There is little better when travelling than spending time learning the local language, developing friendships and delving into all the richness that immersion in a culture and a landscape can bring. It is always an exchange. A dance, a wonderful type of co-creation, with the energy of the visitor and the culture that they bring, being interwoven into a new, dynamic understanding of ‘being’ with the varied aspects of a new land, new people, and their unique perspectives on life.
Nepali culture and varied landscape offers just this. As Everest stands head and shoulder above all other mountains in the world, Nepal, with its beautiful and diverse topography, as well as lively welcoming culture, commands a lofty position in the popularity stakes for most travellers. Visitors to Nepal are stunned by their natural surroundings and the music, food and culture they encounter. It is impossible not to be transfixed by the country and, when tearfully leaving, make firm promises in your heart to return.
Sadly, since late March 2020, and the terrifying, sweeping hand of Covid-19 across the globe, Nepal has seen some radical changes. The population of Kathmandu has dropped to what some estimate as 70% of its former numbers, as 100’s of thousand of people return to their rural community’s, all seeking safety, food and shelter with their families away from the city and following the abrupt decimation of tourism and the slashing of their individual incomes.
As has been the protocol across the world, until the end of May there have been very few shops open, offering limited produce, and only the essential health and public safety services operating throughout the pandemic. Nepal may have initially had a lower Covid-19 infection and mortality rate initially but the continued situation and rippled impact of the pandemic is creating more problems as time goes on.
As Nepal has started to reopen its transport system for ‘local travel’ there are 100’s of thousands of people returning to Nepal from neighbouring countries. Many of these individuals are crossing untold thousands of miles by bus and on foot, following their loss of livelihood and income in India, as well as other Asian countries. According to the World Bank, in 2019 more than $8.1bn was sent home to Nepal by nearly 2 million Nepali workers living and working out of their home country. This potentially means that more than 25% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has now been slashed by the global loss of jobs following the domino effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Phil, the Manager of the Rural Community Development Project in Nepal ,“families are really beginning to struggle and some reports are coming out about starvation … It’s only word of mouth so far but if a person has been unable to earn money for three months and has always been a daily earner I think it’s fairly safe to assume they will be in a serious position already.”
Based on the current situation and the previous dependency on Nepali migrant workers and tourism ‘in-country’, Nepal is looking at not only a major economic crisis but equally a humanitarian crisis as returning Nepalis cross the border in their thousands. The fear of Covid-19 infection has led to individuals being ostracised and refused basic human right as they travel. The returning Nepali’s are often weakened from long and arduous journey’s back home, often with no food or water, and are then being quarantined in ‘less than optimal conditions’ due to the massive influx. The outlook is dire for many individuals, and for the country as a whole.
For the Rural Community Development Project, Covid-19 has created a catastrophic situation. The need for free health care whilst already prominent has just become so much more necessary and yet the loss of external finance has dealt them a horrific blow. Phil says:
“The effects to us [are disastrous], we had the best year ever already booked with 3 free health camps planned for the  but when the flights stopped so did all the volunteers, and the fees they [were due to] pay us to help fund the free medicines and health checks. The total amount we lost was close to $18,000 in volunteer fees which would have funded us for all … we had planned for this year [and] which would have provided a free health care service to some 7,000 to 10,000 rural Nepalis in 5 different villages.”
The loss of income has not only affected the health camps. The volunteers are given home-stay accommodation in rural communities, which has provided a much needed financial boost to many local families, and an opportunity for the volunteer to spend time integrating into village life. The loss of both the free health camps and the home-stay income is yet another tragic blow to families already laid-low from dealing with this disaster. Whilst Covid-19 has been seen to be a potentially terrible and frightening disease to combat, the oncoming social and economic waves that emanate from that viral epicentre have the potential to fatally infect communities in a much longer lasting and infinitely more devastating way.
Right now, as the world turns itself on its head in the wake of this global disaster, the need to extend the hand of friendship and offer whatever support possible is more necessary now than ever before. Whole communities need to know that they are supported by their global neighbours, and they need to be able to look to the future, to times when visitors can return and enjoy the splendours of this magnificent country.
The offer of a donation, regardless of its size, is a gesture of connection, of care, and of recognition. The booking of a socially responsible adventure not only gives the Project a future but offers a link, a lifeline, to the people it supports. It ensures we are all looking to the far-flung days, beyond coronavirus, to the verdant jungle farms on the lowlands of the Terai or the bright sky’d, mountain slopes of the snowy Himalayas. It shows both visitor and community alike that one day, soon, we will eat and laugh and sing together again – because that is what all people love to do, and that is what time spent, together in Nepal, is all about.
Written by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer, Rae Hadley
To make a donation to any of our project partners, please click here to donate under PayPal – and remember to write in your reference which project you would like the donation to be given to. It should be the project name so e.g. the Community Project, Nepal.
If you are able to join the project as a volunteer later this year or in 2021, then even better! The volunteer project runs throughout the year, and we have made volunteer dates available all the way till August 2021. You can find more info via the project page and if you are ready to join already, you can fill in the online application form by clicking on APPLY NOW.