Love, Life and Help in Pokhara

Happening Issue 91 Jul, 2010
Text and Photo By Eliz Manandhar

Volunteering, helping out the aged and street children, is a selfless act although there is a philosophy that rules out this belief saying that everything a person does in his or her life is selfish. Helping others for any benign reason is actually a selfish act because the ultimate goal is self-satisfaction. Whatever maybe, two volunteers that I interviewed a few days back think otherwise and don’t seem concerned about the aforementioned philosophical facets.

Didier Beugels, 27, and Margriet Trouw, 31, are two Dutch volunteers who display a lot of love and sympathy towards the homeless street children and the aged. I interviewed them at The Lemon Tree Restaurant in Lakeside, Pokhara. I told them it would be a very informal interview and they agreed to do it in a jiffy. Even before I had approached them and asked them if they could spare a bit of their time; Margriet, who I later found out to be a very sharp, witty and intelligent woman, asked me whether this was an interview for some magazine. I replied that that was exactly what it was and both of them smiled and beckoned me to sit beside them.

Didier was my first interviewee. Didier is a second timer in Nepal. The first time was sheerly for pleasure; but this time, he plans to stay longer and gather more of the Nepali ambience. He says this can be done by working with the helpless. Tracing Didier’s recent history, I gathered that he had worked at numerous places in Holland. He is originally from Landgraaf. Didier’s first job was at a pharmacy. He then proceeded to work at two different UPS warehouses. He is a graduate in Industrial Engineering and Management. When asked about his hobbies and interests, he says he likes all kinds of music; Chopin being his favourite classical artist. Didier plays the bugle and has even performed at orchestras. He also listens to rock music and mentions bands like Soulfly, Machine Head and a few others as favourites. He says he isn’t very fond of literature but is very interested in Psychology. I discussed a few other topics with him before questioning him about his life at a street children’s home named ‘Street Children Protection and Rehabilitation Centre’, where he currently works. Didier is somewhat philosophical and believes in the doctrines of the Dalai Lama. “Nothing lasts forever” by the Dalai Lama and “Value the positive experiences and learn from the negative ones” are a few of the doctrines he abides in. He also believes in reincarnation and is hoping to explore Buddhism through classes at the Khopang monastery in Maharajgunj. He has absolutely no interest in politics and is quite unaware of the political situation in Nepal. When asked about why he chose to come to Nepal, he says it was a random choice. He was confused on whether to get a new job in Holland itself or travel to Nepal to work as a volunteer and gain experience. He opted for the latter. And to my surprise, he tells me that Nepal is the first and only foreign country he has ever been to uptil now outside of Europe. Didier has travelled extensively in Nepal and Pokhara is his favourite town.

 Didier sees major differences in the educational system back in his country and in Nepal. He tells me that Europeans are trained to solve every kind of problem since their childhood and this method should be envisaged amongst the Nepalese youth too. On a positive note, Didier thinks that the Nepalese try to make the most of what they have, in contrast to the Europeans, who are overpriveleged and do not show enough gratitude towards the luxuries and opportunities they receive. He teaches part-time at the street children’s home besides working with two other projects. Didier tells me that he is surprised at the amount of respect the children have towards the teachers. He thinks the West should follow this example.  The home has 4-5 volunteers, 2 ‘aamas’, 1 ‘baba’, 1 administrator and 10 board members. Didier loves spending time with the children who he says are “full of energy and vitality”. In the near future, Didier plans to give music lessons to children at three different institutions. “But this is not going to be just any other ordinary sort of music lessons,” he says. “The goal of these lessons will be to obtain an interaction; a means of expression and absolute trust between the children through music.”

Margriet is my next interviewee and she is very piqued and interested at my questions. She has been in Nepal for 4 months now and is planning to stay until the end of March. She is a first timer and absolutely loves the country. Margriet hails from Rotterdam. Surprisingly, Margriet too, like Didier, hasn’t been to any other country outside of Europe besides Nepal. Margriet completed her Masters’ degree in Law back in Holland and is currently opting to spend some time helping people in need as this “brings her total self-satisfaction”. Her personal interests span from listening to music (“Ilsedelange” being her favourite band), to dancing and Reiki. She believes that the fundamental principle of Reiki, which is using your own body to transfer energy to people and situations, is simply fascinating! She reads a lot of Deepak Chopra and Dalai Lama. Margriet’s command over the English language was so exceptional that I mistook her for a British woman at first. When questioned about her English speaking abilities, she seems a little flattered and tells me she never really thought of her “exceptional linguistic skills”. She says she did put in a lot of effort into her English classes, which are mandatory in Holland. Also, she’s never been to Britain. I was astounded on knowing this. Anyways, Margriet tells me she works at two places. One of them is the street children’s home that Didier works in and the other a high school named “Shrijana Secondary School”. She is a volunteer at both the workplaces. She works three days a week at the home and three at the school. Like Didier, Margriet is amazed by the respect offered to her by her pupils. She says she especially likes teaching younger children at the home who are “absolutely cute and loveable”. She likes experimenting with new techniques while teaching. She offers equal opportunities to every child in the school and thinks that is what every teacher should do. The home that she works for tries to locate the families of the orphans and she has been assigned to find out and locate the whereabouts of a “very lovable” boy named Ganesh, whose surname remains unknown. When questioned about NGOs and INGOs in Nepal, she believes that the major INGOs are trustworthy but doesn’t comment on the minor ones. Margriet wants to build her own home for the helpless, and dreams of it being a vast, peaceful and tranquil village. Margriet is amazed at how close knit the Nepali community is and she wants this kind of bonding to prevail in her own nation too, where people are “more self-centered and more independent”. Commenting on the standard of the educational system in Nepal, Margriet thinks that the educational provisions are insufficient and has numerous flaws which she believes can be corrected by just a little more effort by the tutors and the guardians. She believes that the students need to think “out-of-the box” instead of just “mugging” up whatever is taught to them. Also, she believes that the students need to question the teachers more often. She says that the students in her school are very curious about life outside of Nepal and she tells them about it and they are astounded at the magnificence of her tell-tales. Even some of the grownups that she works with at the home want her to take them to Holland! Margriet is currently living with a Nepali family who treat her as one of their own. She doesn’t miss home at all. Surprisingly, not even during Christmas! But one thing that both of these gold-hearted people miss (and they both say this out loud) is “good beef”!