Working with All Hands Volunteers was like biting into a fruit you never knew existed, and wondering how you could have lived without tasting it for your entire life.
Taylor and I knew we wanted to travel abroad for an extended period of time, but it seemed almost gluttonous to just traipse across Asia with only ourselves in mind. So, we sought out to find some fulfilling volunteer opportunities. After applying to All Hands in June and not hearing anything for several months, we forgot about the organization and our trip planning was put on hold. Luckily All Hands emailed us in December and offered us two spots in the program, which made our decision to go to Asia seem a helluva lot more real.
So with backpacks and plane tickets, we said goodbye to our families and friends and boarded a plane headed to Kathmandu. From Nepal’s capital, we traveled five hours by bus (during this ride an elderly Nepali woman sat on my lap for roughly two hours and 30+ people sat on top of the vehicle) to Melamchi, the small city we would call home over the four following weeks.
Our program was working to rebuild after the devastating earthquake that took place on April 25, 2015, claiming more than 8,000 lives in the Kathmandu valley. Measuring in with a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale, the earthquake was the moat damaging one to affect Nepal since 1934.
Now that you have a bit of background on the project, you might be wondering what exactly did we do during the month we spent in Melamchi? And what does volunteering with All Hands entail? I’ve broken down our daily work schedule so those considering donating their time to the program can gain a bit more insight into its practices:
Wake up and clamber out of bed. If you’re sleeping in the Love Hub (with 50+ other volunteers) try to get up quietly so as not to disturb any late risers. Also, watch out for stray dogs in the Love Hub. There are always stray dogs in the Love Hub.
And for the record, yes, that is plywood I’m sleeping on.
Breakfast time! One awesome thing about All Hands is that meals are provided for you. Breakfast consists of your choice of one egg, two slices of toast, oatmeal, and one piece of fruit.
Scurry to brush your teeth before the truck leaves. Then, cram into a covered truck bed with 12 of your newfound volunteer friends. I would say buckle up, because it will be a bumpy ride, but there are no seatbelts.
7:30- 8:00 a.m.
Clutch onto the edge of your seat as your local driver ascends narrow dirt pathways and honks excessively at local pedestrians and drivers. Your car will be headed nearly straight up the side of a mountain.
Grab whatever tools belong to your team and head to your worksite on the mountain.
Get to work! You can sing “Hi-Ho” if it boosts your productivity, but most worksites provide speakers so that you can jam out to something less Disney and more punk rock. There are several options when it comes to what type of work you’ll be doing:
Rubble: Clearing debris and fallen rock from sites where new homes will be built.
Foundations: Digging holes that will be filled with structure beams.
Structures: Erecting steel poles that will serve as the frame of the home.
Walls: Attaching wire mesh to structure beams that will prevent the home from collapsing inwards in the event of a future earthquake.
Roofs: Securing a roof to the newly built home.
Toilets: Digging septic tank holes, pouring concrete, and erecting miniature structures for a standalone bathroom.
Sherpas: Strapping supplies to your head, and delivering various items to worksites all over the mountain. Below are a few sherpas moving cement rings that weigh in at over 200 lbs each.
The project beneficiaries will bring you tea (“chia”) and you can shoot the shit with them as you try your darndest to imagine what it must be like to grow up with tons of farm animals on the side of a mountain in Nepal. Then it’s back to work!
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
By this point you should be sweating. Luckily it’s lunchtime. Grab some dal bhat, search for a shady seat, and play with some baby goats if you’re feeling feisty.
Everyone on the same task eats together and is fed by the beneficiaries. Make notes and compare with your fellow volunteers as to which house has the best grub, so you can choose your assignment accordingly for the next working day.
And of course, take a moment to check out your surroundings before heading back to work.
Power through the second half of the day and resist the urge to fall into a dal bhat food coma.
Grab your gear and your team and head back to the truck for the descent into Melamchi.
Make a mad dash for the shower. There is enough hot water for 3-4 people, and the other 55 will be screwed. Don’t think about other people’s feelings, think about how much you hate cold showers and haul ass to the nearest bathroom.
Smush into the common room for the daily mandatory meeting. Worksite progress will be discussed as well as general project updates and announcements.
Dinner is served. It’s always a variation on a carb + cabbage + carrots + spicy sauce. Pray that it’s not chow mein because the chow mein gives (at least) seven people food poisoning every time it’s consumed.
Chances are you’re tempted to read a book or socialize with the other volunteers, but in reality, you’re so tired that you fall asleep without brushing your teeth and wake up with chow mein breath. Sexy.
There you have it, folks—a day in the life of an All Hands Volunteer. A month flew by incredibly quickly with the organization and it wasn’t surprising to me that many volunteers at our base had previously volunteered with All Hands before. In total, there were about 70-80 volunteers at our site at all times (andddd about six of those people had food poisoning every. single. day.) Although I had a lot of questions about the nonprofit’s structure and logistical tactics, I really enjoyed my time with the group and would be happy to volunteer for a similar project in the future.