Volunteer and Visitor Experience
Volunteering at HEAD
Over the years a number of volunteers have given their time and effort to HEAD Nepal and put us on the track that we are today.
We believe that volunteers bring a new belief system in the organization and deeply value the immense contributions they bring to the organizations from their profound sense of purpose, service and selflessness. We have always provided a growing atmosphere for our volunteers who can freely take upon projects that interest them and solve the problems that they want to.
Kritagya Kriti from Janakpur, Nepal
I have been wanting to go to the Himalayan region of Nepal for a while now. I tried going to Dolpo for the longest time but that could not be possible and a few google searches later, I found HEAD Nepal, an NGO working for the rehabilitation, inclusion, and empowerment of people with disabilities in the Himalayan Region.
I wrote an impulsive email to them and heard back from the founder/ED, Mr. Chhitup Lama in the following weeks. We talked on the phone and more than the interview it felt like he was trying to convince me to not come to Humla. He talked about the extreme weather condition, poor infrastructure, lack of good food, water, roads, etc. He wanted to make sure that I will not change my mind and can bear the difficulties that Humla will throw at me. He had had difficulties with former volunteers.
But that seemed all the more exciting to me because I truly wanted to explore the place and was up for the challenge. Romanticizing the difficult lives of people from underprivileged backgrounds has always been a problem of mine. I requested them to pay for my travel, accommodation, and food, and they thankfully agreed. I was super stoked.
As I boarded the flight to Simikot from Nepalgunj and was awestruck by the beauty. The mountain flight was scary. The shivering and shuddering of the flight did make me wonder what happens if I die here but thankfully I made it. It was strikingly beautiful. It was like nothing I had seen before. Distant snowclad mountains, the greenery, small houses with blue tin roofs, smiling people. I visited the office of HEAD Nepal where they had prepared a room for me, it was better than I had imagined. I had lived in the worst situations before in Khotang.
I visited the residential center for children with disabilities in HEAD Nepal. There were only a few kids and both of us were kind of reserved when we met. It took me a few days to get to know them and talk to them. Once I got to know them, they were always excited and happy and always so so cheerful.
As I was settling in and starting my work of building a website for HEAD Nepal, I got my periods and had to buy sanitary pads. I sent Lalkala didi, the home mother of the children and the residential center, to buy me a pad and a wai wai noodle in case I crave something spicy at night, I gave her 200 rupees. On average, a pad costs Rs, 50-60 in Nepal, and wai wai costs Rs. 15-20. She comes back with a pad and says sorry that is all I could buy with 200 rupees. I was shocked.
The pad that she got me, its MRP clearly stated Rs. 60 but it was sold by the retailer at Rs. 150. She told me this was the cheapest option available. The other ones were Rs. 200-250.
I was shocked and alarmed at how a necessary item can be this expensive. I asked around whether or not my colleagues and other women in the neighborhood used pads or what they used during their period and I got all sorts of answers from cotton cloth, to rags and some women said they used nothing at all.
I was shocked at my privilege and the false sense of developmental optimism when I thought everybody must use pads or at least some sort of menstrual sanitation at this age. We are still very backward, the practices in the remote areas especially related to menstrual hygiene are still primitive and in some cases fatal. Given the poor healthcare infrastructure in such remote rural villages, safe menstrual hygiene practices become even more necessary to avoid deaths and health hazards that could be easily avoided through precautionary measures.
I wanted to understand what is causing this exorbitant price hike.I went and talked to the retailers and they said the price is high because of the cargo fair. But I knew that they had added a significant mark up because the cargo fair for 1 KG of the product was about 115 and 1 KG pad means 7-10 pads.
I was thinking of ways to solve this problem. I talked to a couple of people but nothing seemed to be working out in the beginning.
I thought the only to get the price reduced for the pads is if we eliminated the cargo fare and that can only be done by the airlines. So I started writing emails and LinkedIn messages to airline workers and the board of directors asking them if they would fly the pads for free from Nepalgunj to Simikot.
After a week of writing and calling, I got two leads one from Tara Air and one from Sita Air. But none of them seem to be doing the work quickly. I also realized that I could not do this alone and needed a local partner in Simikot to run things while I am not here. I talked to Mr. Chhitup Lama’s office and we talked about it. He seemed rather excited to execute this pad bank project under HEAD Nepal.
In the meanwhile, I had gotten in touch with Ms, Anamika Mundhara from Padelux, a Nepali sanitary pad manufacturing company and they had agreed to fund the first lot of NPR 10000 worth of pads.
After over 2 months of effort, Mr. Chhitup and I were in Kathmandu when I begged Yeti airlines to have a meeting with us and they agreed. We held the meeting, discussed the logistics and they agreed to do a one-year project with us. They would be flying our sanitary pads for free from Nepalgunj to Simikot and Padelux would be providing the first lot of pads that we will sell at MRP.This allowed us to start the pad bank without any investment, we would sell the pads at MRP to the woman and the revenue generated will be used to buy pads again. We had decided to make the best use of it.
We named the initiative Rayna because it means pure, clean, and strong in several languages. We launched our pad banks in several stores in Simikot and the HQ of HEAD Nepal. The shopkeepers who agreed to sell the pads at MRP are also taking a huge downfall in their income from selling pads at exorbitant prices but they understand and are excited about this change-making process. We launched Rayna on December 8, 2021, on Dignified Menstruation Day.
We are extremely happy and hopeful. The pad bank is currently running, we have already held a couple of awareness drives and the number of women using sanitary pads also seems to be increasing.
Starting the pad bank was one of the most exilatering things I have done in my life. As somebody who is very interested in Social Entrepreneurship, this first-hand experience in Planning, implementation and but I am so grateful for HEAD Nepal to give me that space to discover a problem and try to solve it. Along with the Rayna, I also built this website that you are looking at and worked to write grant proposals with the team and assist them in admistrative tasks along with some technical tasks.
My volunteering experience in Humla is an unforgettable one. It was helped me grow multiple folds and gain such varied perspectives about things that I would have never learnt if it weren’t for HEAD Nepal. Forever grateful for this opportunity.
Boguslaw Marek (Bob) from Poland:
My name is Boguslaw Marek Ph.D. but all my friends call me Bob for short. I work at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland but I also organize programs – workshops and seminars for teachers and parents of children with a visual impairment. I was in Head Nepal Simikot for a week in February 2014 conducting workshops for teachers, sighted children and learners with a visual impairment. I discovered Head Nepal from Tomasz from Poland and thanks to Tomasz who told me about Chhitup Lama some time ago I discovered one of the most beautiful parts of Nepal and a fantastic organization working for children with a visual impairment. It had been in my mind for some time to do some work, training teachers in an area where help is needed, where education is not developed and while support is not easily available.
When I heard about the difficult access to and remoteness of Simikot, I thought ‘This is the right place. That’s where I want to go’. And I came here. Bob Having Session It was not easy to reach Simikot. I spent six days in Nepalgunj waiting for good weather conditions which would make the flight possible. But coming here brought deep impressions which I had never expected. Simikot is I think one of the most beautiful places in the world and Head Nepal is one of the most energetic organizations I have come across. There can’t be many places where such a small organization has achieved so much in such difficult conditions – first, finding the children with visual impairment in remote valleys and villages and bringing them here to Simikot, opening the center where they look happy, smiling, laughing, playing, dancing/singing and of course studying. I cannot stop thinking that what they would be doing if Chhitup had not found them and brought them here. They would probably be living measurable lives in their villages. So Head Nepal is doing fantastic work. And it was my great privileges to be here to work with the children, to show them some areas which they did not know before like making simple tactile drawings and understanding drawings of geometrical shape and simple objects.
It was a great joy to work with them and to try out some of the resources from ‘Hungry Fingers’ a small organization that I set up in Poland. The appropriateness of the name was confirmed here in the Himalayas when I looked at all these children and all the fingers so hungry for things to touch, so hungry for things which waited to be discovered. And I very much hope that this first contact between Head Nepal and the Hungry Fingers is not the last and that it is just the beginning of a wonderful cooperation in the future!
Tomasz Kozakiewicz from Poland:
I am Tomasz Kozakiewicz from Poland. I got to know about Head Nepal from Kanthari International Institute in Kerala India where Chhitup Lama, the founder of Head Nepal was a participant in 2010. I always wanted to come Simikot and visit him because firstly the beautiful location, unusual place, amazing mountains around the Simikot Valley and also the office personality and the project he is running which was something completely different in Humla. And I wanted to know of his experiences, how he managed to do and more importantly why does he do that.
As myself is one of the Kanthari graduates in 2012, I was lucky enough to start my project a month back which is to visit the Kanthari graduates and film about those change makers and their works. I just started with India and Nepal. And now I am in Head Nepal in Simikot Humla to see Chhitup and amazing activities of Head Nepal with my own eyes and my camera also the people here who are really inspiring one. Head Nepal impressed me in many ways; how it is to work in a team, I got to meet Chhitup, Resham, Lokraj who are working closely together to make sure that the residential center for blind children is running well, and also work for other projects that can benefit the disabled community of Humla district. Most importantly I like the attitude of the people here who are very open and hospitable.
I think that Head Nepal has a long way to go still and it needs a lot of people who partner, support and work together to achieve the vision of Head Nepal that is to build an inclusive society/Humla for all
Kirstin Giese from Germany:
My name is Kirstin Giese, I am from Germany and I am nineteen years old. I am currently staying with Head Nepal as a volunteer in order to support the organisation with my work. For me, this is a completely new experience and different to everything I have imagined or ever seen in my life. Staying with the students in the boarding facilities of the Head Blind School, I am able to participate in the normal daily life of the students. In the family-like atmosphere at the hostel, everyone is supported by his peers.
Since the students are now able to realise that they are not alone with their disability, they have gained confidence and have formed deep friendships. Kirstin with Nameste Position In an environment like this, it is natural that studying is much more efficient and fun for the children as well. On a normal day, the students get up very early, around 6 o`clock in the morning. They then have some tea for breakfast and begin their lessons in the study room of the hostel. Here they are supported with both, school work and extracurricular activities. After two hours of studying, the have breakfast and leave for the regular day school. All students are integrated in regular classes and many of them are doing even better that their sighted peers, which makes everyone very proud. Returning from school around 4 o`clock, the students have a bit of leisure time before continuing their studies at the hostel from 5 o`clock until 9 o`clock in the evening.
Although this sounds like a very strenous daily routine, I have experienced that the children are eager to learn and often even continue studying after dinner and up to their sleeping time. This is very motivating, because it shows just how much they appreciate their education. I really enjoy working with the children and playing with them in their free time. They are very clever, friendly and outgoing and are willing to try out everything. For example, within one week of practicing to skip rope, even the completely blind students were doing very well. I like how much of a progress one can see with the students of Head Nepal after such a long time. I wish for them that they can continue their studies and realise their full academic potential in order to prove to everyone how capable they are. Those children truly deserve every support they can get!!!
Paige from Singapore
Paige, the host of the August T.V. Production House in Singapore visited Head Nepal with her other three members in November 2011 and made a film entitled “The Activist Journey” based on the Head Mobile Blind School. And She Writes on Her website about Head Nepal as below.
Paige about HEAD Nepal
Himalayan Education and Development (HEAD) Nepal is convinced that, with education, skills training and the development of self-confidence, the disabled can actively integrate into society just like anyone else to enjoy equal opportunities and respect. Having been founded only very recently (2011), HEAD is currently focused on serving the visually impaired, with the Mobile Blind School in Nepal’s Humla District as its main project. The School is represented by a physically challenged teacher and a few volunteers. They travel from village to village on horseback or on foot to bring education to the doorsteps of the young but visually impaired, imparting life skills, Braille literacy, etc. The School has established itself in 5 villages in less than half a year from its founding. The children are to be taught through this means for 2 years, thereby readying themselves to be integrated into mainstream education in regular schools. HEAD hopes to eventually set up a school for the blind with a permanent base, and to expand the scope of its services to benefit other segments of the disabled community. Meanwhile, it is also working with other charity organizations to open the doors of medical care to visually impaired children in the mountainous regions.
Anja from Germany:
I come from Germany and currently I am a participant at the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) in Kerala. For my two months internship I decided to work with HEAD Nepal in Humla. Humla is considered as one of the most remote and isolated regions in Nepal, reachable only by foot or small aircrafts which are irregularly landing in the district head quarter, Simikot. It is situated high in the Himalaya, in Karnali zone, North-western Nepal, bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region.” This is what you can find about Humla on the internet. It was also what I read before leaving Kerala, but I was not really able to imagine what this means. I just imagined a countryside place with a lot of mountains around. I got a better idea what it means when I arrived in Kathmandu.
I was told that there is no plane due to bad weather conditions and I need to wait. I was very lucky because after two days there was a flight to Humla, but I heard that before there were 2 weeks without any plane reaching the district. Anja on rocky path Once arrived in Humla I found out that there are no streets. Of course, if there are no cars there is no need for streets. It is better to talk about footpaths that are covered with rocks and water flowing down in the rainy season. This leaves the ground muddy and slippery. The first days I found it hard to orientate myself because I was not able to recognize streets. Only on the main market there is a large road, but instead of cars you find chicken going for a walk. I stayed with a Humli family. Highlights were momos, interesting Tibetan tea and a good internet connection. Things to adjust to were rice and dal every day, washing clothes at the water tab outside and many people speaking Nepali.
My tasks were fund raising and preparation of a sustainability plan. This involved mainly computer work. I went on a field trip to visit a unit of the mobile blind school. It was a long and exhausting trip, but a good experience. I also participated in a class of mobile blind school in Simikot. This gave me the opportunity to collect interviews with children and parents. I want to say thank you to HEAD Nepal for the great learning experience in Humla and also during my work in Kathmandu. A special thank you to the family of the founder where I stayed during my time in Humla. Though our communication was very limited, they always tried to make my stay as comfortable as possible.