The joy of travel is that there is a destination or activity to suit any taste or interest. You can lounge on a beach, hike a mountain or sail the seven seas. Alternatively, you can connect with the locals outside of the usual tourist traps.
If you enjoy immersing yourself in a destination without sacrificing any creature comforts, then consider Nepal. It is certainly more than just postcard perfect mountains, and offers a range of activities, sights and interests to satisfy the choosiest traveller.
The Country Women’s Association (CWA), and the exotic destination of Nepal, may not seem to be a likely match, however each year the CWA selects a different country of study. With this in mind, a group of nine energetic CWA ladies, three daughters, and one incredibly brave husband set off to immerse themselves in Nepal.
The CWA champions the role of women in rural and regional Australia, but they are also concerned with the life, education and the economic standing of all women around the World. This ethos drove a fascinating itinerary that took them off the beaten track and into the backstreets of Kathmandu and distant Pokhara.
The aid dollar is busy in Nepal, as well as rebuilding and repairing temples after the devastating 2015 earthquake, it also focuses heavily on upskilling marginalised members of the Nepalese community and encouraging economic independence amongst the disabled, women, children and refugees.
Pokhara, a city of 414 00 people about 200km north-west of Kathmandu, is a community strongly committed to helping those in need. Nestled at the feet of the striking Annapurna Mountain range, it is a popular tourist destination, and this tourist trade, in turn, supports a diverse range of aid projects.
Helping Hands Handicrafts: Motivated by the tragic death of a local disabled boy, Helping Hands Handicrafts provides training and support for people with disabilities. Its initial emphasis was upskilling deaf and blind people, but this has now expanded to include any person with a disability. The training focuses on all aspects of spinning and weaving which translates into magnificent scarves, pashminas and knitwear.
The retail outlet, attached to the weaving centre, has an extensive and tempting range of quality knitwear to choose from, and it is possible to watch the young people in the spinning and weaving process, as well as talk to the management about how the organisation operates and the challenges it faces.
Since establishment, the organisation has diversified to establish a spa and massage centre catering for the tourism industry, broadening the skills of its employees and increasing the financial sustainability of the business.
It is inspiring to see the young people, previously ostracised and poorly treated, taking on new skills and enjoying reward for effort. The fact that they are now able to earn an income builds their self-esteem, and creates a new sense of respect from their families and community generally. From an outsider’s perspective, it is nice to know that profits are pumped back into the organisation as well as providing a range of other services to employees such as white canes, hearing aids and wheel chairs to those in need.
Women’s Skills Development Organisation: As the title suggests, this organisation focuses solely on women. Unfortunately in Nepal, some women occupy a very low rung in society, and this is compounded when they are disabled, abused, widowed, divorced or single. It is a challenging concept to understand and offensive to our Western sensibilities, but the CWA ladies were there to learn and support.
This Fair Trade organisation focuses on training women in all facets of fabric manufacture from dyeing and spinning, to weaving and sewing, and eventually into the retail space. Importantly, they are also taught simple life skills such as budgeting, and general health and education. The Women’s Skills Development Organisation is a powerful example of what can be achieved with a bit of inspiration and a whole lot of determination. While the skills and equipment may seem rudimentary with the hand looms and pedal sewing machines, they are far more powerful and transformative tools than many we take for granted in the ‘sophisticated’ West.
As the CWA ladies moved from room to room, sharing a smile and a ‘namaste’, tears welled at the plight of these hard working women. However, the CWA was there for more than just moral support, as they proceeded to back it up with economic support – flashing their credit cards faster than whipping up a batch of scones.
Tashling Tibetan Refugee Settlement: A large number of Tibetan refugees escaped the Chinese invasion in the 1950s, and made Pokhara their ‘temporary’ home. After the shock of their dislocation and relocation, the refugees realised they needed to establish education and health facilities to support their people. As a source of income, and using their traditional skills, they established a Weaving and Handicraft Centre. If you are in the market for a sumptuous carpet that calls out to be caressed, then this is the place to be. A visit to the settlement is not complete without watching the ladies spin and weave as they have for thousands of years, before moving to the carpet showroom to be dazzled by the colours and quality. The Centre also has a fascinating history display explaining their flight from the Chinese and the history of the refugee camp.
Tips for Traveling for Good:
- Do your homework: Not all aid projects are open to the public all the time. Contact them in advance and they are sure to open their doors, provide a warm welcome, and interesting insight.
- Approach the projects in the right spirit: This is not just about voyeurism, but an opportunity to truly connect with, and understand, the Nepalese people.
- Volunteer: If you have some solid skills and the time available, consider volunteering for a block of time. Or perhaps you can open foreign doors to new markets and assistance.
- Donate: If you have the capacity, and the cause resonates with you, then consider a donation.
- Shop: Many projects have a retail outlet and the product quality is top class. Obviously, this not the place to bargain and haggle. Just know that your tourism dollar is going direct to the source and doing some good.
- Be prepared to be inspired: While not everyone seeks an emotional experience when traveling, visiting aid projects truly opens the eyes and the heart.
With heavy hearts and even heavier suitcases, the CWA ladies returned to Australia knowing that they had made a few small differences, but many strong connections.
Do you make a difference when you travel?
What: We stayed at the spa-like Temple Tree Resort.
Where: Pokhara is about 200km north-west of Kathmandu.
When: We visited Pokhara in late April – their Spring. A perfect time to visit with beautiful temperatures during the day and only a light jacket needed at night time.
Why: The CWA are strong supporters of women around the World and aimed to connect with the Nepalese people on a deeper level.
How: We flew to Pokhara on Buddha Air.
Who: Nine Country Women’s Association members, three daughters and one exceptionally brave husband!
Related Posts: To learn more about Pokhara as a holiday destination, check out my post showing the diversity of the region. Or read a slightly different version of this article featured in the November edition of The Senior Traveller.
Related Blogs: If you are considering volunteering in Nepal, check out what other volunteers say at: http://www.volunteernepal.com/blog
Read About it: for a limitless range of guide books about Nepal, check out Book Depository.