Journey to Nepal: 35 years in the making

Rampur, Nepal

Steve Barret took a sabbatical from his 13 years at NDY to embark on a personal volunteering journey. He wanted to make a difference to the lives of those less fortunate but in the process discovered the more he gave, the more he received in return.
Steve Barrett has harboured a desire to do volunteering since his University days but up until recently, was unable to fulfil his dream. “Quite literally, life just happened,” he says. “I’ve been a consulting engineer for the whole of my working life and ended up on the treadmill that would be familiar to so many career professionals: school, university, graduate job with career advancement, marriage, a family, and all the associated responsibilities,” Steve laments. “But with my youngest son now 17, I have a real opportunity to devote extended periods of time to volunteering.
That said, one of the ‘hidden costs’ of volunteering is the additional work that partners can be left with, so my journey would not have been possible without the support of my wife.” Steve’s volunteering ambitions took him to Nepal, a destination which resonated with his desire to look for a challenge and not wanting to follow a conventional route.
 “I didn’t have a destination in mind and Nepal was just one of many options. One thing I was certain of is that Consulting Engineering actually involves more consulting than engineering and to do that we need to know about people,” Steve says. “I spent quite a bit of time researching the volunteering field and chose the particular orphanage based on what seemed a good fit for me. I did not work through an Australian charity or church group to embark on this journey but just felt that the orphanage was a facility where I could bring some benefit to these children and their community.”
Steve commenced his time in Nepal with an intensive language course and cultural orientation in Kathmandu. He spent the first week at the RCDP (Rural Community Development Programme) hostel undergoing this training along with six others from South Africa, Taiwan, Germany and Queensland.
With some basic grounding in the local language and cultural customs, Steve travelled on to Rampur, a rural village approximately 150km south of Kathmandu. “At Rampur I stayed with my host family and worked at the Asna Anathalaya, one of several RCDP facilities in Nepal. Asna is the name of the woman that founded the facility in 2006 and Anathalaya means orphanage in Nepali.
The orphanage is licensed to accommodate up to 25 children and currently has 15 boys and 8 girls living there ranging in ages from 8 to 15.” Asna is located in the district of Chitwan within the Terai area of Nepal. It is a strip of predominantly flat land accounting for 30% of the country area running the full length to the border nearest to India. The Terai area is extremely fertile and is used extensively for farming. Chitwan is most famous for the Nepal’s largest National Park which is home to Tigers, White Rhinos, Sloth Bears and many other exotic animals.
“My time coincided with the monsoon season but this did not dampen the spirits of the locals,” says Steve. “The Nepali people are very gentle and amazingly patient and the influence of religion on people’s daily life was quite evident. Everywhere I went I was welcomed warmly, they did not necessarily know who I was, but I was accepted into their community instantly.”
Asna is an integral part of the local village with flow-on benefits to the broader community: many families host volunteers, the local public school is next door and was established with the assistance of RCDP, some of the teaching staff at the public school are part funded by RCDP, some local families have businesses that serve volunteers. In addition to Asna, RCDP have a nursery established next door where they grow plants to give to various communities and also grow vegetables for the children.
This nursery also depends on considerable volunteer support. The orphanage is run by a number of full time staff and aims to provide a secure, loving, caring and nurturing environment, where the children attend school, with a focus on attaining a good level of education. This provides them with the foundation to return to their home villages as young adults with good prospects to earn an income and to become valued members of their home communities.
“All of the children are orphaned, most have neither parent, but a few have one living parent who has no capacity to look after their child,” Steve says. “All of the children come from rural villages which represent particularly poor parts of the country and the aim of sending the kids back to the villages as adults is seen as an important community service.
“My approach to volunteering was to offer my services to the community in a way that will help them achieve longer term independence. As I wanted to work with children, my approach was essentially to be a friend and mentor. Thanks to some generous donations from family and NDY staff and management, I was able to complement this hands-on volunteering role with some tangible financial assistance to purchase much-needed essential items for the orphanage. These items included bikes, books, audio equipment, musical instruments, first aid supplies, a new gas cooker and range of stationary supplies.
“One of the greatest highlights of my time in Nepal was the afternoon when these items were presented to the children. The joy on their faces, the tears of happiness and the way they were instantly engrossed in allthe gifts was so gratifying and was all the thanks I needed.
“I am now firmly committed to the concept of volunteering, and through my experiences, hope to encourage others to also embark on such a journey. The orphanage depends on having regular assistance from volunteers (both financially and in labour), so my visit to a certain extent was one more person passing through a revolving door. As a consequence my departure was more traumatic for me than for them. However, I have now feel deeply connected to that Nepalese village and maintain regular contact. They call themselves my Rampur family.”
*Steve Barrett has been with NDY for 13 years in the Melbourne, London and Perth offices. Up until July this year, Steve was an Associate Director, member of the executive in the Perth office and manager of the Electrical Discipline, as well as chair of the Business Development committee in Perth. Steve is passionate about Sustainability and has worked on a number of landmark green buildings including the recently opened AIM Building, the Katitjin Centre. Steve is currently in the process of writing a book – called ‘Silver Spoon’ – about his volunteering work in Nepal.