More than seven years of ICS, thousands of volunteers. But how much do you know about our work in Nepal?
What do ICS volunteers do in Nepal?
Nestled between India and China, amongst the Himalayan mountains, Nepal is one of the world’s least developed countries.
Tricky terrain and a lack of arable land has hamstrung development in Nepal, as have natural disasters. Nepal lies on a fault line between the European and Asian tectonic plate, with a high risk of earthquakes.
Most are minor, but in 2015, a devastating quake struck, with an epicentre close to the capital city Kathmandu. It killed more than 9,000 people and destroyed more than 775,000 homes. The effects on infrastructure are still being felt almost five years later. Less reported, but just as devastating for Nepal are floods, which have hit with increasing severity in recent years.
Social factors are also impacting Nepal’s growth, including gender inequality and discrimination based on caste, ethnicity and regional rivalries.
ICS volunteers with VSO, Raleigh and Restless work in districts around the country, including a focus in the area around the national capital of Kathmandu. Their work promotes access to education, women’s rights, and community preparedness for earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Equality in education
In rural Nepal, traditional attitudes place a higher value on sons over daughters. Keeping girls in education is a challenge. Between early marriage, domestic burdens and stigmas about menstruation, girls are often forced out of school during their adolescence by social, family and economic pressures.
In the hilly central Nepal district of Lamjung, few girls complete primary education. Nationally, 770,000 primary-age children are out of school. Child marriage and early pregnancy are still prevalent. For six years, VSO’s Sisters for Sisters’ Education project has been tackling the root causes.
Across three districts, including Lamjung, Surkhet and Dhading, and 48 schools, ICS volunteers are playing an important role in the project. We’re reaching these young women at the points of transition in their lives, when they’re moving from primary to secondary education, and from home life back into education – and making sure they’ve got the strong networks to keep them in school.
Creating spaces for learning
A safe, comfortable and quiet place to study is vital for any child to achieve at school.
Having seen students struggling with their handwriting and homework, ICS volunteers decided to investigate what resources were available for the ‘Little Sisters’ – the young girls supported by the project to stay in education – to carry on their studies at home.
They assessed what was already available and what could be provided and recommended that all of the Little Sisters in the community of Bharte, Lamjung district, should be guaranteed a ‘reading corner’ made up of a table, a chair, a light source, their school timetable and the relevant school books.
In the process, VSO ICS volunteers are able to engage directly with teachers and parents – creating bonds that also helped volunteers in the community talk about the importance of education to their daughters.
Ensuring menstruation isn't the end of education
Many communities in Nepal see menstruation as impure. In the western part of Nepal, girls and women have to live and sleep in a hut outside the house during their periods – a tradition known as chhaupadi. It puts women at girls at risk of disease, sexual violence and death from exposure to the elements.
Chhaupadi has been illegal in the country since 2005 through a Supreme Court ruling, but traditions are difficult to change from the top-down. That’s where volunteering can make a real difference.
ICS volunteers tackle mistruths and taboos around menstruation and sexual health within the communities. They educate communities on the facts behind periods and explain the damage that chhaupadi – and keeping girls out of school during their periods – can have on their future.
“[By considering] religious and cultural sensitivities, we were able to produce information sessions, rallies and presentations which directly dealt with the detrimental practices associated with chhaupadi in a respectful manner,” says Restless Development ICS Team Leader William Shankley.
“However, it was the sessions with the children and youth groups that inspired me the most. They understood that medical arguments rendered chhaupadi harmful, illogical and restrictive to women. The children and youth groups provided hope that they could be the bastions of change."
Making communities better prepared for disasters
Communities across Nepal felt the terrible impact of the 2015 earthquake.
Sadly, they need to be prepared for more to come. Nepal is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes, due to its geology, architecture and urbanisation. A strong quake causes devastation not only from the obvious damage to buildings and infrastructure, but also from the knock-on impact to services like education: just 11% of school buildings are earthquake-resistant, for example.
ICS has been working with respected partners like Nepal’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Centre. Volunteers, supported by expert local partners, deliver sessions to the community on everything from mock fire drills to responsible waste management, practicing safe menstrual health in the aftermath of disasters to orientation with local emergency services.
The goal? For community members to become first responders should another disaster happen.
“My team supported people to carry out risk assessments for potential future disasters,” said VSO ICS volunteer Rebecca Spencer. “We ran training sessions with local healthcare professionals, teaching basic first aid and together we organised free health camps with onsite treatment and medication available. Our work really did help bring the community together.”
Vibrant volunteering spirit
Nepal is a young country. The average age is just 21 and more than a third are aged under 14.
Perhaps the most visible image to the world of Nepal’s enthusiasm for volunteering came after 2015’s earthquake, when thousands of young Nepalis disregarded the threats posed by aftershocks to give their time, skills and money in the urgent humanitarian work that followed.
In terms of ICS alumni, this meant volunteers from across the different ICS agencies who have worked in Nepal coming together to take action when it was most needed.
It’s something that prompted former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to commend the nation’s young people: “Volunteers were crucial to the response … [the] spirit of volunteerism and solidarity has been on display … [in the] devastating earthquake in Nepal.”
But with a growing population of young people comes new challenges and opportunities for volunteering to help tackle issues ranging from youth unemployment to political engagement.
Our ICS alumni network is growing. In countries all over the world, we’ve brought volunteers together to enable them to work on their own campaigns. In Nepal, that’s hundreds of alumni joining up to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing young people in their country.
Example 1: Working with rural farmers in Nepal
Nepali volunteer Bibek Pandit volunteered with VSO ICS in Lamjung in 2012. Five years later – and with the knowledge gained from working in the sector – Bibek set up a programme training 75 mostly women farmers from the marginalised Chepang tribe to become more independent.
He taught them more about agriculture and helped them learn about production, saving and investing – and what crops they can farm all year round. Before his project, there was limited knowledge about how to farm out-of-season and how they could irrigate their land more effectively.
The impact? Farmers can now produce crops like mushrooms, tomatoes and onions . They’ve formed co-operatives to demand a higher price for their produce and share their knowledge with other farmers throughout the local area.
We supported Bibek’s project with a grant from our ICV Alumni Grant fund. Every year, it provides funds of up to £1,000 GBP for youth-led projects supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Find out more about how you can get your idea off the ground here.
Example 2: Bringing together alumni to tackle a problem
Our National Youth Engagement Network - our national network of ICS alumni - has been active for a couple of years now.
Last year, one of the highlights of the group's achievements was when they held a reading fair in the Makwanpur, Dhading and Laitpur districts of Nepal.
The events helped promote the importance of reading amongst the students, teachers, parents and guardians, as well as other children within the community. And off the back of it, they've managed to increase the number of families building 'reading corners' for their children, secured commitments from schools to organise extra-curriculur activities, and sharpened teachers' skills in using reading materials in the classroom. Success.