Tucked inside the Himalaya’s mountainous fortress of giants is Nepal. The country is a destination for those looking to tempt nature from the world’s tallest peaks, a Shangri-La for hikers, and a place that seems to infect most visitors with a mystical spirituality. Many people love the old cities and the prayer flags flapping over Medieval villages, and while for tourists there is a charm in the minimal access to modern technologies and comforts, this is also a very real result of Nepal’s economic state.
Voluntourism, traveling to volunteer, has become popular in Nepal, but unfortunately, this has also led to an increase in some negative impacts in the form of contribution distribution, scams, and fraud. Before volunteering in Nepal, it is important to do some research to make sure your time will positively impact the country.
Besides being a great opportunity to see one of the most extraordinary destinations in the world, volunteers can contribute and impact in numerous areas in the country, ranging from infrastructure, people, and nature. Besides having minimal access to things like medical care, education, and at times, normal sanitation standards, many Nepalese (especially those in rural communities) are also still recovering from a disastrous earthquake that hit in 2015. Elsewhere, as the mountains and trails of the Nepalese Himalayas become more accessible, there has also been an increase in conservation efforts for both the wild spaces and endangered species native to the area.
There are a wide array of volunteer opportunities in Nepal. To explore some of these we recommend checking sites like www.ethicalvolunteering.org. It is common that many programs will require a significant amount of commitment, although this is really the best way to make a difference.
For nature-lovers, Nepal has become a leading founder in voluntrekking, a way of making charitable contributions while trekking. Some focus on fundraising proceeds based on the lengths and difficulties of various high altitude hikes in the region. Others, like the Red Panda Network, utilize participation fees to give directly to animal conservation efforts.
A good number of organizations attempt to make strides with homeless and under-served children in the country. Nepali Children’s Trust helps children with disabilities, while Prisoners Assistance Nepal offers a unique experience focusing on social justice as well as mentoring children with parents in prison.
Her Farm, part of the Mountain Fund, is a women empowerment project. In their own words, “Her Farm is located in rural Nepal and provides a safe place for women to live, farm, and thrive…these women can and will feed their own families by working collectively to tend livestock and grow crops.” Volunteers can participate by providing education, agricultural assistance, or community development.
People with a medical background can also find teams that take medical tents, supplies, and health services to rural parts of the country.
Avoid Harmful Organizations
The first thing potentially interested volunteers need to know is that most volunteer programs in Nepal will cost a significant amount of money. Depending on the volunteer organization, you may have to cover the costs of things like food, lodging and/or host family accommodations, as well as placement fees. Since there is a significant amount of money flowing into programs in Nepal, some are taking advantage by allowing this influx to go directly to companies, third-party agencies, and individuals.
Because of the amount of interest in volunteering in Nepal, many placements and organizations will match volunteers with specific jobs based on their skills. If travelers find themselves contributing to a team that allows them to do any job, for any period of time, they should consider doing research on their company’s resource allocation. This lax attitude probably means the organization is not concerned with benefitting the Nepalese people.
One particular area of voluntourism in Nepal that has had significant issues is childcare, especially at orphanages. Many are struck by the amount of street kids wandering the streets of Kathmandu, and want to help. However, Nepal’s orphanages have been found complicit in adoption scandals and child trafficking. Those with a strong desire and particular interest in working with children should consult the Nepali Central Child Welfare Board or websites focused on ethical contributions before their arrival in Nepal.
Working in Nepal
Travelers wanting to subsidize their adventures with an income in Nepal should beware. Many typical jobs for travelers are on a volunteer basis. For example, Nepal, like many developing countries, seeks English teachers, but aside from the wealthy few, most schools will not be able to pay said teachers. It is also illegal to work in the country on a tourist visa. Above all else, those who want the best for the country should recognize that most paid positions should go to the Nepali people. This is why many adventure or trekking companies will not employ foreigners.