Building a School in Kumari, Nepal

Prior to my trek in the Himalayas along the route to Everest Base Camp, I spent 3 days in the village of Kumari, Nepal thanks to Trekking for Kids‘ work to support this village.  The village, as many places in Nepal, was severely impacted by the April 2015 earthquake that struck the country.

The recently-built medical clinic was quite damaged and the school that served about 400 children was pretty much destroyed.

Nepal, earthquake, damage, Kumari, medical clinic, Nuwakot

Most damaged part of the clinic

Trekking for Kids had planned a trip to Nepal (it has been going there for years to bring hope to orphaned kids via its treks) and chose to direct the funds raised by us trekkers towards the re-construction of the school.  The school certainly will provide a better environment for the kids to receive education but it will also encourage parents to send the kids to school which helps reduce the risk that human trafficking poses for these children.

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy

Makeshifts structures -and outdoor spaces- serve as temporary classrooms

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy

Teacher holding class outdoor

Our stay in Kumari

We left Kathmandu on our way to Kumari, a village development center in the Nuwakot district.  Though it seems to be about 30 miles from Kathmandu, as the eagle flies, it took us about 3.5 hours.  The first 1.5 hrs were on a paved road that we left after a quick stop at a roadside kiosk.  From then on, we took a dirt and bumpy road that in the rainy season is impassable, driving past terraced hills and lots of green.  Occasionally we would pass small rural homes and saw a little bit of life in the countryside.

In Kumari, we stayed in the medical clinic compound, a very large space that was fenced and gated.  The medical clinic laid near the far end and had been badly damaged by the April 2015 quake.  Though damaged, a couple of spaces were still in use for examinations and to house the pharmacy.  Behind the clinic, there was a small structure housing the women’s and the men’s restrooms (2 stalls each) plus one basic shower.  Along the sides of the compound were tents used by our group and others supporting the construction work and our visit.  I imagine the tents were donated post-quake to help with temporary housing for locals but I think I heard tents were not very successful in Nepal as they were too foreign for regular folks.  Not sure if our tents were indeed originally intended for that temporary shelter but they look pretty clean and unused.  I will have to say that they were a little larger than the small two-people tents I have used before so I was glad for the extra “comfort.”

Sukman, medical clinic, polyclinic, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Sukman Memorial Polyclinic, our tents to the right

Staying in the compound was far better than I had been expected.  The grounds are well kept, the indoor restroom was a pleasant surprise, and though I only used it one of the 3 days, it was nice to take a shower after a day’s hard work.  The compound also had a kitchen and outdoor (covered) seating area so all our meals were there.  I tended to wake up very early and enjoyed a cup of tea while soaking in the quiet and sunrise.  It was a little cold at night but not frigid.  We were a 5-minute walk to the work site (the school grounds) so all-in-all, I was pleased with the setup they had prepared to host us, not having too much time traveling to- and from- the work site so we could maximize time at the site.

A grand Kumari welcome!

When our small caravan was approaching the medical compound, we noticed a lot of people were there waiting for us.  The more we walked, the more it seemed the entire district had come to welcome us.  We left our stuff in the cars (someone would take care of that) and after an initial greeting which included music, we were taken up a dirt road towards the school grounds which were located above the medical compound.

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, voluntourism, trekking

Walking from the clinic to the school grounds

As we made the final turn up the dirt road that passes the school grounds, we noticed schoolchildren were lined up waiting for us – loaded with long necklaces made from orange marigolds (like Hawaiian leis).  As we walked along the kids, teachers, and others, these “leis” were placed on our necks.  They must have spent long days making these (the flowers were all fresh)!!  Some of us ended with a heavy yoke of these leis around our necks but it was a very joyful welcome – much appreciated!

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, marigold, schoolchildren

Schoolchildren awaiting us with the marigold necklaces!

Marigold, necklace, lei, trekkers, Trekking for Kids, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Some of us sporting the massive and heavy leis

After we got to the covered space that had been set up for the welcome ceremony, we took our seats and then all the children and other locals stood behind us.  At the end of the ceremony, 3 hours later or so, I was very impressed the locals stayed the entire time, in the sun.  There were some local figures present but maybe the draw was the two emcees (MCs) who I take had come from Kathmandu and were well-known.  The ceremony entailed many speeches in Nepali or in English as well as some dances/songs by the local kids.  I soaked it all in though, at that point, none of us had eaten anything since breakfast and I, for one, was hungry and trying hard not to pull something out of my day pack when so many in the crowd were probably as hungry as I was.Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourismMukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

School administrators, civic organizers, the MCs and the trekkers

Sweat equity

Trekkers like me commit to fundraise $1,000 towards the projects chosen for the specific trek.  The projects funded are normally anchored on capital improvements or new infrastructure.  In this Nepal trek, the school was the main project our funds would support.  I am proud to say that my group of trekkers and I raised over $33,000, much higher than the minimum we each committed to raise (thanks to any of you who donated!).  This allowed us to also fund the construction of new indoor restroom facilities at the school, something the children had never had before:  one restroom with several stalls for the girls, and the same for the boys.  When I go in these treks, I often leave pondering the things I have taken for granted all my life… and I am humbled at the blessings in my life.

Shree Bikash, school, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, construction

Plans for the new school

One of the three days was focused on us pitching in in the construction efforts.  Trekking for Kids’ approach is to ensure local labor performs the projects and local materials are used.  But trekkers get to get down and dirty lending a hand.  In these projects, trekkers got to help both with preparing the foundation for two of the new school buildings as well as with pouring the new roof for the restroom building.

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy, construction

Foundation trenches completed, next step was to lay rocks at the bottom

I worked in the crew that helped dig the trenches for the school buildings’ foundations and then “harvested” rocks from the debris field from the former school building from the side of the hill and tossed them (via human chain) up to fill the bottom layer of the trenches.  While we were happy to help, it was clear the locals who worked on the project and the local teen youth group that was volunteering to help were much more effective and fast than we were…  It was certainly an honor to be able to humble ourselves for such a good cause.

Other trekkers helped prep the restroom roof before the concrete was poured by framing the area and cutting and setting up the rebar.  At the point the concrete was being mixed and poured, the locals took over.  It was interesting to watch their methods!

Rebar, Nepal, Kumari, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, volunteer, travel

Cutting rebar

construction, Kumari, Nepal, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids

Roof being readied for the concrete pouring

Kumari, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, construction, Shree Bikash school, Nuwakot, voluntourism

Roof being poured with the sewage tank visible in the lower part of the photo

Finally, our trekkers helped finish the digging of the “sewage tank” that had already been started with the use of mechanical equipment.  Hard work indeed!

And just having fun

Working on the projects is something trekkers enjoy doing but trekkers always enjoy the opportunity to be with the kids.  The kids made us smile with the great welcome they gave us so I certainly enjoyed giving back in this way to them.  We got to be with the kids during school hours and afterwards, including one afternoon dedicated to fun and games that went late.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed the mini-carnival games, the arts and crafts, and a good early dinner!

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism

One of our trekkers, a former teacher, spends time in the classroom

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

The kids played games in the afternoon

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

Kids enjoying an early dinner

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, Shree Bikash, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, Samsung Galaxy

At the end of the day, kids line up for parting gifts!

As for me

The treks themselves, of course, helped keep me challenged and appreciating my own life’s blessings.  But, in the end, I would not be doing these treks if it were not for the opportunity to make a difference, however small, in the lives of children around the world.  It is faces like these that keep me prioritizing my travel budget and vacation time for doing these treks (at the expense of doing more with my own friends and family), that keep me “pestering” friends and family for donations to fund the projects, and that keep me accepting conditions during my treks that are less than what I’d prefer during my vacations.  Take a look, can you blame me?Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel

Check out Trekking for Kids and pass the word about this great organization to others via word of mouth and social media!

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, sunset, mountains, travel, Samsung Galaxy

A beautiful Nepali sunset over our camp

Trekking for Kids and the Bayti Centre in Essaouira

In the summer of 2014, I decided to do another trek with Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I have trekked in Romania in 2012 and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2013.  When I learned TFK was going to go to the Camino de Santiago, something I’ve wanted to do since I learned about it, I knew I just had to go as it was the perfect combination of a trek and of service to improve the lives of children, something I am very passionate about.  The group of trekkers paid their own way and then raised funds for projects to be done at the center selected by TFK.

Trekking for Kids, TFK, trekking, Morocco, Essaouira

The group of Trekking for Kids trekkers before the first day of work – I was in GREAT company!

The service work was going to take place at a center for street and at-risk children in Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco – a town that surprised me and of which I am writing separately.  TFK decided to work with the Bayti Centre to improve the facilities where they work with the children to protect them against violence, to provide psychosocial rehabilitation, to reintegrate families, and other related activities.

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

TFK being welcomed by Bayti Centre staff

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

A group shot with tons of kids is hard to pull off…

TFK selected a number of improvement projects like helping the exterior of the building be repaired and painted.  Another project was a kitchen renovation that facilitated the two kitchen staff to be able to work side by side in the small kitchen with two sinks, a new fridge, and a new stove as well as more shelving to better use the space.  New equipment for instruction (like a flat screen TV) and other items for the children were donated as well.  In summary, a series of projects that would enhance the facilities to create a better environment for Bayti to deliver its services and attend to the children of the streets of Essaouira.

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

The facade of the Bayti Centre after repairs but before painting

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

Finishing touches being applied on the repairs prior to the painting

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Painting the exterior – street level

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Building a wall garden requires woodworking skills!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

One dirty (and happy) trekker after a day of work at the Centre!

Along with the works, we also got to take the children on outings and threw a party where we all got to enjoy food, games, and music much to the delight of the children.

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Getting ready for one of the outings

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

Face painting in progress!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

A fellow trekker doing the artwork!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Another great face paint job and a happy kid!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

The end product of face painting!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

One of the outings was to go to a park in the city for fun and games

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

The girl on the right sure knew the right technique for jump rope!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Precious little girl!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

He was having fun at the park – and I was glad to be a part of it

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

Fun and games at the pool park in one of the outings

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

More fun and games at the pool

A final word is to thank the amazing staff and volunteers who are the ones who truly made the world a better place for these children.  Je vous remercie, mes amis!

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

TFK trekkers with the staff and volunteers of the Bayti Centre

I look forward to another TFK trek in 2015!

Boarding Pass Series: Hats off, TWA!

Many, and I mean, MANY, years ago I had the pleasure of flying Trans-World Airlines, or “TWA“, a now-defunct airline absorbed by a lesser player many years ago.  This airline, steeped in history, had an incredible international route and rivaled the likes of PanAm (and outlasted it by a few years).TWA, airline, Trans-World, boarding pass, flying history

I got to fly it only domestically in the U.S. but grew to love it quickly with its friendly flight attendants and the occasional -and welcome- complimentary first class upgrades without having to accumulate a gazillion miles before being treated to a free upgrade…  And those flight attendants in first class did pour the wine gleefully even in short flights.  Not in an I-do-the-first-serving-as-part-of-the-standard-thing and maybe-come-by-and-offer-you-a-refill-out-of-obligation-and-more-only-if-you-happen-to-catch-me-or-ring-me, as many U.S.  airlines do today.  No, they really just were happy to keep you happy!

So, ex-TWA-ers, if you read this, hats off to you.  And that earns you this boarding pass series post.  Thanks for the good rides!

Honey Badger Anyone?

If you are a regular visitor of this blog, you know I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro this past February.  It was a fantastic experience that I am glad I was dared to do.  Before we embarked on that hike, we spent a few days in the town of Moshi visiting and working with a local orphanage, Kili Centre.  A great couple of days to set us off for our hike.  But those couple of days allowed me to meet the honey badger of that viral video.  The reason the topic the video came up was not just because we were in Tanzania where likely there are honey badgers.  It came up because we stayed at the awesome Honey Badger Lodge outside of Moshi!

We arrived around 2AM at the lodge due to a flight delay leaving Amsterdam.  Obviously, everything was pretty dark and quiet when we got there and we were eager to get to our rooms and bed.  We were all sharing rooms with other trekkers but my roommate was arriving the next night so I appreciated having the room to myself that first night.  My room was in a standalone cabin whereas some other rooms were adjoining rooms in small buildings.  My cabin was super spacious with two queen beds (with mosquito nets).  No fan though…  Oh, and it had separate shower area from the rest of the bathroom.

cabin, honey badger, lodge, moshi, tanzania, olympus, lodging, accommodation, hotel, tourism

Half of my cabin!

The hotel grounds had a lot of nice vegetation and monkeys too.  There was a nice sized pool with a great area around it to sit and a few steps down from it was the dining area full of picnic-like tables and the bar.  It all felt very close and convenient yet I felt there was a lot of space and openness.

Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania, lodging, accommodation,

Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania, lodging, accommocation Olympus

Monkey Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania lodgiing accommodation

Notice the monkey?

One night, there was a show with local music and dancing that was quite enjoyable; I think this is done often for the benefit of the guests.  The lodge can also arrange any number of activities for the visitor including climbs of Mt. Kilimanjaro – even if you don’t use them for that, I highly recommend staying there before and after!

But the good news about the Honey Badger Lodge don’t end there.  The lodge makes a serious effort to to contribute to the local community.  A portion of the profit goes to support local education and other projects and they strive to train staff and give them a good situation for employment (read more in their website).  The current owners, Joseph and Jenny, do this but this started when the owner (and founder of the lodge) -the mother of the current owner- decided her business could be more than just to make a living for her and her family.

I enjoyed my stay there because of the nice layout and the knowledge that our giving them our business would have more of an impact.  But, as a final word, I will say that I enjoyed my stay there because the staff was very friendly and made an effort to call us by our name.  I was impressed.  Clearly management knows what it’s doing and I like that in every which way!

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Moshi, Honey Badger Lodge, children, special, vista

Neighbors of the lodge and the roof of Africa behind them

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