Volunteering in India and Nepal: Self-Care While Caring for Others.
Just before the lockdown, I went on a trip to South Asia to volunteer, and I realized how caring for others also means caring for ourselves.
Here is what I learnt from this trip of a lifetime.
In what ways do you create space to get away from daily grind? To Ctrl-Alt-Delete on a stagnant mindset and get pampered with extra me-time? Perhaps a relaxing getaway, a yoga retreat or an adventurous travel plan?
I recently discovered the practice of self-care while caring for others too, when taking part in two enriching non-profit and volunteering initiatives in South Asia.
Yes, it’s true we need to keep our own cup full before we can truly take care of others, but helping others has been shown to have many positive effects on both our minds and bodies. My time volunteering in India and Nepal made me reflect on how selflessness can have a positive selfish effect too. The desired win-win situation.
Why care for others?
Caring for others is in our human nature, a primary human need, and as a bonus, acting selflessly releases happy hormones. We know too well how important those are for our well-being.
I embarked on this trip to give back, fully aware of the magical benefits it would produce for both others and myself, having experienced it before. It triggers senses in so many ways, every time.
- The sense of community, bonding with the people I worked with and the people I supported.
- The sense of gratitude received, and the gratitude felt for being able to give and for being at the giving end.
- The sense of joy for the smiles, hugs and playfulness shared, and experience, in particular with the heart-warming children I met.
- The sense of presence and awareness, being exposed to such contrasting realities and perspectives which took my emotions on a crazy roller coaster ride.
- That sense of purpose for the contribution I was able to gift, and for accomplishing something so impactful and meaningful.
Volunteering in India and Nepal
I spent a couple of weeks in vibrant Bengaluru (India) and Kathmandu/Nagarkot (Nepal) to join two separate initiatives organised by non-profit organisations founded by two human angels I am so honored to call my friends.
The ABC AlphaBet Club and The Acts of Kindness Collective share a common, very inspiring mission: to positively change the lives of underserved communities and to empower them through educational projects, particularly for children who would not otherwise get access to schooling and literacy.
To take part in these educational programs is equally life-changing and empowering for me.
India: School projects deep dive with ABC AlphaBet Club
First stop: Bengaluru, India. I joined a group of incredible 19 like-minded ABC supporters and donors for the ABC School Projects Deep Dive. We traveled from eight different countries for an insightful tour of the amazing work that ABC and their local collaborators do, and to connect with the communities whose lives are affected. A concentrated Masters in anthropology and human connection.
Over a few intense days, we visited five schools, three children’s libraries, 13 education non-profit/NGO partners, and hundreds of students and their families residing in slums.
ABC has so far contributed to 16 school projects in five countries (India, Laos, Nepal, Haiti and Cambodia), nine of which are in India. Their projects include providing education in safe schools to more than 3,000 children, and over the last 10 years of operations, they’ve delivered nutritious meals free of charge to 500,000 pupils.
More recently, ABC is funding and opening new libraries for schools that educate underserved children through its Libraries 4 Schools program. It was heartening to witness in person the positive transformation that better-quality books have on students’ literacy, self-confidence, imagination and growth.
Nepal: New school construction with The Acts of Kindness Collective
Next stop: Kathmandu, Nepal. The AOKC put together a wonderful group of nine volunteers who, despite the rising concerns around COVID-19 spread, managed to travel from many corners of the globe to help construct and fundraise for a new school project. This was my second volunteering trip to Nepal with the AOKC.
Following the destruction during the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Action Aid Nepal rebuilt a school of six classrooms and one teachers’ room in a gorgeous rural area near Nagarkot, West Kathmandu.
The AOKC, with support from Kids of Kathmandu, are helping fund and construct additional school facilities on this site, for the children in the community to continue education beyond fifth grade and give them a real shot in life. The new building expansion will further enhance students’ learning with a computer lab, a library and clean filtered water.
As volunteers, we got our hands dirty with manual work, we played and interacted with the wonderful classes and school staff, all the while doing our best to raise awareness and funds to support the completion of this much needed gift.
Self-care benefits of caring for others
It may sound contradictory to talk about self-care and caring for others at once. Please withhold any skepticism as I draw out some of the amazing positives that come out of human beings connecting and helping one another.
There’s no hiding that both initiatives in India and Nepal required physical and mental strength. And when exposed to drastic new environments and contrasting realities, it is important to stay grounded and manage savior complex and boundaries. But the benefits of making a personal contribution are so many, ranging from physical, mental, and emotional to social.
Here are some good reasons I’ve drawn out of my recent experience to help you consider volunteering as a getaway to create a win-win scenario of giving back while supporting your own well-being.
- Being outdoors: The adventure of traveling and connecting with nature, in my case with breath-taking views of Nepali terraced fields and snowy Himalayas, or right in the midst of vibrant noises, color and spices of India.
- Human touch: Interacting with your fellow group-mates and playing with the children is a priceless joy. The energy the kids give out makes me feel so alive. Not to mention the perks of smiley faces and genuine grateful hugs. Simply smiling at someone is an act of giving, and will brighten both of your days.
- Exercise and movement: On the building site, we helped dig and break/lay stones for the school foundations. A fun team workout which, according to a fitness watch, cost us an average 4000 extra calories per day.
- Being present: When deeply immersed into helping others and creating something good as part of a team, there is no escaping from the present moment. Your past and future almost entirely dissipate, as you enter the flow of your power of now, giving your whole to the cause and the people around you.
- Timeout from unnecessary worries: Having my mind on others keeps it busy enough to stop creating unnecessary worries and anxious thoughts. Being of service gives me a new perspective, makes me feel extra grateful, and adds zest to my life.
- Personal growth and contribution: Exploring new places and learning new things every day quenches both my wanderlust and curiosity. When I step out of my comfort zone and into the learning zone, I create a powerful mindset and make things happen, and contribute my best.
- Feeling accomplished: Being part of life-changing initiatives and having a direct impact on people’s lives gives me meaning and purpose. I get to feel a real sense of accomplishment and contribution.
- Positive outlook and resilience: People getting together for an altruistic mission really boosts my belief in humankind and human kindness. It lets me know there are people who do care, love is powerful, and even the impossible can be made possible.
- Happy hormones: When we lend a helping hand, our body releases pleasure hormones, including oxytocin, known to boost our mood and counteract cortisol (the stress hormone). We are wired to be social and want to help others, and the more we give back, the happier we feel.
- Strong connections: Through volunteering, I’ve created meaningful new connections with the people I shared the experiences with, and the people I’m able to help. Giving back nurtures feelings of compassion and empathy.
- Bonding with people from other parts of the world: We share the same experience while learning individual stories and sharing our own. Most evenings we would get together and share thoughts on our day, highlights and low points.
- Childlike freedom: There is so much to learn from the beautiful children I met. Every single one of them. In the face of tough living conditions, they seem to prosper with inner freedom. A different level of appreciation, simplicity, curiosity and fraternal love from what I am used to seeing in our Western society. Their glowing smiles, joy and gratitude are super infectious.
Caring for others during uncertain times
Giving back, in ways like volunteering your time and presence to support causes you believe in, can produce many beneficial effects on your own mind and body.
Human kindness is borderless, and people do care. Generosity from around the world makes it possible for non-profit organisations such as ABC and AOKC to continue sustaining humanitarian projects. Make the world a better place for everyone, including yourself.
For the school building in Nepal, our joint volunteers’ effort on the trip almost reached the target of $15,000 to fund the final classroom. Donations continue to be very much appreciated by ABC to support their ongoing initiatives, and by AOKC to ensure delivery of their latest school construction. You could donate to AOKC via my fundraiser page.
Whether we’re able to travel or not, when choosing a non-profit organisation to collaborate with, do your due diligence and make sure your chosen cause is genuine and backed by a legitimate, caring organization.
During the uncertain times of COVID-19, affecting personal lives globally in so many ways including restrictions on travels, it can be tricky if not impossible to physically go anywhere.
This is an unprecedented time to get innovative and creative about how we can otherwise contribute, to both our own care at home and the care of others: our family and friends, our neighbors, our community, our nation, the planet as a whole.
Giving back can be expressed by simply respecting isolation and following preventative measures to restrain the spread of the coronavirus. Sharing surplus of supplies and helping others who are less mobile or more at risk get what they need. Checking in with dear ones and people online.
Now more than ever, I feel we are asked to increase self-care and caring for one another.
If you want to discuss any of the topics raised in this article or find more ways to increase your self-care and to make a contribution by caring for others, you can connect with Francesca at Gr8fool or Instagram.
In September 2018, Francesca Dal Bello embarked on a solo van-life adventure, touring Europe in a camper van for one year. While on the road, she serves as a Freedom Coach, shares her passion for freedom, gratitude, foolishness and positivity through her writing and speaking, and manages her two rented properties in London. After 22 years of office life and the last 16 in the legal and corporate secretarial sector, Francesca took a big leap of faith and swapped her successful career for exploring new horizons. She went volunteering in Nepal, solo travelling in Asia for 4 months, riding her Harley from London to Italy (and back!), walking 930 km along the Camino de Santiago, then launched her own life coaching business. You can get in touch with her and follow her stories and updates on Gr8fool and Instagram. To find out more about how her Freedom Coaching sessions can help identify and remove limiting beliefs and damaging self-assessments, and increase glorious gratitude and love in your life, you can get in touch with Francesca here.