In June, right after my undergraduate quarter finals, I packed all my belongings into a storage unit and got on a plane with some old tee shirts, some cargo pants, and a travel journal. It was time for me to find myself, figure out my life paths, and what my greatest motivation was. It was time to go abroad and hope to learn more about myself than I ever could at home or in San Diego.
The first step on that journey: Nepal, to volunteer in women's and children's rights.
With a couple hundred dollars to my name and a backpack full of clothes, I proved beyond excited and also beyond scared.
My first week in Nepal was a culture shock for sure. I have visited India plenty of times in my life, but I guess the cultures of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are nowhere similar to the culture of Nepal. If I'm being honest, the smog had started to get to me instantaneously but what was getting to me more was the way everyone here seemed to think I spoke Nepali.
I have always been ashamed of the fact that I basically can't speak Hindi. My Hindi is so sub-par that the words and sentences I do understand I wouldn't dare ever say out loud. Because of this, my first few days in Nepal held a lot of culture shock.
After the first three days of getting over myself and all my stupid Western developed expectations, I have grown to love the way of life and how Nepal works.
In fact, 7 weeks in, I can't imagine not living in a house and situation like this. It's absolutely insane how quickly you can find yourself adjusting to a culture. (I will however never get over the fact that no one in this country is capable of calling me by my given name. My name is Kirti not Kitty or Kriti. I AM FAME AND GLORY NOT ACTION. Also, sorry for the mini rant).
Nepal has been such an open and welcoming place for me. The house I live in is full of some of the most passionate and loving minds I have ever had the fortune of meeting. It's been bittersweet watching everyone I am proud to now call friends come and go. But what I do know is that hearts as pure as the ones I've lived with here will always be welcoming and with open arms.
I came to Nepal to work at a child development center as well as a women's nonprofit. I thought that working with the kids would be a fun and helpful way to get used to the culture. I absolutely was not expecting that the CDC would be the place I learnt the most about myself.
In my life, I've seen and experienced physical discipline. I'm not a proponent of beating your children, but I have seen how smaller actions like swatting and tough love had a positive influence on myself. The CDC, I was told would have basic physical discipline. (It's a culturally accepted practice in Nepal.) I however was not expecting the CDC to break my heart. On occasion, the teachers would slap the kids' hands with sticks or slam down on the tables. That was fine.
However, we are talking little children who are three to five years old. And the teachers would simply not allow them to play or get rowdy. Then the violence would increase to resounding slams on the backs and slaps in the face. Because of this, I physically saw children burst into tears. There were moments in class where I knew it was about to happen and would rush over to the kid or kids in question and try to use myself as a physical barrier.
These children also come from unfortunate and underprivileged circumstances. Their home lives according to the teachers could be good or could be really bad.
The violence really got to me. And at times I would leave the CDC devastated.
The more time I spend in the CDC I've also come to learn of the impermanence of my role in their lives. Volunteers come in and out of the school all the time. The cycle repeats. The kids get attached, the teachers get less violent. But what really happens when we leave? And am I even really making a difference working there? I don't have these answers and I don't know if any amount of thinking them through will reveal anymore truth.
My other work, my work in women's rights at Women For Women Forum, is an experience I am most proud of. One of the reasons I chose Nepal over America for the summer was the fact that I felt the work I was getting to do in the States was busy work. I may be naive but I wanted to and still want to make the biggest difference possible with any amount of time I have. Because of this, I decided to intern in Nepal.
WFWF has been so wonderful. They understand that I still have not actually received my undergraduate degrees. Yet, they were willing to give me work that I would have had to have graduated and probably be in graduate school to receive in the US of A.
At first it felt like I was getting thrown to the sharks, but the fact that I get to work constantly on grant proposals, research papers, and growth plans is just too amazing of an opportunity. I did not think that I would have been given the chance to write a grant proposal on my own with minimal supervision. Yes, it was hard and involved a lot of trial-and-error. But now, it is an invaluable skill in my repertoire. Moreover, growth reports and research papers are aspects of my professional life that I always feel like I need to work on.
WFWF has not just been a great educational experience for me. It also feels incredibly fulfilling. Knowing that my research and grants are going directly to help this nonprofit I've come to love means the world to me.
I know this is not a nonprofit spotlight (and I will probably do one on Women For Women before I leave Nepal in September) but here's a little information about WFWF. WFWF is a women'r rights nonprofit based in Kathmandu that focuses on the economic and political empowerment of women in the valley. It does so by helping form women's groups and creating political and economic cooperatives that then work together to achieve their goals. It is similar to unionization. Moreover WFWF also holds training and literacy programs and gives supplies to ensure that these groups are capable of the best success possible. WFWF's track record is quite spectacular, proving to be an increasingly helpful and crucial asset for the women of the greater Kathmandu Valley.
Because of this, I know that the work I do for WFWF is going to doing amazing projects and helping amazing women. Further, in a nation like Nepal, working for women's rights is super important. This is a country where illegal child marriages still occurs, where women are still treated worse, where domestic abuse and rape is at a higher rate than other nations, and where men feel they still have more legal rights than women. Women need to band together and work their way to a better future. And that is exactly what WFWF fights for.
As a whole culturally, Nepal has thus far been an absolute pleasure. I get chills when I enter every single temple. Every time I travel somewhere I feel like I am entering a different realm, one where the best of culture has risen to the top. At the same time I find myself heartbroken that such beautiful generations of culture were destroyed by the earthquake in 2015.
Nepal has officially joined my small list of places I've lived, but it is no less important than any of its counterparts. Nepal taught me to delve into my spirituality, delve into my identity, and delve into my purpose. And without that, I would just have remained a lost, tired, stressed, confused college student for god knows how long.