ADRIAN O'FARRELL ON 23RD JUN 2020
Afete Shabani of Youth for Refugees talks about her experience volunteering to help 7,000 Syrian refugees. When the Balkan Route was unexpectedly shut down in 2016, the refugees found themselves stranded outside Presevo, on the Serbian border with North Macedonia.
Afete was part of a local group that assisted the refugees. Here she tells us of her experience.
“Due to the creativity of the team… we had a chance to not only learn, but also to exchange new interesting ideas.”
The first months of my deployment in the EU Aid Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN) were full of positive experiences and challenges. They enabled me to find myself in a new role, juxtapose my previous work experience within the context of a developing country, as well as learn a lot about Nepal itself. During this time, I also managed to identify areas and activities that I would like to concentrate on during my time in Nepal.
One of those activities was an external communication training that I conducted for the VIN staff, local volunteers and international volunteers. The primary focus of the training was to learn how to use Facebook and other social media platforms efficiently and – perhaps even more importantly – creatively. Despite the cold autumn season (which is still significantly warmer than the European equivalent) over 15 participants attended the training and were enthusiastic to improve their knowledge of communication theories and their practical implementation. Suddenly, scary terms like Aristotle Triangle or Pareto Principle became understandable and useful. While the Facebook algorithms stopped being black magic known only to seasoned IT specialists and instead became tamed beasts that could be used to help the organisation prosper.
What was important for me as a trainer was that the training was not only about learning the theories but that the participants actively took part in the practical exercises. We all had fun while imagining people on Facebook, thinking about how could reach them or even what their favourite food would be. In the case of potential French potential recipients, the choice was obviously cheese! The practical part of the workshop also included a reflection of the previous communication experiences of the organisation. Working with the examples from VIN enabled everyone to think about concrete solutions and ideas to use in the future.
As the training came to a close, the participates knew what styles of communication to use and when. The trainer himself got the best possible review imaginable – complaints that the session was too short! Conducting this training enabled me to use some of my knowledge and experiences and apply them in the Nepalese context. While it was challenging to prepare a presentation that would include Nepalese brands and other examples from this culture, it was rewarding and made the training more accessible and relevant. It was also great to see the engagement of the participants in the practical exercises. Due to the creativity of the team that took part in the session we all had a chance to not only learn – but also to exchange new interesting ideas.
Owing to the hospitality of the organisation I was able to travel around Nepal, including a visit to the remote area of Okhaldhunga. Above all else this trip highlighted one of the biggest challenges that Nepal is facing – climate change. As the other EUAVI volunteers and I were walking the hills of Okhaldhunga with our local coordinator, he mentioned that the region is suffering from a lack of drinking water. This was striking since the area lies only 80 km from the highest mountains in the world, it is within the Sagarmatha National Park.The glaciers that lie under the peaks of Mt. Everest and Lhotse are the sources for many Asian rivers and are supplying drinking water to literally billions of people. Yet, due to a very specific microclimate and geographical conditions the region of Okhaldhunga is deprived of these resources. Our coordinator was born in that area and remembers that 20 or 30 years ago water was available in abundance with the spring suppling water to all households in the area. This is especially important when you consider that in Okhaldhunga there are no factories, no heavy industry and no mega-scale farming that could be responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.
The region pays the cost of the actions of harmful global industries and carbon-based economies without contributing to the problem in any significant way. It is also one of the poorest regions of Nepal, any hardships inflicted on the local communities are echoing throughout the economic imbalance and are jeopardising the already limited chances of development.
Sadly, expansive geographical areas of Nepal face difficulties related to climate change due to geographical reasons. Every big infrastructural investment in the country requires disproportionally massive financial contributions, which the country simply cannot afford to cover. Nonetheless, in the future the beauty of the Okhaldhunga region might serve as a magnet for international visitors providing a source of revenue for the local communities. If you are reading this and planning a trip to Nepal, whether as a tourist or volunteer, please consider where to put your money and consider the fact that opting for the less frequented places might in fact greatly enhance the lives of the most marginalised communities.