Tourism certainly brings revenue and other benefits to the people of Nepal, yet sadly there are also negative impacts, such as begging in city streets and disappearing forests along trekking trails. Read on to see how you can maximise your contribution and minimise your footprint through voluntary work and responsible travel.
- Consider honestly how your skill set may best benefit an organisation and community, choose a cause that you are passionate about and do some research to ensure your potential organisation is reputable and transparent.
- Think realistically about how much time you can devote to the project. You are unlikely to be of lasting help if you stay for less than a couple of months.
- It may surprise you to have to pay to volunteer but many companies charge substantial placement fees and ask you to cover your own costs, including accommodation, food and transport.
For further information, www.ethicalvolunteering.org offers useful tips on selecting an ethical volunteer agency and Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World (Lonely Planet) offers invaluable information and a directory.
Volunteering in Nepal
Hundreds of travellers volunteer in Nepal every year, working on an incredible range of development and conservation projects, covering everything from volunteering with street children in Kathmandu to counting the tracks of endangered animals in the high Himalaya. The potential for personal growth and the opportunity to forge a connection with a local community can give a profoundly deeper significance to the notion of travel. In the wake of Nepal's 2015 earthquake, volunteers have never been in greater need.
However, it is important to remember the principles of ethical volunteering – good volunteer agencies match a volunteer’s skill sets to suitable projects that result in real and lasting benefit to local communities, rather than simply offering travellers the chance to feel better about themselves during a fleeting two-week placement.
As so-called ‘voluntourism’ has grown in popularity, dozens of organisations have sprung up to take advantage of a new source of revenue, muddying an already murky issue. You’ll need to do serious research to ensure that your time and money are genuinely going to help the cause you are trying to advance. Do it right though, and an extended time spent volunteering will bring you much closer to the country. Dare we say it, it may even change your life.
A number of trekking and tour agencies use the proceeds from their trips to support charitable projects around Nepal, and many travellers also undertake sponsored treks and climbing expeditions in Nepal to raise money for specific charities and projects.
There are a number of organisations that set up expeditions of this kind, including the following:
- Australian Himalayan Foundation (www.australianhimalayanfoundation.org.au) Offers fundraising treks to its aid projects.
- Community Action Treks (www.catreks.com) Offers various treks that contribute to the work of Community Action Nepal.
- Crooked Trails (www.crookedtrails.com) Runs fundraising treks and volunteer programs.
- Himalayan Healthcare (www.himalayan-healthcare.org) Arranges medical and dental treks around Nepal.
- Nepal Trust (www.nepaltrust.org) British agency that runs treks in Humla to support its development work.
- Red Panda Network (www.redpandanetwork.org) Runs an annual nine-day trip to eastern Nepal to photograph red pandas, with proceeds going to panda conservation.
- Summit Climb (www.summitclimb.com) Runs an annual service trek providing health care in remote parts of Solu Khumbu.
Voluntourism has become a booming business in Nepal, with travel companies co-opting the idea as a branch of their for-profit enterprises. To avoid the bulk of your placement fees going into the pockets of third-party agencies, it’s important to do your research on the hundreds of organisations that now offer volunteer work and find a suitable one that supports your skills.
Although you give your time for free, you will be expected to pay for food and lodging, and you may also be asked to pay a placement fee. Volunteers should try to find out exactly how much of their placement fees is going into Nepal, and how much is going towards company profit and administrative costs. Fees paid to local agencies tend to be much lower than those charged by international volunteer agencies.
Nepal’s orphanages in particular have come under a critical spotlight in recent years, with several operations linked to child trafficking and adoption scandals. Conor Grennan’s book Little Princes is an inspiring account of time volunteering in a Nepali orphanage that touches on the corruption and murky moral dilemmas inherent in trying to do the right thing in Nepal. Following a damning UNICEF report in 2014, many foreign governments now advise their citizens against volunteering at orphanages unless they have been verified as legitimate by the Nepali Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB; www.ccwb.gov.np).
When looking for a volunteer placement, it is essential to investigate what your chosen organisation does and, more importantly, how it goes about it. If the focus is not primarily on your skills, and how these can be applied to help local people, then this should ring alarm bells. Any organisation that promises to let you do any kind of work, wherever you like, for as long as you like, is unlikely to be putting the needs of local people first.
For any organisation working with children, child protection is a serious concern; places that do not conduct background checks on volunteers should be regarded with extreme caution. For some sobering perspectives on the volunteering industry, see www.nextgenerationnepal.org/ethical-volunteering and www.just-one.org/your-chance/volunteering.
Following is a list of organisations offering volunteering opportunities in Nepal, but Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisations that we do not work with directly, so it is essential that you do your own thorough research before agreeing to volunteer with anyone.
- Butterfly Foundation (www.butterflyfoundation.org) Accepts volunteers to help with administration and child care in Pokhara; linked to Butterfly Lodge.
- Child Environment Nepal (www.cennepal.org.np) Accepts child-care volunteers at its premises at Naya Bazaar in Kathmandu.
- Child Rescue Nepal (www.childrescuenepal.org) Can arrange placements working to improve the lives of trafficked and abandoned children.
- Ford Foundation (www.fordnepal.org) Arranges volunteer work focusing on teaching and child care.
- Global Vision International (www.gvi.co.uk) Offers both short- and long-term internships and volunteer placements, some combined with trekking.
- Helping Hands (www.helpinghandsusa.org) Places medical volunteers at clinics around Nepal.
- Himalayan Children Care Home (www.hchmustang.org) Accepts volunteers to help with the care and education of kids from remote Mustang who are attending schools in Pokhara.
- Insight Nepal (www.insightnepal.org) Combines a cultural and education program near Pokhara with a volunteer placement and a trek in the Annapurna region; lasts seven weeks or three months.
- Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP; www.keepnepal.org) Placements in education and training in and around Kathmandu; minimum two-month placements preferred and a US$50 administration fee.
- Mountain Fund (www.mountainvolunteer.org) Education, media, agriculture and health-care opportunities at Her Farm.
- Mountain Trust Nepal (www.mountain-trust.org) British NGO that can arrange volunteer placements in social projects around Pokhara.
- Nepal Trust (www.nepaltrust.org) Has a focus on Humla in western Nepal.
- Nepali Children’s Trust (www.nepalichildrenstrust.com) Works with disabled Nepali children.
- People & Places (www.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk) Placements for responsible and ethical volunteering.
- Prisoners Assistance Nepal (www.panepal.org) Kathmandu-based organisation that needs volunteers to help with social justice and look after children whose parents are in prison.
- Rokpa (www.rokpa.org) Swiss-Tibetan organisation that needs volunteers for its medical tent at Bodhnath for six or more weeks (December to March).
- Rural Assistance Nepal (www.rannepal.org) UK-based charity that places volunteers in education and health care.
- Sustainable Agriculture Development Program (www.sadpnepal.org) Arranges placements in sustainable agriculture and social programs near Pokhara.
- Volunteers Initiative Nepal (www.volunteeringnepal.org) Wide range of opportunities; see also www.friendsofvin.nl.
Feature: Donating in Nepal
While travelling in Nepal, many people are struck by the challenges faced by ordinary people. As one of the poorest nations on earth, Nepal has few public services provided by government, and access to even basic essentials such as health care, sanitation and education is limited, particularly in rural areas, leaving many local people in a desperate position. The 2015 earthquake has only worsened the plight of Nepal's poor, with many families still living in temporary accommodation over two years after the earthquake.
Just by visiting Nepal and spending money in businesses owned by local people, you are making a contribution to their future, but should you wish to make a more lasting contribution, consider making a donation to a non-government organisation that is working long-term to improve the lives of people in Nepal. Dozens of Nepali and international organisations are working in areas as diverse as installing water pumps and reuniting trafficked children with their families, and almost all rely on support from donations as well as funding from international governments.
As in any sphere, some organisations are more effective than others, so it is important to investigate the options carefully before you contribute. Seek out organisations that spend the bulk of donations on local projects, rather than on administration costs and salaries for their staff. The website www.ethicalconsumer.org has some useful information on ethical giving – search the site for ‘comparing charities’. For listings of charities working in Nepal, visit www.charity-charities.org/Nepal-charities/Nepal.html.