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Trekking in the Upper Mustang Region with Real Travel Nepal

Why volunteering in Nepal was the right choice for me -Ine Vandenwyngaert

Ever since I was little I was interested in traveling in unconventional ways. Traveling alone while helping local people in need always intrigued me. I was inspired by the adventures of my mom, who was an avid traveler herself. However, it wasn’t until I was in college and was able to save up some money that I finally had the opportunity to do it myself. After doing some research, I picked Nepal. What attracted me to this beautiful country was the fact that I had never been there before and I knew it was a country in despair. I looked for a local not-for-profit organization that needed support and that would help me organize my trip.

In the summer of 2017, I took a leap into the unknown and set off to Nepal for 5 weeks. My trip combined 2 weeks of traveling with 3 weeks of being actively involved in a volunteering in Nepal project. I first traveled to Pokhara, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal known for its spectacular nature scenery and adventure activities. From there I started a 10-day trek through the Himalayas. I was joined by Babi, a guide from the volunteering organization, volunteer society Nepal (VSN). He was a warm-hearted Nepali man, husband, and dad, who did everything to make my trek as memorable as possible. This was important to me as I had never done such a mentally- and physically- challenging trek before. We truly had an unforgettable time and the Himalayas are awe-inspiringly beautiful. I really want to go back someday.

After this trek I traveled back to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, to start my volunteering project. I stayed with a host family for 3 weeks, who took great care of me. I was combining two volunteering projects, one in an orphanage and the other in a project that empowers Nepali women by offering free education. In the early morning and the late afternoon I would usually play with and take care of the children in the orphanage, while during the day I taught English and math to the women. It was staggering to see the profound impact that education had on the women. Each and every one of them became more confident, strong, and independent. I was especially impressed when they organized their own ‘momo-workshop’, managing every aspect of it! I realized how small actions can have far-reaching impacts.

Volunteer from the Belgium teaching at the Women Center
Teaching at the Women Center

What volunteering in Nepal taught me

There are so many life lessons to be learned from volunteering abroad. One of my key learnings was that we are all the same. No matter where you come from, what you believe in, or which language you speak, we are all humans… We are all granddaughters, friends, and lovers. I am grateful to have met wonderful people in Nepal who became life-long friends. I was especially close to a group of Nepali friends who were also studying law. They lived in the same street as my host family and I. I spent many evenings at their place, where we would be throwing a birthday party, cooking together, or just talking for hours. We even went on a girls’ trip for two days. Making these new friends was probably one of the key aspects that made this experience invaluable. The Nepali people are so lovely, caring, and honest.

Another life lesson I learned is to always follow your heart. I had been dreaming about this trip for so long, and couldn’t be happier that I did this. I loved every second while being in Nepal, and this feeling of happiness lasted long after my trip. I often reminisce about this experience and realize it is something that I will cherish forever. No one can take this incredible memory away from me. I would encourage everyone to follow their heart. It is so important to do things that make us feel alive. Whatever it is that inspires you or interests you, just do it! Don’t be held back by fear. Everything is possible, as long as you want it enough!

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any tough moments. Every experience brings its challenges and barriers to overcome, but these make us stronger. After a few days of trekking in Nepal, I experienced a mental breakdown. It was raining and I was physically challenged by the toughness of the hike itself. I was feeling lonely and overwhelmed by all these new impressions. I remember this moment as if it was yesterday. However, getting through this made me stronger and the trek more memorable! We finally reached the summit after 10 days, which was an indescribable feeling. I now realize that the world doesn’t scare me anymore, but only makes me more curious! I want to discover it all!

About the Volunteer Society in Nepal (VSN) & tips for volunteering abroad

In my opinion, the Volunteer Society Nepal (VSN) is the best organization to volunteer in Nepal with. They provide a lot of support, such as picking you up from the airport and helping with the organization of your trip. In addition, all the money you invest is used for good purposes. I read a lot about ‘bad volunteer organizations’ that are only focussed on making money. So before you sign up for a project, make sure to do some research. Volunteering abroad will change you in so many ways. Giving makes a world of difference, not only to the people you are helping but also to yourself.