THE BIG READ: From Bicker to the top of the world for Lizzie

Lizzie Dawson of Bicker who went on a three-month VSO/ICS placement to Nepal this summer.  Photo by Tony Boughen.
Lizzie Dawson of Bicker who went on a three-month VSO/ICS placement to Nepal this summer. Photo by Tony Boughen.
  • Graduate views other side of life in post-earthquake Nepal

Lizzie Dawson (25), of Bicker, discovered first-hand the needs of people in Nepal described by the Baptist Missionary Society in their prayer blog this week.

It said: “Nepal continues to rebuild communities and work through the social, political and religious implications of the new constitution (after a ten-year civil war).

After sitting her final English literature exams at Durham University, Lizzie spent three months in the Nepalese village of Garembesi this summer as a volunteer with international development organisation Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

Lizzie, who studied previously at Boston High School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Horncastle, said: “I heard about VSO’s International Citizen Service (ICS) programme through my mum after she had heard an advert on the radio.

“She told me that the Government was funding a scheme for overseas volunteers which you didn’t have to pay for.

“At first I didn’t believe her but when I searched online, I found out it was true.

Lizzie Dawson (right) on her VSO/ICS placement in Nepal with  host "sister" Mohan Maya Gharti and Nepalese volunteer Pabitra Nepal in Garembesi, Lamjung District.

Lizzie Dawson (right) on her VSO/ICS placement in Nepal with host "sister" Mohan Maya Gharti and Nepalese volunteer Pabitra Nepal in Garembesi, Lamjung District.

“ICS works with communities that have specifically requested their help, but it also aims to inspire young people in the UK and overseas to become active citizens who are passionate about long-term community development.”

After a training session in London where Lizzie learned about the Nepalese culture, international aid work and poverty relief, she flew to the capital, Kathmandu, at the start of her placement.

Lizzie said: “On my first morning in Nepal, I woke early and had a non-spicy breakfast which was the only meal of the day that didn’t seem to have without turmeric ginger or chilli in it.

“I then headed down to Swayambhunath, an ancient Buddhist temple on top of a hill in Kathmandu Valley, in one of a fleet of taxis.

The home I lived in had no running water and there were frequent power cuts, but the family always did their best to make it comfortable for me and my Nepali counterpart

Lizzie Dawson, of Bicker, VSO/ICS volunteer

“The hill was very steep and, at first, the taxi driver said that he couldn’t go up it.

“But after paying him a few extra rupees, he took us around the other side of the hill and to the temple which was home to hundreds of monkeys.

“However, they were pretty shy and didn’t cause any mischief in their search for food.

“Once we reached the top of the hill, we saw the vast, white dome of the temple and the two giant Buddha eyes on top of, overlooking the valley.”

Lizzie then travelled to Garembesi in western Nepal, about 160 miles from the Himalyan giant that is Mount Everest.

She said: “Garembesi took several hours to reach by bus from the nearest town and then you had to walk an extra 40 minutes from the bus stop.

“It was a hilly region and houses were spread over the hills, reached by tracks through the rice paddies.

“Some children had to walk several miles through monsoon season to get to school, but nearly every household had its own chickens and goats for consumption and small plots of land on which they grew rice and sweetcorn.

“Many of the houses had a small shop at the front where women would sell basic goods for an extra income as there was no village shop or café.

“There was little contact with the outside world and the only place where I could use the internet to contact my home was in a small health clinic run by a Christian charity nearby.

“My host family was a single lady in her 30s and her 13-year-old nephew who were both very welcoming.

“They lived next door to their many cousins, sisters, brothers and in-laws who were always visiting them.

“The home I lived in had no running water and there were frequent power cuts, but the family always did their best to make it comfortable for me and my Nepali counterpart who I worked side-by-side with under ICS guidelines.

“My host family always gave me very large portions of food and I never had to fetch or carry water if I needed to wash.

“I was very sad to leave them and I still miss them now.”

The highlight of Lizzie’s time in Nepal was her involvement in several educational programes, including sanitation, disaster risk management and literacy.

Lizzie said: “Our main assignment was to hold a reading fair in our local community which was a big undertaking.

“We held a Festival of Reading, with singing, dancing, food, an art exhibition, poetry and story competitions.

“At the time I was there, Nepal also had a Teej Festival for women which went on for several days.

“There was lots of dancing and we were invited to several parties in the community at which my host family was eager for me to wear a saree which I was happy to do.

“However in Nepal, you often wear red to symbolise you are married and some people were very surprised when I told them that I wasn’t married.

“Also in the rural communities, it is desirable to be ‘fat’ as it means healthiness and comfort.

“So I was surprised by one of the children who asked me how I got so fat and what should she do to look the same as me.

“More seriously though, the effects of the earthquake in April 2015 can still be seen and many of the houses were still

damaged, with families living in a few rooms because the other parts were too dangerous.

“Another big problem we saw in the community was the poor standard of education and general poverty.

“Many of the men aged 16 to 40 leave the area to work abroad because there is little employment where they are.

“The problem is then that the communities lose their able male population and even though the men send money back to their families, it isn’t invested in local business or enterprise so the problem continues.

“But despite this, my host community were so friendly and everywhere I went, the people were open, friendly and eager for me to participate in their everyday lives and learn about their country.

“I miss the close community in which I lived and Nepal as a whole is a beautiful country, much of it I didn’t get to see because I was volunteering.

“I’m also considering returning as a volunteer team leader with VSO/ICS to oversee the next group of volunteers on the same placement.

“I also intend to give presentations about my volunteering experience to local groups in Bicker and Donington to spread awareness and maybe to inspire others to do the same thing.”