For many young people in Qatar and around the world, school breaks are a chance to spend time away from the classroom and have fun with family and friends.
But two locally-based high school students have turned that idea on its head, deciding instead to spend their winter holiday with complete strangers at a school in Nepal.
Inspired by a talk given a few months ago in Doha by a UN aid worker, Sirius Ganesh and Sascha Zierbock organized an informal school supply donation drive for students in Katmandu.
The 16-year-olds, who hail from India and Germany respectively, then headed to Nepal themselves to deliver the collection after coordinating with the UN worker, Peter Dalglish.
Dalglish has helped create the non-profit Himalayan Voluntourism which works to improve and support schools and community and learning centers in a highly impoverished area of Nepal that is located about 200km west of Kathmandu.
Speaking to Doha News, he explained:
“I try to make the world of young people larger, and to show them another path. Volunteering alongside children in Nepal who have been made homeless by the recent earthquake is both an inspiring and humbling experience.”
As part of its efforts, the organization enlists the help of carefully-screened volunteers who pay for their own airfare to Nepal and, in return, are provided basic food and housing during their stay.
After obtaining their parents’ blessing, the two students signed on as volunteers.
Their task: to teach students in Bandipur, a town still struggling to recover from last year’s earthquake, and a place where food is scarce, clean water is an issue and electricity is considered a luxury.
Because Sirius spoke Hindi, he was able to teach math to the children, but the language barrier proved to be more difficult for Sascha.
Getting creative, the duo decided that Sascha could serve as the English teacher.
But before they could get into properly teaching the children, they faced some challenges.
For one, the students in their classes (who ranged from five to 16 years old) were not properly dressed for the weather, which averaged a chilly 6C to 7C during the day.
To help stop them from shivering, Sirius said:
“We decided to go and buy the children winter hats to keep them warm. So we returned the next day with 25 hats.”
Another problem was that many of the kids had no school supplies, and Sirius and Sascha had no curriculum or books.
Most classes were taught through song or memorization.
To help drive home a math lesson, Sirius thought up of a simple game that involved multiplying numbers with a deck of cards, which that turned out to be a hit even with the Nepali teachers.
Assessing the teens’ work after their trip, Dalglish said:
“Sascha and Sirius rolled up their sleeves and did whatever was asked of them by the community leaders. They were compassionate and they were fearless. In my opinion they represent the finest qualities of their generation.”
Though the teens said they enjoyed working with the students, they also left Nepal with feelings of frustration and helplessness.
Trying to explain, Sirius recalled the day they bought hats for the children, telling Doha News that the street vendor selling them the wares refused to bring down his prices, despite knowing that the hats were going to help his fellow Nepali people.
“What took me by surprise was the inconceivable paradox that was set in our situation. Tourists go to Nepal to witness its beauty whereas the locals appear somewhat blind to it. They are just working on surviving, day to day.”
Sascha also discovered that sitting around a table with five students in Bandipur, all of the student’s fathers were abroad working in Qatar as laborers.
This knowledge hit home for the young volunteer, who said he felt even more invested in the future of such vulnerable children.
Back in Doha, the teens said they planned to get involved in a project to teach English to Nepali cleaning staff at their school.
And when Doha News asked them where they envision themselves five to 10 years down the line, they both answered without hesitation, “We will always be doing something with Nepal in mind.”