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November 2017
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Religious Youth Service

Facing the RYS Challenges in Chitlang, Nepal

Chitlang, Nepal - About 1:30 pm on June 2, 36 participants and four staff members set out by bus from Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, to the village of Chitlang, where we would spend seven days together serving a school and local community.

Although Chitlang is only about 56 miles from Kathmandu, the journey took approximately five hours due to the winding, narrow roads. At times we had to get off the bus so it could navigate the damaged roads and steep valleys. Even though it was a rough and tough journey, everyone enjoyed the bus ride, filled with excitement and curious to see what Chitlang looked like. It was a delight to find that Chitlang was a beautiful place surrounded by mountains and greenery.

The people welcomed us with traditional music and folk dancing; we were treated like very important guests and presented with garlands of flowers and red tikkas on the forehead (a Hindu tradition).

The villagers walked with us for about a kilometer until we reached the Shree Swachanda Bhairav school, where we would be working and staying. Here again we had a warm welcome by students, teachers, and the head of the school with garlands and tikkas. We mingled and introduced ourselves to each other, but we were tired and after dinner we went to bed early.

The next morning began with prayers followed by simple exercises and breakfast. After introductions, Mr. Piya Ratna Maharjan, the  Project Director of Religious Youth Service-Nepal, briefed us about the program, objectives, and project sites. In the afternoon we started carrying bricks to the third floor for the construction of the school library. It is the only school in Chitlang and has approximately 450 primary and secondary students. During a work break, we visited a house near the school where goat cheese is made and were very impressed with the simplicity and cleanliness of the cheese-making process. After dinner and reflections, we went to bed.

After the usual morning prayers and breakfast, we continued working on the library by carrying sand to the third floor of the school. It was a real experience of team work that made us realize the importance of working harmoniously with people of different cultures and backgrounds.

In the afternoon, we had educational programs conducted by experts including Dr. Robert Kittel, UPF-Asia Director of Education; Madam Shanta from Malaysia; and Piya Ratna. The lectures were on very interesting topics covering all aspects of life. The knowledge gained during the lectures will definitely help us in our daily life. Dr. Kittel is well versed in Hinduism, and we gained knowledge that we will cherish our entire life. As a Hindu, I learned a lot from this white man. Madam Shanta made the program more interesting by introducing some games in which everyone participated. We were divided into small groups for team exercises such developing a team vision, illustrating it on cardboard, and explaining it to the other teams.

Later we visited a Shiva temple, a church, an apple farm, and seven natural springs flowing from the mouths of seven lion goddess. The water, which originated from top of the mountains, was very refreshing, and some took showers there. We walked back to the dormitory for afternoon tea. As during most evenings of the program, an educational session was followed by dinner, reflections, and lights out for bedtime.

The next day, we did some cleaning up around the school and attended educational programs. After lunch, we played friendly volleyball matches first with the students and then with the teachers.

Marking World Environment Day (June 5), we walked to a field to help plant rice. Even though the field was flooded, participants were so eager to help that they bravely walked into the muddy water and spent several hours planting the rice seedlings. To make it more fun, the farmers and villagers started throwing muddy water at the participants, who threw mud in return until some people had so much mud on their faces that they were unrecognizable. It was a most unforgettable moment. After that we walked back to our dormitory for showers, dinner, and reflections.

The next day, we walked about three miles to a Buddhist peace pagoda built by Emperor Ashoka more than 2200 years ago. Then we laid pipes to provide drinking water for the community. It was a very tough job slowly pushing huge pipes into place and covering them with soil collected from a nearby hillside and carried in sacks to the location. We worked together as teams, but we were all exhausted. After enjoying tea and snacks served by the villagers, we walked back to dormitory for showers and a brain storming session.

We got up about 5:00 am the next day to catch the earliest bus to the Kulekhani hydroelectric plant at Markhu. After breakfast at a restaurant nearby, we walked about five kilometers to the dam, where we spent an hour, and then walked on to Marchuo, a place of lush green forests, pastures, and villages. We had lunch at a restaurant, took a short nap or swam in the river nearby, and then walked back. It was the most exhausted journey of the program. After showers and an early dinner, we went off to bed.

The next day featured a leadership training session and time for writing reflections about what we learned and how we can apply it in our daily life and in service to the community. It was very encouraging to hear each person offer opinions that came straight from their hearts. After lunch there was free time until the evening cultural program. This was the moment every one of us was looking forward to.

At 7:00 pm, everyone assembled for a program that started with speeches and certificates presented to all participants by the school headmaster. Then a participant from Mauritius, Miss Ashiana, danced, followed by a classical solo dance by a local student. The dancing was superb, like watching a Hindu movie. After a few more dances by RYS participants, the students gave a Nepali cultural performances. The program continued until midnight.

On our final day, we gathered in the field with the students and teachers, where we exchanged warm farewells, received garlands and tikkas, and took group photos. We walked back through the rice fields to the village where we had arrived and were each welcomed again with a garland and tikka, a drink, fried fish, and an egg. While we were eating and drinking, we were entertained by local folk music. After the return journey to Kathmandu, we bade each other good bye with deep emotions, hugs, and smiles. After leaving the others, I felt empty.

It was an interesting, valuable, and educational experience; we will never forget how we survived with limited resources, good lectures, and leadership training. We realized that any tough job can be easily managed through working as team, with proper coordination, and good understanding.

Last but not least, we would like thank all the wonderful souls who made this project a great success. Our special appreciation to Dr. Robert Kittel, Madam Shanta, and Piya Ratna for making this wonderful project at a beautiful place called Chitlang. We will miss Chitlang very much.

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