Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lies, Lies, Lies (Or, Volunteering in Nepal)

Sooo…I don’t know how to say this but the volunteer organization that I was supposed to have been working with, Nepal Volunteers Council, is really a scam. This is deeply frustrating and upsetting because I was really looking forward to all the good work I thought I was going to be taking a part in. The more I learn about “volunteering” in Nepal, the more I see how corrupt and downright deceitful it is. Surely there are legitimate organizations doing good for the people of Nepal, but there are also many others who are just out to make money for themselves. My experience is just one of many horror stories I’ve come to hear in recent days.

The director of my organization kept emailing me while I was in India, telling me that the students were very excited to meet me and asked me to arrive as soon as possible. I booked a flight to Kathmandu just so that I could get there sooner, spending about $145 on the flight. Upon arrival, I paid another $100 for a 3-month visa.

The first day I get to the organization’s office, the director tells me that the organization has hit a “financial crisis” and that they cannot afford to pay the rent for the office space, much less any of the educational programs that I was supposed to have been working on. Then the real kicker: there are NO STUDENTS and NO PROGRAMS at all!

Shocked and disappointed doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Why did he tell me that the students were excited to see me and that I needed to get to Nepal as soon as possible when there were NO STUDENTS? He kept trying to reassure me that they would find students but that they need to charge them in order to fund the programs. Um, WHAT??? I didn’t come to Nepal to teach kids who could afford private English lessons! He also kept saying they were hoping that the volunteers could help “donate” to the organization to help them stay afloat during this “financial crisis,” obviously hinting that I should make a “donation.” I didn’t offer to make a donation but I made several suggestions as to how he could fund-raise for the organization but he didn’t seem overly interested in those ideas.

It gets worse.

As I was also living with the family of the director, I started noticing some odd things. On at least two separate occasions, I realized that someone had gone through my things while I was out of the house. I discovered that I was missing 100 rupees (equivalent to $2) as well. I have two doors in my bedroom; one I use (and padlock whenever I leave the house) and one that was “locked” and leads to the bedroom of the director. It has a sizable gap in the middle and you can literally see into the opposite bedroom from the other, which made me feel slightly uncomfortable, and forced me to kind of hide in the corner to avoid being seen when changing. One rainy night, I discovered that the door wasn’t in fact locked because the sister of the house came barging in through that door, making sure that I had properly closed the windows. I tried to jam a wooden stick in the lock the next day so that they wouldn’t be able to come into my room through this door, but when I came home again, I saw that the stick had been broken and removed from my room. Twice I did this and twice the stick had been removed. Finally, I had one of the brothers nail a lock to the door so that I could make sure that I could lock all the doors leading into my room.

Why did I stay a minute longer after this? Well, there’s another “volunteer” from France living in the house and I can’t very well just leave Sylvia in the house to fend for herself. Sylvia has been here for a month on an “internship” through her school and has done absolutely nothing since she arrived, which also means that the entire time I was in India and being told about the eager students, the organization was already defunct.

To make matters worse, we discovered that the family had been scamming money from Sylvia left and right. They told her that the second-hand cell phone she wanted to buy was 6000 rupees (approximately $85) and that the sim card for it was another 4500 rupees ($64). I knew right away that that was an absolute lie and took Sylvia to a mobile shop where she could have bought a brand new phone AND sim card for less than 3000 rupees ($43). Sylvia also told me that the sister asked her to help pay for some of the food that they had been preparing for her. That was another 7000 rupees, which is actually enough to feed the entire family for half a year!

After all this, I told the family that I was going to leave and search for another volunteer opportunity. The very next morning, the sister came to my room and asked me to help pay for food. She had the audacity to ask for 15,000 rupees!!! That’s over $200. And I had only been here for a week! It took all my strength not to reach over and slap her. I flat out refused saying that I came with the understanding that I was going to be volunteering to help Nepalese children and that there was going to be no fees. She was quite disappointed because I was “from America and had American dollars, which is so much compared to Nepalese rupees.” I explained that I quit my job a YEAR ago and haven’t had hardly any income since so I couldn’t afford to give her money. I’d be happy to help out around the house but I wasn’t going to give her any money. She walked away empty handed and very disappointed. She’s basically been ignoring me ever since. And I haven’t been offered second helpings at meal times either.

So now Sylvia and I have left the house and the organization and are trying to find alternative opportunities. Wish us luck!

© Connie Hum 2010

18 comments:

  1. OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!! Connie I am so terribly sorry to hear this happened to you. There must be some lesson in this. I am proud of you for being so strong. I am confident that something amazing will come from this. Lots of love.

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  2. Ann Feeley-SummerlApril 18, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    That sucks Connie! My sister volunteered in Nepal a few years ago, and while her organization did have actual volunteering, she didn't have a terrific experience with them either. Better luck next time!

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  3. Good for you for getting Sylvia out too. I'll keep praying for you. God bless you.
    Love,
    Lisa

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  4. Way to stand up for what's right. I'm sure you'll find a way to make a difference over there.

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  5. Oh no! Good job on getting out!

    I know the Himalayan Trust is a NZ run thing, set up by Sir Edmund Hilary - maybe they have someone you can help?

    http://www.himalayantrust.org/partner.php

    Best of wishes - I hope you have better luck with the next opportunities you find! :)

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  6. Oh Connie I'm so sorry. That's really terrible. I'm really proud of you for standing up for yourself. I hope you're OK.

    I hope to hear from you soon.

    -Brian Tully

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  7. Oh darling WHAT a disappointment! :(
    Better luck next time - I'm sure there are people actually doing good out there. And good on you for standing up for yourself and Silvia!

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  8. Hi Connie,

    One of your friend, Shoko, reached out to Nirza (my sister in law) here in US. I read your blog. I am deeply saddened to hear about your experience. I am sorry.

    I would love to work with you in establishing a volunteer work. I have been driving an organization called Ganga Ghar in Nepal. We have a total of 34 children going to school. 29 started this week. If you are still looking around, the organization can schedule work for you during your stay in Nepal. You can reach me at Ojash.Shrestha@gmail.com or 414-534-2860. If you provide your cell # in Nepal, I can give you a call as well.
    We can rearrange your lodging and schedule a teaching class as well. In the meantime, please visit www.gangaghar.org to learn more about the organization.

    I am looking forward to hear from you.

    Regards,
    Ojash

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  9. Connie,
    I don’t know how you got to the hand of those scammer. I have seen a lot of volunteers around the globe who visit Nepal always have a good comments about their stay in Nepal. I am so sorry to hear about you. It would be great if you could forward the emails/organization detail to Nepal Police or even if you forward those to me, I can work with some of my colleague back in Nepal to have those scammer in the custody !
    I know some of the good organization back in Nepal which you might be interested to volunteer. I promise you won’t regret volunteering with them. Some of the organization , whom I hear a very good comments are :

    1. Maggie runs an organization called Kopila Foundation in Surkhet, She is a do something award winner and is from USA. Read more on http://maggiedoyne.squarespace.com/
    2. The Ester Benzamin Trust (http://ebtrust.org.uk ) is a good organization in Kathmandu to volunteer .
    3. Help Nepal Foundation (http://www.helpnepal.net)
    4. Samata Sikshya Niketan (http://www.samataschool.org.np/ ) School run by community and building with Bamboo sticks

    There are some other volunteer organization that can help you too. If you contact any of the above I am sure they will help you and you will have a very pleasant moment there in Nepal .

    Again I am sorry for the trouble you faced.
    Enjoy your stay ,
    bisu, USA

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  10. Thank You Thank You!!!! My Daughter was scheduled to help out in June. I have forward your Blog to her and from the Bottom of my Heart Thank You!!!!! I am sorry for your experience and I know our Lord will continue to use you! You are a very strong, smart and common sense young Lady and dont let a couple of bad apples prevent you from serving from your heart.

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  11. you have guts...i wish i could do this, too, but maybe when i'm older. it's my ambition to explore the world and help preserve it. check out my blog, you might find it interesting :)

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  12. Hey,

    It is known from the above message that You were offered several volunteer opportunities even from the Nepalese living in the USA. Why did you not volunteer with them? Why did you not accept their offer? Methinks, If you really wanted to help Nepalese people, you would have accepted one of the offers. But you did not do so. By this it could be clear that you, intentionally, do not want to contribute Nepalese society or want something (like money or other facilities) in return of your volunteer work. If you want some thing in return, can that be volunteering?

    Rakesh Shrestha,Kathmandu University.

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  13. To Rakesh Shrestha,

    I think you are one of the Napalese people who would never appreciate the works from the outsiders. Look, I am Asian and I am leaving in the USA. Even I was being scammed by the Asian people (in the third world countries just like yours). All they want to hear from me was money, money and money.

    Stop being so arrogant and start helping you own people if you are proud of your country and your race.

    -- Mony/ of USA
    By the way, I am a Cambodian/American

    If the Author would like to know about Cambodia, contact me @ buntha8761@gmail.com

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  14. Thanks to everyone for your love and support during the Nepalese volunteer scam. I'm sorry for not following up sooner but the situation immediately following these events were quite stressful and I didn't have the time to respond. Plus, I didn't want to fuel the flames of what was sounding like a heated discussion when I was feeling so emotional.

    The aftermath:
    Sylvia and I tried during the following week to find another volunteer program to work with in Nepal but perhaps we were both feeling quite jaded, scared, apprehensive and cautious after what had happened, nothing seemed right to us. Many volunteer organizations we talked to were religious-based, and with neither one of us being religious, we didn't feel right working with a group spreading the message of God when we don't particularly believe in it ourselves. Other organizations wanted to send us to remote areas of Nepal to teach English but without being able to see the facilities and actual volunteer situation, as well as not being able to speak to other volunteers for their input, we didn't want to head out into the middle of nowhere without fully knowing what was in store (as we had previously done).

    In the end, Sylvia and I met up with our two friends and spent the next few weeks enjoying Nepal as a country, trying to put our bad volunteer experience behind us.

    Sylvia returned to France and I made my way to Thailand to volunteer with Burmese migrant workers.

    This was quite a learning experience for me and I can say that despite the bad experience, it has made me stronger and wiser. I was able to learn from this experience and I have gained valuable and positive volunteer experiences since April with a better head on my shoulders. I'm also glad that I have been able to share this experience with others and potentially help prevent others from such volunteer scams.

    For those interested, I have written a post about how to avoid volunteer scams. You can locate it on the navigation bar at the top of the page under "Volunteers."

    Thank you again for supporting me during this episode. I am glad to have tied up all the loose strings on this and I am quite happy to move on from it.

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  15. Hi Connie,

    I'm so sorry you had to experience this, but hope it helps to know that others are already learning from it, as well. I am just beginning my research on volunteering abroad, and found this page through the matador site. I am finding the links you provided to be incredibly helpful.

    I notice that you are in Phuket-- Thailand, or SE Asia in general is where I am focusing my efforts. Can you recommend any reputable organisations there? Would you recommend the organization you worked with? Any additional insight into this region would be helpful. My contact info is staciesport@gmail.com.

    Thank you again for sharing your experience and I hope to hear from you soon.

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  16. You're incredibly brave for sticking it out, surviving and not letting it completely kill your trip and time in Nepal. That's a horrible situation you underwent. I hear there's a lot of scam NGOs out there, so you're probably not the only one. I'm sure you were incredibly shaken and I'm glad you didn't have to go through it completely alone, but had that French woman as a bit of support.

    Way to bounce back onto your travel feet. This experience will make you a saavy traveler.

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  17. Wow, Connie. That is amazing. It's so bizarre it almost sounds like a movie! I'm glad you got out of it and helped the other girl escape, too. It can feel terrible when you are in another country and people make you feel vulnerable and take advantage of you! Nice job sticking to your principles and gut feeling! :)

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  18. @GRRRL TRAVELER Thank you so much for the encouragement. It really was a difficult time and I'm not sure I would have reacted the same if I had been on my own. I think what really propelled me to act fast was knowing that they were already scamming poor Sylvia.

    @Smiling In A Foreign Land Thank you! It is a bad feeling to know that people are trying to take advantage of you. I'm sure I'll never let that happen again!

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