I often sit in my host family’s kitchen, watching my mum make gurung bread while my dad is working in his garden and my two brothers are out on the rice fields harvesting the crops. It’s a lovely family, very caring and they made it very clear that I became part of their family since day one, ever since addressing me as ‘Stefan son’ or ‘bhai’ (younger brother).
The kitchen is a small 12 square meter room, shelves stacked with heavy copper plates and bowls. Every meal is freshly cooked over a portable gas stove and a damp cloth on the ground stops an old mini fridge in the corner of the room from leaking. I’m always in awe when my host mum cooks 10 different meals at the same time for 20 trekkers stopping by for lunch, leaving all of them satisfied. I’ve had one of the best tasting Dal Bahts come out of this kitchen.
Sometimes it feels unreal that I’m in Himalayas and I completely forget about the world I’ve left behind to come here. I feel blessed and content with life, never hungry or thirsty, when I’m in this kitchen surrounded by my amazing host family but I keep asking myself one question – should I feel guilty that I found peace and happiness in a place where children sometimes walk to school barefoot because they can’t afford shoes, where people work twice as hard than I’ve ever had to work in my life and where people sometimes can’t read or write?
I’ve been a volunteer teacher with Trek to Teach for over a month now and accepted the village of Kliu as my second home. Kliu is a small community surrounded by dozens of rice fields and a great view of Annapurna South and Machapuchare. I’m teaching at a public school that resembles a construction site rather than a school, due to the latest earthquake that shocked Nepal almost 2 years ago. On my way to school I’m greeted by friendly faces screaming ‘namste’ and ‘ke cha’; I stop for a few minutes to practice my Nepalese with my students before we continue our trek to school together.
When I went to school in Austria, my home country, I had my own desk, I had my own pens and I had my own books. Here, students share most school supplies and classrooms are equipped with 8 benches for 30-40 students, who hike almost two hours to school and back every morning, while some of them carry their younger siblings on their backs. I’ve never heard a single complaint.
School usually starts at 10 am, the students form a line in front of their classroom, organized by height, as they sing their national anthem. I listen to the beautiful melody of their song and catch myself thinking – do I deserve to be here?
I teach five English classes and I finish my day at 4 pm after I teach an arts/ PE class. I love my job as a teacher and I’m thrilled to wake up every morning to go to school and see my students’ process but there are also many challenges I face. Some of the main challenges I face at the school are overfilled classes and outdated school books full of typos and grammatical errors. It’s a confusing environment for students and teachers, causing a lot of frustration on both sides. In my first week I struggled a lot to find a balance between teaching what the strict government curriculum wants me to teach, which is way too advanced for my students, and basic sentence structure and vocabulary to help my students express themselves correctly. Even though I’ve developed some sort of routine now, every day is very different and enables me to take on new tasks as a teacher and learn more about the interesting culture of my village.
Teaching the kids at my school in Kliu has been one of the most rewarding experiences so far. I genuinely hope to see some of my students explore the world and wish them nothing but the best for their future. The students here want to learn and they want to participate. As a teacher, I had to lower my expectations a lot but we’ve worked hard and after almost two months, each student was able to present a very short presentation about their families and Nepal based on a drawing we worked on during my first week. Their English may not be perfect yet, but I think I was able to give them enough courage to speak up and gave them motivation to keep studying until the next Trek To Teach volunteer arrives.
I still haven’t found an answer to my questions and the more I ponder over my experience, which I’m lucky to share with some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, the more questions arise. I’m definitely privileged to be able to travel, to speak two languages fluently and learning a third one and most importantly, being able to make a difference for these children and have a positive impact on their lives.
I try not to feel too guilty about my feelings of happiness and fulfillment I’ve experienced here and rather treat them as a positive side effect that keeps me motivated and driven to teach my students and hopefully will motivate future volunteers to, one day, make my students’ dreams come true as well.