A few days after handing in my Master’s thesis that I had dedicated every hour of my life too in the preceding months, I was standing in Birmingham airport, about to board a flight to Kathmandu via New Delhi. I had been waiting for this moment all year! I first heard about the University of Essex’s partnership with the Mountain Trust during a chat with Professor Todd Landman at the beginning of my Master’s in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights. He only had to mention the words “internship” and “Nepal” when my eyes widened and my mind became transfixed on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hadn’t stopped talking about anything else since.
It was my first trip to Nepal but after having read a lot about the complex historical, cultural and political environment, I was bubbling with curiosity and could not wait to discover this majestic Himalayan kingdom –all by myself. Before I began my internship with local peace-building, development and democracy NGO, Alliance for Peace, I imagined myself to be stationed in Kathmandu for the majority of my time in Nepal, with an odd field trip outside the Kathmandu Valley here and there. However, lucky for me, the team at Alliance for Peace well and truly took me under there wing and I spent most of my internship on the road travelling to remote, post-conflict parts of the country to facilitate peace building, democracy and good governance workshops to political student organisations, youth peace committees and ex-combatants. I was given a unique opportunity to see the country through the eyes of knowledgeable and experienced grass-root professionals and learn about a whole range of economic, political and cultural issues directly from local people and communities across Nepal. My placement also coincided with the run up to the national elections and the country was on high alert for boycotts and the kinds of violent unrest that previous elections had seen.
When I wasn’t working in the field, I was based at Alliance for Peace’s head office in Kathmandu and worked on a series of research, policy, fundraising and monitoring and evaluation projects in the areas of youth rights, peace building, gender based violence, democracy and conflict transformation. During my time in the capital, the Mountain Trust had kindly organised a homestay for me in the pulsating Tibetan Buddhist hub, Bodhnath (Boudha), where thousands of pilgrims gathered daily to pay tribute to the Lord Buddha underneath Asia’s largest stupa. With the reverberating sound of Tibetan drums and ceremonial chants of monks filling the air at dawn and dusk, I stayed with a warm and welcoming family in an apartment which overlooked a local family’s vegetable patch and a prestigious Tibetan monastery. Whilst staying with mother and daughter, Tsering and Zeydon, I was able to taste an array of delights in Tibetan cooking and learn a great deal about Tibetan culture – with a budding American Tibetologist as a flat mate! I was also lucky enough to live with a Tibetan Monk whilst the family were away for a week; allowing me to make a new friend and also learn about modern day Tibetan Buddhist teachings and ancient philosophies.
My trip in Nepal was also perfectly timed to coincide with a couple of major national holidays and festivals celebrated by the large majority of Hindu population of Nepal: Dashain (Nepal’s longest festival which celebrates the victory of the god and goddesses over the demons) and Tihar (Nepal’s Diwali – festival of lights). During this time, I was able to visit Chitwan National Park on an elephant safari, spot the famous two-horned rhino, see the birthplace of the Buddha in Lumbini and take in the staggering views in lakeside Pokhara.
I would have no hesitation in recommending volunteering or an internship with the Mountain Trust. My experience superseded any of the expectations that I had before getting on my plane in England…And even then they were pretty high! My only regret is that I hadn’t planned to stay for longer and by the time I was boarding my plane back to the UK, I was making a vow to myself to return and settle for good!