A Day in the Life of a VIN Volunteer

Janelle Rienstra Jones - Tue Aug 14, 2012 @ 11:26PM
Comments: 8


Member Spotlight - Friends of Volunteer Initiative Nepal



My name is Janelle, and in 2008, I found myself at a crossroads. I'd worked for eight years at an online marketing company that was twenty people strong when I joined, went through three acquisitions, grew to four hundred strong in Chicago (my home town) and ended up being purchased by Google. My tenure was exciting and challenging and frenetic. At the time of the final merger, I had the opportunity to stay on the same track and do more of the same, but instead, I chose to go off the grid. I was perusing a website and saw a posting for an opportunity to go to Nepal, live in a Buddhist monastery and teach English. I can't say it was something that I'd always wanted to do but as soon as I saw the listing, I knew that's what I was going to do.

My time in Kathmandu changed my life and the program offered by Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN) was the gateway to that change. Inspired by my experience, my husband also went to Nepal through a program with VIN and lived with a host family in a small village, teaching English at a local school. When he returned, we decided that we wanted to help VIN in any way we could, even if we were on the other side of the world. We teamed up with some other former volunteers and formed Friends of VIN, a separate but "sister" organization to VIN, established in the United States as a non-profit as of 2011. We are a small but mighty group whose collective experience opened our minds and hearts and motivated us to try and make a difference. Our mission is to positively affect the lives of marginalized women and children in Nepal, whether that’s through raising funds for various programs or encouraging volunteerism through VIN.

The members of Friends of VIN come from diverse backgrounds and bring different skills and talents to the table, but what we don't have, is a web designer. We were thrilled to learn of the pairing program that Grassroots.org offers and are eagerly looking forward to pairing up with someone who will be working with us (okay, mostly me:)) to help get our new, official, engaging, interactive website up and running. We want to inspire others to take advantage of the opportunity to volunteer, we want to connect people who have volunteered, and we want to collect funds to support the programs VIN offers in Nepal. We believe that a fully functional website will be one of the cornerstones in helping us achieve these goals. If this interests you, I'm happy to answer any and all questions!

If you are interested in working with Friends of VIN, you can contact Janelle Jones atjanellerjones@aol.com or by contact the Grassroots.org Staff atvolunteer@grassroots.org.

Comments: 8
Former Volunteer, Thomas J. - Wed May 09, 2012 @ 07:28PM
Comments: 5

Thomas J. was a VIN volunteer teaching English to 6th & 7th graders in Jitpur, Nepal, 2011.


The past couple of days have been unique. Previously I was finding the rhythm of living with the Dahal family as well as adjusting to life in remote Nepal, and teaching my classes, when all of a sudden everything stopped in this country due to the Tihar Festival.


NepalPhotos001_139.jpgThis is the second largest festival of the year and it lasts for 5 days. It is devoted to Loxmir, the Goddess of Fortune and is celebrated, in part, by allowing the sons of each family to trounce around the village, on each of the nights, chanting and singing and stopping at each house until the occupants come out and give the young men rupees. All of it has a Halloween feel (Tihar, too, landing at the end of October) kids awaiting nightfall for license to rumble around the town, in groups, knocking on doors, many feeling, for the first time, the empowerment of being part of the streets with their brethren. My 13 year old host brother (Bijaya) had that bank robber look in his eye, and could not wait to scratch away from the dinner table in order to go stealth with his friends; no school, no curfew, and no parents.


NepalPhotos001_127.jpgI had school, for first period only, on the first day of the festival which was the 25th and walked in my class and, as is the routine I have taught them, wrote the page number of the English book we have been studying on the blackboard. No sooner had I started to write when the entire class screamed to me “Noooooooooo!!!!!!” and I knew they had me. There was no chance they were about to focus on present and past participles on festival day. So, without turning around, I erased and wrote again on the board in big letters HAPPY TIHAR!!!! and the class went jail-break on me. So I told them, “If I give you this hour, what are you going to do? How are you going to use your time?”


For the next hour, those kids danced and sang and clapped and drummed on desks like their life depended on it, all of it traditional Nepalese music which had been taught to them by their parents and grandparents. They remained enthused yet orderly which impressed me as, really, I have not had to play disciplinarian.


For the remainder of the days, while school was closed, I have hiked and hiked and hiked straight up these mountains. With bottled water and journal in my backpack I crank out of the house after a plate of rice and dissolve into any trail I can find and stay on it until there is nothing left, always keeping the Kathmandu valley in my sights. The people are my map. I have no triptik for this part of the world, but know enough now of the area to ask for assistance and, more importantly, how to ask for assistance to the next landmark, whether a temple, or archaic stone staircase which mends my travel to the next ridge, or a switchback that hyphenates a section of the hills, its the people of this land who know how to get me back home.


Comments: 5
Former VIN Volunteer, Thomas J. - Wed May 09, 2012 @ 07:10PM
Comments: 5

Thomas J. was a VIN volunteer teaching English to 6th & 7th graders in Jitpur, Nepal, 2011.


These kids are really good and throw me challenges regularly forcing me to mentally, and creatively, dash and gash; discovering new tactics to keep them moving forward. One of the tricks I play with them, when I sense their focus bleeding out, is a count-clap game. I walk to the very middle of the room in between the two rows of desks and ask them, "Are you ready?"  I have done this enough that they know what is about to happen. Without saying a word I place the back of my hands, fisted, at the side of my face and flash numbers to them. Their job is to clap the number I have showing. Sometimes I do just odd numbers, and then I will switch to even numbers and many times I will change it up again and mix odd and even. Incrementally, I have been increasing how high the numbers are that end the sequence. As soon as we end the count clap we jump right back into the lesson at hand with a new-found concentration and energy……….

NepalPhotosNovember12-November18_086.jpg NepalPhotosNovember12-November18_100.jpg


To build my Nepali vocabulary I have been throwing a Nepal word into each class. The latest is the Nepali word for “to remember” samjannu (pronounced SOME-ZEN-NOO). (In Nepalese, if the letter “J” is inside the structure of a word it takes on a “z” sound.) I have them chant this word in between the paragraphs of the reading exercises, which we do together and out loud. They need to remember the content of the stories we read as at the end of each one I ask them many questions about the story and they must answer me in past tense, present tense, using pronouns, and the correct verbs.

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One of the nice surprises of this teaching assignment is the dialogue I have with the other teachers at my school. There is an English Literature teacher for the 9th and 10th graders who is Nepalese, and the two of us find time for conversation about her upcoming lessons. She is from a large family of teachers (her brother, father, mother, and her husband) and inevitably before the day begins she will ask me questions concerning poems or short stories, which are part of her lesson plans, and we speak on interpretation of the pieces. She asks great questions and has a high level of curiosity concerning word choice, and sentence structure, and also has an understanding of metaphor and specific phrases having larger meaning than what it is communicated in the literal sense.



Teaching School


The week at the school has been full of challenges but productive. We have moved on to learning how to write in the possessive and what it means to write comparative phrases (big, bigger, biggest, fast, faster, fastest…..etc). The Nepali word I have been using this week is “ramro” (Pronounced as it is spelled) which is Nepali for “good”. Another word we are using is “dayaan” (Pronounced DIE-ANN) which is “listen” as well as “paaunu jawaab” (Pronounced PIE-E-NOO JI-WAB) which is “find answer”. I have also come to devise a system with both of my classes, but especially my 6th grade class, where I have designated two students, a girl and a boy, to be my lieutenants and these lieutenants are in charge of each group of the class and if said groups get out of line, then these two little lieutenants take the fall and will be in trouble. Now, between you and I there is nothing I would do concerning punishment, but they do an awesome job of keeping the kids in line who are in their designated groups, and I continue to encourage them and thank them for helping me keep the class in line.

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There are so many opportunities and times I think of my mother and father and how I watched them in their classes during their careers and see myself emulate them. All of this is hard work but rewarding. Even creating the lesson plans at night and seeking out tricks or methods to keep them locked in is as much of the puzzle as the execution the next day.


The lessons continue with my 6th and 7th graders and this past week we worked on using the phrases “I will” and “I won’t” as well as what it means to tag a negative statement on the back of a question/ statement combination, for instance: You are late for school (the statement), aren’t you? (the question) And then here comes the reply “No, I am not.” There are times I jump off the book and get creative with the lesson and we are now at the point where the kids are taking the chalk and doing some of their lessons on the board. Both classes are lousy at doing their homework but it is hard to lay blame. Resources are scarce and many of my kids are without books and/or writing utensils but they soldier on and as long as they are in their desk each day we will find a way to get as much English into them as possible.

Comments: 5
Former Volunteer, Thomas J. - Tue Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:19PM
Comments: 11

Thomas J was a VIN volunteer teaching English to 6th & 7th graders in Jitpur, Nepal, 2011.

NepalPhotosNovember12-November18_139.jpgWeek number one was unbelievable. I was introduced to a family of 6 who are my hosts; the Dahal family. We all now live (until I leave) in a 4 room house which sits across the road from a chicken house and also has a chicken house underneath.

NepalPhotosNovember26-December2_028.jpgThe running water is a spigot in a room off the back of the house. We have rice and dahl, or rice and egg, or rice and curry and potatoes every morning and night. There are power outages on a regular basis due to the country's infrastructure, and I have a 45 minute walk straight up the mountain to my school of 6th graders and 7th graders. I teach English 6 days a week, and through this first week have devised and discovered ways to keep the kids focused while staying on the lesson plans I have created for them.

The days at the Dahal house start at 3:00 a.m. every morning with

NepalPhotos001_035.jpgsweeping, mopping, and preparing for work in the rice field (harvest time over here too.) The father owns a shop (store) down by the bus station and he is also a head master at a school on the other side of the mountain. He is exactly my age, 42. Both mother and father Dahal are basic in their English so all three of us rely on the three Dahal kids for translation. They are good with speaking English, especially the middle daughter Suiju.

NepalPhotos001_034.jpgThe days are hot and the nights are getting cooler. The home we live in overlooks the Kathmandu valley. There is dust and dirt absolutely everywhere, as it is farm country.........and the streets are dirt and rock. The views are great and the foliage is still dark, dark green which is odd to me at October 23.

The youngest kid, Bijay (pronounced beezay) locks in with me for games of chess when I arrive home; he is 13 and very astute. Ranju (pronounced Ronzoo) is the oldest child in the house and very driven to see the world and asks me many questions.....out of the blue the other night she asked me about the noted self-help book called "The Secret". She and a friend were speaking about it and it had her curious.......you can sense she is ready to think outside the box....


We have no internet so these blog updates are coming to you from a cyber-cafe on a street within the underbelly of Kathmandu and the keyboard is frozen with dirt and I am on the clock so I am typing gorilla style as fast as I can go.......you will see misspellings and I will continue to teach English in the mountains of Nepal......



Comments: 11
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