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A Volunteer in Gatlang: Francesco (Italy)

(May 2012)

by Francesco Sordini

When I was told that I would go to Gatlang to teach English in the local school, my first thought was that it would be really a big challenge for me. I had no previous experience in teaching children and I did not know anything about the culture and the habits of a remote village located on the Himalaya, so different from my world in Italy! Moreover during my volunteering period I would be the only foreigner living in the village and, considering the low English communication skills of the local people, I was afraid I would feel a little bit “alone”.

So when finally I left from Kathmandu to Gatlang I was very excited and ready to live a real adventure…

The first impression when I arrived at Gatlang was incredible: I thought this was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my life (and before then I had travelled to several countries all over the world)! The village seemed to be clinging to the steep rock face, surrounded by amazing mountains and valleys. Coming from the packed houses, all built in stone with beautiful carved and painted windows, you could hear only the voices of the children playing. In the fields around the village you could see people working the land and animals walking freely.  I was impressed of this paradisiac atmosphere and I thought that living there maybe I would have found the peace of mind, and I must say this definitely happened!

Francesco at Gatlang village

Francesco at Gatlang village

I was hosted by a family (a young couple with 2 little kids) in their small home-stay and from the very first moment I was welcomed by them with courtesy and kindness. Fortunately Rajesh (the husband of the young couple) could speak a good English and soon he started to explain me how the life in the village worked… It was amazing during the first days to discover how they do every day things (cooking, dressing, washing themselves, etc.) and adapting to do these things in their way. Rajesh was really nice, he brought me with him whatever he did so I experienced all the aspects of the rural life. Despite the lack of comfort with respect to the “western life” I was used to, I felt immediately good and after a few days I was already perfectly set with the new life style.  Even the physical difficulty of walking up and down in the village on incredibly steep roads diminished after my body got used to it. Of course I never reached the speed of walking of the local people (they are unbelievable!), but anyway I was able to go around in the village and also to do some trekking in the beautiful mountains nearby with Rajesh and his brother Bikram, without making them waiting for me too long!

The local school kids in thier Tamang inspired school dress!

The local school kids in thier Tamang inspired school dress!

I was hosted by a family (a young couple with 2 little kids) in their small home-stay and from the very first moment I was welcomed by them with courtesy and kindness. Fortunately Rajesh (the husband of the young couple) could speak a good English and soon he started to explain me how the life in the village worked… It was amazing during the first days to discover how they do every day things (cooking, dressing, washing themselves, etc.) and adapting to do these things in their way. Rajesh was really nice, he brought me with him whatever he did so I experienced all the aspects of the rural life. Despite the lack of comfort with respect to the “western life” I was used to, I felt immediately good and after a few days I was already perfectly set with the new life style.  Even the physical difficulty of walking up and down in the village on incredibly steep roads diminished after my body got used to it. Of course I never reached the speed of walking of the local people (they are unbelievable!), but anyway I was able to go around in the village and also to do some trekking in the beautiful mountains nearby with Rajesh and his brother Bikram, without making them waiting for me too long!

 Moreover, the level of knowledge of English inside the same class was extremely various: some kids could understand me quite well and were able to interact with me easily whereas some others knew only a few English words and were not able to communicate almost anything.Teaching alone in the class the problem was to find the way to make the second ones following me (speaking very slowly and using simple words) without losing the attention of the first ones (understandably bored). After some attempts (and some frustration!) I found the right techniques to keep the attention of everyone and I alternated grammar rules, conversation and games (fundamental!)  to create lessons which were useful to increase the English knowledge of the kids and at the same time could be interesting and funny for them. Of course very important was to establish a deep relationship with them: day after day way I learnt many things about them and their life in Gatlang and, in the same way, they knew me better and asked me to tell them about many aspects of my life. At the end of the month they knew perfectly the name of my mum, my brothers and my girlfriend and made fun of me eating pasta every day in Italy! Slowly I gained their trust and their friendship and everything became easier…

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The lessons were more relaxed and more effective, many children (especially the oldest ones) told me they liked to study English with me and they hope to have always new foreign volunteers coming to teach them! During the last week I felt deep emotions while staying with my little friends and I enjoyed every single moment of my lessons with them. Moreover in the same week something more happened to reinforce my bond with some of the kids: Bikram (I became a great friend with him) opened a hostel for kids (around 20 kids of different ages from 5 to 14) and I helped him to make the kids playing and studying every afternoon after the school: it was like living in a joyful big family and I became so much attached to them! The day I left from Gatlang I went to the hostel  in the early morning when the kids had just got up: they came all close to me to say Goodbye…

The kids enjoying themselves on Gatlang school playground

The kids enjoying themselves on Gatlang school playground

It was one the most exciting moments of my life! I will always remember it together with several other moments which made my experience in Gatlang really unforgettable.

Francesco Sordini (May 2012)

Francesco at his leaving Tikka with Bikesh, the 'other' English teacher in the school and a friend.

Francesco at his leaving Tikka with Bikesh, the ‘other’ English teacher in the school and a friend.