To volunteer abroad is always an exciting adventure, but to volunteer in Nepal takes a special person with a unique sense of purpose. If you’re thinking about going abroad to volunteer, Nepal may have drawn your attention because of its demonstrated need, fascinating culture, beautiful landscapes, or sheer difference from home. Once you’re ready to see snow-capped mountains outside your window, awake to temple chanting each morning, and live on dal baht (rice and lentils) and momos (dumplings), it’s time to get started.
As you research more and decide which Nepal volunteer project is right for you, here are seven DON’Ts to keep in mind… and seven DOs to help you make the most of the experience.
What NOT to do when you volunteer in Nepal
1. Don’t make it all about you.
Travel abroad in a great way to change your perspective, build your life experiences, and help you grow as a person. But when it comes to volunteering abroad, you have to remember that the main point of volunteering is to do some actual good by serving or helping someone else.
If what you really want is to travel, that’s okay! There are great travel experiences to be had in Nepal, and your traveler dollars can benefit the local economy. But if what you really want is to volunteer, you have to look past what looks the most fun to you and instead look for a place where you can contribute. That means looking for local organizations that have Nepalese ownership or partner organizations and making sure, above all, that you aren’t doing any harm by taking the job of local skilled labor. If you want to benefit from service, you have to serve others, not just your own interests.
2. Don’t ignore cultural norms.
In Nepal, volunteer work can bring you to a bustling city or a rural mountain village. Either way, you will find yourself in the midst of a culture that differs from yours in many ways. Read about cultural norms before going and keep your eyes and ears open for ways that you can adapt to the Nepali culture. For example, touching someone’s head (even a student in your class) is considered rude, as is turning down tea when you are invited to someone’s home. If you’re teaching English, you’ll find classroom norms are very different from what you might be expecting, and it helps a lot to be prepared. So get ready to drink lots of chai tea and learn that nodding your head now means “no” and shaking it side to side means “yes”.
Making an effort to follow cultural norms shows respect and helps you build rapport with the community where you are volunteering. It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you’re making an effort!
3. Don’t make your trip too short.
Visiting Nepal for a few days is just fine (and can be a great adventure!), but unless you have a very advanced expertise in your field and are coming to train or educate others in a certain skill or procedure, it’s unlikely that volunteering for a few days in Nepal will allow you to provide meaningful service. In order to be a meaningful volunteer, you need to adjust to the local culture, learn about your organization, and share your skills — and that takes time. So, if at all possible, plan to stay long enough to make that happen!
If you can only stay for a short time, but want to make a positive difference beyond your travel dollars, think about looking for a course or program where you can educate yourself to be a better volunteer abroad or in your own community, learn from local expertise, and provide monetary support to an organization you value. Alternatively, find a program where your fees provide direct support by hiring local staff.
4. Don’t fall for the “Western Savior” myth.
The “Western Savior” complex, sometimes called the “White savior” complex, is the idea that some Westerners treat their volunteer time abroad as if they are “saving” the local people from their culture or lives by blessing them in some way with their Western cultural values. Not only is this idea untrue, but also it’s anathema to the values of both service and travel (while also ignoring, in many cases, the fact that many “advancements” of Western culture have harmful externalities or were built at the expense of those outside of Western culture). In general, any time you’re thinking that there’s a simple “solution” to what you view as a problem, you may want to listen before you speak. To make the most of your time in Nepal, volunteer your ears, not just your voice.
The short version: if you hear yourself saying anything about learning from their “primitive culture” or “simple life,” or being inspired by “their ability to be happy with so little” or the fact that “they don’t care about material things because they have so much simple joy in life,” you should pause and reflect on what your language really says.
5. Don’t overpromise or overcommit.
Organizations set their job requirements for a reason, so make sure you meet all the requirements and can safely and effectively do the tasks being asked of you. If you feel you’re a good fit but don’t meet the requirements exactly, contact the organization and see what it has to say. For people volunteering, Nepal requires a big cultural adjustment, so be sure you’re signing up for something you can complete.
6. Don’t choose a program whose values don’t align with yours.
When you do start comparing volunteer programs and organizations, look at their mission statements – but look beyond them, too. See what projects the organization has undertaken and where it’s dollars and hours go. What does it talk about on its website? Where is its focus? What other organizations does it work with or support? What are its goals? Finding a program whose values align with yours is the key to success on all ends: ensuring your organization will find you helpful and ensuring you will feel appreciated and supported so that you can do a good job.
7. Don’t try to do everything on your own.
When you take on something as big as moving to Nepal to volunteer, it can be tempting to want to do everything on your own. It’s great to be independent, but don’t forget to include your support system at home. Your family and friends can keep backup copies of your information in case of an emergency. Your social media network may like to follow what you’re doing and could even help support your organization with donations or other assistance, such as sharing information. And alumni of your program, who you can find online, can help make sure you are prepared for the experience.
Reaching out and sharing your experience can help you to process your emotions and make the most of the experience, and it can also help you build connections and networks, while making sure your family isn’t worried about you!
What you SHOULD do during Nepal volunteer work
1. Do get travel insurance.
When traveling to an area without accessible, high-level medical care, medical insurance with medical evacuation coverage is a must. You can purchase affordable travel insurance that will provide coverage in the case of an emergency. (Psst! You can find travel insurance here).
2. Do focus on your skills.
When looking to volunteer abroad, focus on what you’re skilled to provide. Whether your experience is in science, construction, or just speaking English, you have a skill you can put to good use. Consider talking to the program or organization about how you can better your skills before you leave for your trip in order to be a better volunteer – for example, if you’re a native English speaker but have never taught a class, earning a TEFL certification or getting some practice by tutoring at home for free can make a big difference in your experience and the experience of your students.
Buddah said, “Give, even if you only have a little,” and this is great advice for applying the skills you have - especially relevant since Buddah was born in Nepal!
3. Do listen to and learn from your local managers and clients.
One good way to avoid the Western Savior Complex discussed above is to remember that you are there to work within a different culture, not to change that culture to yours. Before you laugh (or get frustrated) that all traffic is stopped for hours because a cow has wandered into the road, calm down and listen to your Nepalese friends. When you see something you don’t understand or that you think can be “improved,” listen first. Trying to approach your project from the perspective of Nepalese culture helps ensure that the work you do will truly be helpful and may have lasting effects when you leave, and it also shows respect while helping you learn something you may not have already known.
4. Do outline your goals.
A good practice for any work or service experience abroad, or really any travel experience, is to outline your goals for the experience. Have a meeting with yourself and decide what you want to get out of your time in Nepal. This focus will help you to decide who in the organization you want to learn from and where you should focus your time, and it will also help give you some guidance when you are feeling lost or unsure what the best next step is.
5. Do talk to program alums.
Reading reviews of volunteer program options in Nepal is great, and you absolutely should do your online research. But don’t stop there! Talk to people who have volunteered with your program or organization to get a feel for their perspective. They can tell you what they liked and didn’t like, set your expectations for the experience, and answer all your questions. Of course, every experience is different and yours won’t be exactly like theirs, but talking to someone who’s been there before is a great place to start. Any reputable organization or program should be able to put you in touch with alums you can contact.
6. Do make time for travel experiences.
Nepal has some fantastically beautiful areas to explore, from Chitwan National Park to the city temples of Kathmandu. If you can, build a little time into your itinerary for some travel experiences, which will help you get to know the country from a new perspective. A travel break in the middle of your volunteer program, even for a few days, can help you refresh and refocus if that schedule is available. If you’re up for it, there are some short guided treks around various hiking circuits that make for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. So when you’re in Nepal, volunteer, but travel too!
7. Do keep the experience going once you get home.
It’s easy to have a trip that is “life-changing” and then come home and let things go right back to how they were before. Don’t do it! Bring home more than prayer flags and a painted mask. There are so many ways you can keep having a positive impact on yourself and others once your trip ends. Stay in touch with the friends and connections you made in Nepal. Build on your experience and look for new ways to volunteer at home, support your organization abroad from home, or further your expertise through new training.
Use your experience to improve your resume and build your professional network. Building new experiences and involvements on what you’ve done keeps your trip alive and makes it truly life-changing.
Save and compare volunteer programs in Nepal with MyGoAbroad.
Popular ways to volunteer in Nepal
When you’re looking for ways to volunteer, Nepal has endless possibilities. If you have a special skill or expertise you want to share and can’t find a program that focuses in that area, you can always contact organizations directly to see how you can work together! Or, you can consider some of the traditional volunteer areas in Nepal, for which there are a number of programs available. The following are common causes and areas of need when volunteering Nepal.
1. Teaching English
Teaching English can be a great way to use your fluency in English to help others. Make sure that you find a program that either requires some experience or gives you the necessary training to do a good job. You should also look for programs in which you do not replace a local English teacher, which would interrupt the students’ studies and deprive a local teacher of a job.
- Recommended program: Volunteers for Peace | Visit their site
- Keep browsing: All volunteer teaching English programs in Nepal
2. Women’s Empowerment
In Nepal, many women do not have access to the educational or health resources that men may have. Some volunteer programs allow you to work with local organizations to teach women everything from job skills to technology to English to hygiene and personal health.
- Recommended program: GoEco | Visit their site
- Keep browsing: All women's empowerment volunteer programs in Nepal
Conservation can be a great way to put your program dollars toward a cause that’s important to you while learning more about what it takes to make a conservation project succeed. Look for projects that you are helping to fund and where your volunteer work does not replace local workers, but instead creates or supports a sustainable development in conservation.
- Recommended program: Projects Abroad | Visit their site
- Keep browsing: All conservation volunteer programs in Nepal
4. Emergency relief
Nepal has areas that have been devastated by earthquakes and floods and are in need of rebuilding and repair. If you have construction experience and are able to offer training and skills in this area, you may be able to have a great positive impact. Directly after an earthquake, volunteer organizations may look for doctors, nurses, emergency response personnel, and therapists who are able to volunteer as well. Please remember that during or directly after an emergency or natural disaster, most relief organizations ask international volunteers not to come unless they have specific expertise, and in such times donating money or working to raise money at home is a great way to make a positive impact.
- Recommended program: All Hands Volunteers | Visit their site
- Keep browsing: All emergency relief volunteer programs in Nepal
As mentioned above, there are areas of Nepal where earthquakes have caused great infrastructure damage, and repair projects can be expensive to undertake.
- Recommended program: Education and Health Nepal | Visit their site
- Keep browsing: All construction volunteer programs in Nepal
6. Medical care
If you have medical training, you may be helpful in an emergency situation, in a local hospital or clinic, or in an organization that is training local healthcare staff. Medical facilities in many areas of Nepal are insufficient to treat the surrounding population, and this is a field where your expertise can truly change lives.
- Recommended program: International Volunteer HQ | Visit their site
- Keep browsing: All medical volunteer programs in Nepal
7. Working with children
If you have expertise in childcare, teaching, therapy, or other services for children, you can find an organization in Nepal that would love your help. Avoid what is known as “orphanage tourism”: you pay to work in an orphanage for a short time with little to no training and simply play with the kids who live there.
- Recommended program: BUNAC | Visit their site
- Keep browsing: All conservation volunteer programs in Nepal
How to volunteer in Nepal
You’re ready to take on Nepal volunteer work; that’s great! How do you get started?
- Brainstorm. Start by thinking about the type of project with which you’re skilled to help. Making a list of your classes, skills, work experiences, and other abilities can be a good place to start. When it comes to opportunities for volunteering, Nepal has something for every skill.
- Research. Start reading about programs and organizations, looking at reviews, asking to speak with past participants, and getting an idea of what to expect. You can start learning about program options here.
- Talk. Talk to people who’ve been there! Reach out to organizations to speak with alums, or post on their social media page to ask for past participants. Talk to others who’ve volunteered in Nepal with other organizations to find out what they liked and didn’t like. If you have questions for your program organizer, start making a list.
- Question. When you think you’ve found the organization for you, talk to them and try to get a feel for both the little details and the overall “vibe” of the organization. Are they responsive? Can you get direct, clear answers to your questions? Don’t leave any ambiguities that you can’t handle. Getting a real idea of the costs, time commitments, enrollment process, and other details can help make sure everyone has a great experience.
- Choose. Choose the right project for your and complete your application or enrollment. You can compare and contrast programs here or get personalized assistance choosing a program here.
- Plan. If there are new skills you should acquire or new research you need to do before the program begins, get started! Make a budget that includes adequate insurance as well as your travel, housing, and meal costs. If you’re planning to fundraise to help your organization, set a clear goal and a deadline. Before you know it, it will be time to pack your bags and fly off over Mount Everest.
There you have it! Everything you need to volunteer in Nepal
If you want to volunteer, Nepal can provide you an opportunity to make a real difference while having a great travel experience. There are many organizations that have done the logistical work to help foreigners volunteer in Nepal, so now you just have to find the right match for your skills and values and reach out. Start search and reading and you’ll be on your way to making a plan. You can do it!