speak to Keshab. Luckily for us Keshab speaks fluent English having spent 7 years studying and working in London. Guess where? Right next to Ealing Broadway less than 5mins walk from my old flat. It’s a small world. After a few drinks on Christmas Eve we started exchanging stories of London drinking haunts as well as getting the low down on life in Nepal, a most enjoyable exchange.

Why child care support is essential in Nepal

Nepal doesn’t have a welfare system like the UK. If you are poor, you are poor. There is no money from the state. You have to find somewhere local that is willing to help. For the poorest of families who live in difficult circumstances, it is hard to find work to provide a stable income. That means money for food, clothes and essential supplies like medicine is scarce.

These families rely on charitable organisations and altruistic souls to help them. The Butterfly Foundation enables mothers to work for a few hours each day knowing that their children are being looked after. The goal is to break the poverty cycle by encouraging the parents to work and bring home a regular income so that their children will have a brighter future. It’s an essential and admirable goal.

Getting into a routine

We arrived at 10am on Thursday as suggested by Keshab only to find he wasn’t there because he was stuck in a meeting for the Lodge. The chap who works in the office doesn’t speak good English and our Nepali is “a li a li”, so with confusing gestures we took the hint and went to find the teachers, or “ama” as they are called here. Nobody seemed to know what we should be doing, so we took it upon ourselves to go and entertain the children.

The kids have playtime from 09.30 to 11.30 every morning. The are picked up from home by the team and let loose in the playground. The playground consists of a large open grassy space with swings, climbing frames, sandpit and slides. The children are all aged 2-5 and have attention spans like mine. Each kid has a different obsession; some are addicted to football, others like to idle on the swings, some stick to the slides, others create chaos in the sand and some of the girls, under the impressive leadership of Suhana, walk round with their favourite dolls.

After playtime, the ama call the children to the outdoor seating area. They line them up in 4 rows and each row takes it in turn to march round the seating area to the beat of a drum shouting “one-two” as they march. Getting them organised can be fun as some of the kids don’t pay any attention (my Mum would sympathise with that!) and others are easily distracted.

Next is the singing half hour. First the kids line-up and sing the national anthem with their hands held together in the praying position. Then the ama lead them in various English and Nepali songs including popular nursery rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. After the first day we joined in and helped the kids with the English words though I was clearly out of tune and strangling cats. Watching the children sing and dance was a wonderful and entertaining experience. The cute twin boys inevitably ended up breaking rank and running off to play before we were able to grab them and bring them back. They can be so mischievous but they are adorable and it’s impossible to get angry with a 2 year old with a cheeky smile.

At around 12.15 the children, reluctantly and with great difficulty, are put in the classrooms for some basic skills teaching. Here they learn the alphabet in both English and Nepali as well as key words which the ama get them to repeat from pictures and words painted on the walls.

Butterfly Foundation Nepal Classroom The lessons are quite chaotic because there is limited space within which to fit over 30 children and keeping the attention of 2-5 year olds is rather challenging. The ama do their best to give the children some basic education but they sometimes struggle to keep them focussed.

The difficulty flares when one or two of the children get distracted and stop listening or, even worse, start to shout and scream. Most of them are well behaved but distracting behaviour is contagious. Once one starts, a chain reaction kicks in and the others follow suit. It’s like a tidal wave building and waiting to break. Hopefully in the future if funds can be raised, the Butterfly Foundation can build a new classroom that enables the ama to teach the children in separate classes to reduce the noise distraction.

After lessons comes messy time. Messy time involves feeding and watering the children. This, as the parents amongst you will attest to, is easier said than done. Not all children like to eat and not all can eat. Invariable we had to help the smaller children whose eating habits ranged from messy to chaotic. One small girl was the messiest eater we have ever seen; though she needed no help, every day she covered herself from head to toe with food and water. I helped one of the smallest boys every day because he was easily distracted and played with his food instead of eating (remind you of anyone Mum?). It was difficult but after asking for some local vocab, the word “kanyo” seemed to pay dividends and gradually he improved. We both loved messy time because it is entertaining, though less so when you have to clear up afterwards.

After food comes sleep time where the kids bed down for 2 hours before they are taken home. It’s a wonderful sight to see the children calm and snoozing after all the hectic activities of the morning. It’s also a nice time for the ama to relax and get their energy back.

Individual personalities shining through

It was inevitable that after a week we would get to know the children individually and it’s amazing how distinct their personalities are. There were a few annoying children who always wanted attention, who wanted to have their favourite toys and refused to share with the others. It took patience and a bit of strong mindedness to make them listen and play nicely with the other kids.

We also had our favourites. Muneeza loved the daughter of our friendly local barber, Sunkar. Ankita is incredibly cute and very gentle natured with a beautiful smile. Initially shy, she warmed to us over the week. My jani’s attention switched after a few days to the endlessly entertaining and incredibly cute twins. They come from one of the poorest families and when they arrived at the centre they were trouble, always soiling themselves all over the floor. Now, after some training and affection, they are better controlled and a lot of fun.

My favourites from the start were the deadly duo of Kem Kumani and Isha. These two girls are adorable and absolutely crazy. The have boundless energy and tear up the playground. They insisted on me swinging them around whilst shouting “monkey” – something I regret doing on the first day which went down a storm and ever since all the children demand I do it. Rather tiring as you know how repetitive kids can be. I loved the fact that the girls wanted me to pick them up and walk around the playground with them whilst they grabbed my beard and shouted “dunga” (Nepali for beard). I would happily have taken them home with me, so I’ve already told Muneeza she needs to squire me a daughter!

Sad to say goodbye but we’ll be back

After 1 week of helping out we had to say goodbye because the centre was closed for 5 days during the Annual Pokhara Street Festival. It was a strange moment; I always find goodbyes anti-climatic as you want to say so much but know that it is overdoing it. We took a last look at the children as they settled to sleep, said fond farewells to the ama and then walked back to the Lodge.

Words can’t adequately describe how enjoyable the week has been. It has definitely been emotional and we grew attached to the children and developed respect for the ama who really care for all of them. The Butterfly Foundation is a fantastic organisation and we are glad to have helped in some small way. What’s even better is that this volunteer opportunity was free, so we have been able to make a donation to the Butterfly Foundation to help with their projects instead of paying money to an agency.

We will definitely come back to Pokhara, our favourite place on the travels so far, to visit Keshab and his family and spend some more time at the centre catching up with the progress the kids are making.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing how natural Muneeza is with the children. She has much more patience than I and is fantastic at looking after them and keeping them entertained. It’s a nice experience to see your fiancee so comfortable around children and so natural and looking after them and giving them affection.

Take a peek behind the scenes

I spent 2 days with Keshab helping him understand how to improve the Butterfly Foundation website. As a result, I have created a Flickr photostream with lots of pics of the children and the various aspects of daily life. Please drop by and have a look at the Butterfly Foundation Flickr album.

From East to West, Altruism is best

I couldn’t finish this blog without nudging people to consider supporting Keshab in his aims to fundraise. Each year the Butterfly Foundation attempts to find kind people to help with child sponsorship in Nepal as well those with some spare time that the are willing to use to volunteer in Nepal. We would love it if our friends and family could spare some money or time, so if you are interested take a peek at the Butterfly Foundation website and do whatever you can. All support hugely appreciated.

love james & muneeza x

Butterfly Foundation Charity Nepal

Though sad to wave goodbye to the orphans in Sauraha, we were also excited to be heading to Pokhara for some mountain action (or is that mounting action?). We left Saturday 18th in the am, met a cool Belgian couple on the bus, Andy and Sarah, and hatched a plan to dig out trek info and meet for dinner the next night. We had booked a deluxe ensuite room at the Butterfly Lodge for a bargain $12 per night but some chancer taxi driver at the bus station did his best to dissuade us (quelle surprise!). The Butterfly Lodge, as highlighted by the Lonely Planet, donates a % of its profit to the nearby Butterfly Foundation, a not-for-profit day care centre for children from the poorest families in Pokhara and its surrounding villages. However, joe le taxi tried to persuade us that the family who run the hotel are really rich and give hardly anything to the people. Ironically, when pushed, he couldn’t confirm whether the place where he wanted us to stay gave anything to anyone other than the owner, his friend. Complete tool.

We stuck with our guns and insisted he drop us at the Butterfly Lodge. It was a shrewd decision. The place is ideally located at the northern end of Phewa Tal, the second largest lake in Nepal around which Pokhara is draped. It is the quietest part of town and within walking distance of all essential amenities, including the whisky shops. It is run by Govinda and his son Raj who also manages the Butterfly Foundation. The family set up the Foundation several years ago and have put a lot of energy and money into supporting local families. After dumping our bags we spoke to Raj about volunteer opportunities and he told us to visit the Foundation after our trek and he would be delighted to give us things to do. Our next blog describes our experience volunteering there.

World Peace Pagoda and Devi’s Falls

Perched at the top of a hill overlooking the lake, the World Peace Pagoda is a 2hr climb from Lakeside. We took a taxi to visit Devi’s Falls first, a waterfall that has carved open the rock at ground level and runs under the street. It is named after a Swiss woman who tragically fell to her death in the falls after heavy monsoon rains created a flash flood. The falls at first look rubbish but on closer inspection you can see the sheer drop and the funky patterns the water has carved out of the rock. We headed up the road from the falls towards the starting point for the path that climbs to the back of the pagoda.

The World Peace Pagoda is ironically named. There are 3 paths to the top but the most interesting routes, through the jungle and from the lake shore, are increasingly dangerous and many tourists have been robbed at knife point. We naturally erred on the side of caution and took the safest path which winds past people’s homes so you are never isolated. The view from the top over Pokhara and the valley is amazing but it was slightly marred by the raucous rumble of squabbling school children. We soaked up the sights of the mountains in the distance and then headed back down to town to meet our Belgian friends and sort the trekking plans for Monday.

Whistle stop tour of the Nepali Himalaya

Through the hotel we found a local guide who would take us on a 2 day trek through the local mountains for R1,400 per day ($20). Split between the two couples it was a good deal and our hotel reassured us that if the guide messed us around, they would take responsibility. After a hearty breakfast of porridge and banana with hot lemon tea (only $1.5) we hooked up with Raju and walked out of town towards Sarangkot, the first destination.

Sarangkot is a small peak that sits between Pokhara and the high Himalaya, the snow capped peaks. The walk is an early morning sharpener. After a brisk 20min stroll out of town on the paved road, you head straight up the mountain through people’s gardens and crop fields. The steps are steep and seemingly never ending. It takes about 2hrs to reach the top but the effort is worthwhile. Sarangkot offers 360 degree views of the Himalaya and Phewa Tal. On one side you can see across the shimmering lake to the World Peace Pagoda (ironic name because there are frequent muggings on the walk to the top) and on the other is the breathtaking panorama or snowy mountain peaks. It is a postcard moment and we sat and stared for a long time, soaking the views.

From Sarangkot the trek continued across the peaks and valleys of the lower Himalaya. The walk was not too demanding although the heat of the sun worked up a sweat. We arrived about 30mins before sunset at our incredibly over-priced lodge in  Naudanda. After a quick face wash we walked to the far side of town to get the best views of the mountains at sunset. It was a chilled experience, sitting in silence as the mountain hues changed from white to pink to red to black. After an average meal of vegetable thali (the staple Nepali diet of rice, daal, curry, chutney and yoghurt) we hit the sack early as there was nothing to do in Naudanda, literally a dusty road on a ridge between the mountains.

We rose early Tuesday morning to catch the sunrise. The girls left after 10mins, complaining about the cold. Andy and I opted to stay on to get the full monty. When the sun finally rose over the mountain tops, the colour display was spectacular. It was worth the effort and toughing out the cold.

After breakfast we walked on to the next stage of the 2 day trek, the climb up to Dhampus at the top of a higher peak. The climb was hard and Sarah struggled but dug deep and got to the top. We sat for a while to absorb the views – doesn’t matter how many times I see the mountains, I still find them impressive and inspiring. Our descent headed from Dhampus towards Phedi from where we had a 30mins sharp climb down the steps to the bus. The walk down was awesome as we passed through several small villages and said hello to the people who beamed smiles back at us. The people here are very friendly and always happy to welcome visitors with a genuine “Namaste, welcome”.

The bus journey back to Pokhara was hilarious. The bus was rammed so we had to wedge ourselves between the locals. As Nepali people are quite small (I am tall here!), the roof of the bus doesn’t allow me to stand up. Andy and myself had to semi crouch in the aisle and wind our legs around the food parcels on the floor. One lady got up and insisted I take her seat. I felt rude and said no thanks, that she should sit. It was an impasse until finally somebody explained that it was polite to accept the seat, so reluctantly I did but made sure I said thanks. The seat was cold comfort. The cushion was thinner than a size zero model so I spent the next 20mins with a metal bar rammed up my jacksy. I was glad to get off and jump into a taxi for the last leg of the journey to the hotel.

Routine maintenance

It’s amazing how quickly you can settle into a routine when you stop for a while in one place. After 5 days in Pokhara we are now living Groundhog Day every day.

* We wake about 07.30 and shower if we can find hot water

* We have breakfast at the same place near the hotel because we can get good food for less than $3

* Muneeza orders whilst I go to the sandwich shop to order lunch, the same order every day because it is so good

* After breakfast we get sorted in our room and head to the Butterfly Foundation (more in the next blog)

* When the kids go to sleep, we head back to the hotel and catch up on emails

* The afternoon is chilled with a walk around the town and then we have dinner in the same place

* We get back to the room about 20.00 and get into bed because it is so cold at night – we’re asleep by 22.00 latest.

It may be sad to admit but I love the ease of slipping into a routine and we’ve got another 3 days of this before the 12th Annual Pokhara Street Festival kicks to life on the 28th December. It should be a fun few days as Pokhara springs to life from its winter slumber and the streets are crammed with performers, tourists and crazy people. Our first festival on our travels – game on.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the update and Merry Christmas to one and all.

love james & muneeza x

Pokhara Nepal