Looking back at a fun and rewarding time at the Happy Home

As I reached the last few days of my time as a volunteer at the Happy Home in Chitwan, Nepal it was a good time to reflect a little on my stay.

It was great to stay somewhere for a decent length of time rather than moving every few days as I usually do when I travel. I was able to spend time getting to know the family and understand, a bit, about how they live in this rural community.  So staying in one place for longer whilst travelling definitely gave me a deeper experience.

The children at the Happy Home all work hard at their school work and are ambitious about their future. They speak exceptional english and constantly meet different people from around the world, which I think helps them to learn about different cultures themselves, though I am sure this may also create some issues. They are well fed, cared for and very well behaved; always willing to help out their mother and brothers and sisters when asked.  I don’t know what they say when they are talking in Nepalese but you can tell bickering children in whatever language they are speaking.

As well as working hard they also have time to relax and play. They live in a house, which by our standards is basic, they don’t have a flushing toilet, a bathroom with hot water or permeant electricity but they do have access to TV (when the power is on) and wifi.  What isn’t right is that the volunteers have toilets with flushing toilets and showers but the children don’t.

They are not continually bombarded by commercialism and adverts to buy things, or see their friends with more than they have, but they do see volunteers who bring with them their laptops, iPads etc. And given the chance they will use your phone to get onto youtube to check out the latest music videos and play games.

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The girls do also like to dress in trendy skinny jeans but they also like wearing the traditional baggy trousers.  I am sure that they would like new things, but they seem to easily accept that they can’t have it all right now.  A lot of the volunteers to buy thing for the children – so they do get a lot  – but in general they don’t ask for things (there were one or two exceptions).

They don’t need to recycle, reuse or reduce they do it as a way of life, there is no rubbish collection and there aren’t piles of rubbish laying around either. The family produce minimal waste because they don’t buy much in, the volunteers produce more. What waste there is, is either burnt on the fire to heat the cows water or at the back if it is dirty waste, like toilet tissue (from the volunteers not the family). Glass bottles are all taken back to the shop you bought them from, and any jars are reused for pickle (again these are usually bought by the volunteers and not the family).

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Where possible if things break they are fixed, my camera battery charger plug and sandals broke and I easily and cheaply got them fixed.  Unfortunately, some things are just left lying around – they had a big TV which is broken, but it was just corner of the room had probably been there for ages.

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It is a very dusty place, everything is usually covered in a layer, we sweep, everyone sweeps, but you are just moving it and it will eventually settles back down.   I’m not one to love my hoover but I would sure of liked to have one there – that is if the electricity was working to be able to use it.

I don’t know whether it is because of what they have or don’t have, but they all appear to be happy and content, there is certainly a lot of laughter. Would they like more, yes I’m sure, but they don’t expect it.  And are the children perfect, no of course not. The girls do at time annoy each other, and I’ve seen them give each other a whack occasionally, but there is no crying or complaining to Mum afterwards they just get on with it

Whilst they have a happy home, the children don’t live with their families and most only visit them once a year. I’ve not talked to the children too much about this, it seems wrong to pry, a few have mentioned it and of course they miss their families and home.  But here they get a chance of a better life and an education.

When you look at the children in the surrounding villages, the children at the Happy Home are so much better off. Other local children live in mud houses, run around bare foot and are constantly grubby. They also ask for more things when they see you – usually chocolate. I spent only a small amount of time at the resource school, where the children come from the surrounding villages go. I’ll be honest, I struggled a bit, it is intense, they are really in your face, unruly and dirty. Though I do feel like I should have spent more time there, however most of the time it wasn’t possible because there were other volunteers doing that, or there weren’t enough volunteers, but I fell I could gone a few more times.

As with everyone in Nepal (and most of Asia) they have a different sense of personal space, which to start with can be a bit uncomfortable but you get used to it – well a bit. That doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed the children giving me hugs or holding my hand, it is more when you might be on the laptop and they stick their head in front of yours to see what you are doing.

And with most small communities, everyone knows your business, if you walk out of the house everyone wants to know where you are going and if you haven’t met them before what you name is, where you come from, your mothers name, your fathers name and if you are married (I get bored giving the same answers all the time so sometimes I’m  Penelope, Margereta or Dorothy).

As with most farming and rural lives everything is based on routine; a cow needs milking every day at the same time. They are nearly self sufficient, most of food comes from the garden, with the odd exception such as salt and rice. Their isn’t a store cupboard or a fridge, there are just a few bags of produce in the kitchen and homemade pickles but thats it.  If they want a snack – they either pick a radish, grapefruit or whatever fruit or veg are in season and eat it – usually sharing it with everyone.

I’ve loved being around the animals – I never knew that buffalos had such soft tongues compared to cows.  In case you are wondering how I know this, you soon find this out when you feed them banana skins – which I didn’t know they liked either!

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There were lots of goats and kid goats around and I fell in love with them.  One day, it would be great to look after a goat, but that is not going to happen in near future.  I don’t think they’d be happy in my little courtyard garden nor could I take one travelling in my camper van and I can only imagine what my dog, Alfie, would think!

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I have enjoyed eating Dal Bhat, even though you essentially have the same for breakfast and dinner.  But I won’t lie, after a month I would seriously now like something different and more variety.

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I usually loose a little weight when I travel, not having a fridge or cupboard I can just open and get something out of is a huge help. But having people point at me and tell me I’m fat is not something I enjoy or find helpful! It happens a lot when I travel to countries where they don’t see larger people and are very direct in nature. I accept it and to start with can brush it off, but after a while it can get to me.  There was one day, when I’d had some extremely sad news from home, that the woman in the local shack shop, who I have already named crazy lady, asked me what I eat to make me fat, and proceeded to tell me that I should eat just a little rice for breakfast. In their culture that might be fine, but in mine that is just plain rude, but there is no point in saying anything I just paid and left. I did see in one of the children’s english school books that they have pictures of two different types of people – one thin and one fat with word bubbles pointing it out ie. this person is fat / this person is thing.  So whilst at times the direct approach is good – at other times a little bit of tact can go a long way!

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In general, life here is simple but hard. As with everything, it is harder for some than others, you see little old ladies walking around carrying huge loads on their backs.

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But it also works, perhaps at times more than our more complicated lives do. I know that’s not a revolutionary thought by an means, I’ve certainly thought it before, and just maybe having spent more time here, I will remember it a bit more in future – simple can be better. Does it mean that I don’t want my pretty pink kettle or silk cushions and my wonderfully comfortable king size bed – no of course not! But can I try and stop myself in future buying stuff that I really don’t need, I hope so (that said I haven’t done very well not buying stuff since I’ve left the Happy Home – my backpack is now quite heavy as a result of all my shopping!).  I know when I was travelling in my camper van last year it was easy to say no to buying anything because there is only so much space.  Less is sometimes more, I’m not very good at remembering that, but I’ll try.

I’ve never been a practical person but I’ve enjoyed the practical side of my chores here. And whilst I work hard in my job, when I’m home I am naturally lazy. After sweeping with a stick broom without a handle, I will be looking at my hoover with a sense of affection I’ve never had for it before. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some of the simple tasks here – from washing my clothes at the pump (I’m no expert I have managed to wash the clothes I’m wearing at the same time!), sitting in the sun cleaning and chopping radishes and even mucking out the cow and buffallo shed.  I think some of the enjoyment comes from mindfulness – when you do these tasks you focus on them entirely rather than multitasking.

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I smiled a lot, of course a lot of that is because of the children. I like to think I smile a fair amount anyway but particularly when I travel, one reason is because that whenever people look inquisitively at you (which around here is all the time!) I give them a seriously big grin and say Namaste, they then usually smile back. At home when I try smiling at strangers (without the Nameste bit!) it doesn’t always work (it does a bit when I am walking my dog) and I probably look like a crazy lady, but you know what, I’m going to try and keep it up more, who cares if I look a little crazier than usual, I’ll be the one smiling so I’ll be happy!

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It’s been great to spend time getting to know the children, talking and playing games with them. Even when some of them call me grandmother, they call volunteers either sister, mother or grandmother and a few keep calling me grandmother – which of course they get tickled for!

The other volunteers and I threw a party for the children on our last Friday night.  We decorated the dining room, with bunting, balloons flowers and candles, the benches were pushed together to make a big table.  Normally everyone eats facing the wall with their head down and goes as soon as they have finished and washed their plates, so it was great to have everyone eating together.  It would be nice to think they might do it like this occasionally but I doubt it – its not up to us to force our habits on them.  But that said they seemed to really enjoy the evening, and our food, veg chilli with pasta, and trifle for desert.  You are very restricted on what you can buy so it felt like quite an achievement to pull this together.

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After dinner we moved out to the veranda where there were more candles and flowers in vases I’d made from the bottom of water bottles with straw wrapped around them.  The children love the flowers and say they will pick some more when these ones die.  It was then time for dancing, everyone did a little turn – we, the three volunteers, even did the macarana, very poorly, but we gave it a go!

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I would definitely like to do some more volunteering – not only is a great way to get to know people and a place better, but it is good to do something with a purpose, even if it is chop veg, play games and throw a party.  I’m going to miss Basanti, the children and even the cow and buffalo, though maybe not their poo!  I will try and stay in touch with them – though I’m sure they will soon forget me as new volunteers arrive every week, but I suspect most don’t have pink hair!

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3 thoughts on “Looking back at a fun and rewarding time at the Happy Home

  1. Pingback: Looking back at a fun and rewarding time at the Happy Home | John Healy's Space

  2. It has been interesting hearing about your experience. While you were serving others I am sure you learned so much more about yourself. Marvelous experience

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