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Saturday, February 27, 2016

My Volunteering Experience in Kathmandu, Nepal: Images of Hope


For as long as I can remember I have always dreamed of going to Nepal and setting foot on the quaint, lush valley of Kathmandu. The rich history and diverse cultural heritage of the Nepalese have also fascinated me. So when I volunteered in and subsequently traveled around India, I made sure to include Nepal next in my itinerary as these two countries are geographically close.

I did a google search of free volunteering opportunities in Kathmandu and, luckily, stumbled upon the website of Koseli School. Yes, this nonprofit organization does not charge anything for those who want to volunteer. Impressed by the projects and mission of the school, I decided to email them about my interest in volunteering together with a workshop proposal. A few days later, I got a positive reply from Neelam, the school’s coordinator.

Upon arrival at Koseli I was immediately awed by the hospitality and kind attitude of both the local teachers and the students who greeted me with their infectious smiles. I was also inspired to learn first-hand that the school not only educates the students but feeds them as well, and operates on a meager budget and donation coming from the community.

The days that I spent at Koseli were allotted to photography workshops which consisted of two components: film and digital. The former involved the fun use of analogue toy cameras, while the latter comprised of lectures on basic composition techniques using digital cameras and smartphones. Both components aimed at providing the young participants with primary technical and aesthetic know-how of photography. Delivered in a playful and exciting manner, central to the workshop was the value of learning by doing, through which students learn the art of photography by “playing”. I also wanted to familiarize the kids with analogue and digital cameras while unleashing their creativity and promoting teamwork. Given that I was dealing with kids as young as 8 years old, I had to make it as visual, uncomplicated, and enjoyable as possible. Thus, I would normally start a session with an informative lecture followed by a demonstration that was supplemented by photographs and videos.

The kids, although timid at first, were very much eager to learn. Not only were they a pleasure to teach but they were also well-behaved and extremely polite. The older ones were specifically inquisitive and active in asking questions. During these lectures, I was also assisted by the teachers in translating some of the terms and ensuring that everything would go without a hitch. I really appreciate their help as it made every session run efficiently.

There were two activities that the kids seemed to enjoy a lot. First was the “Scavenger Hunt” photography session. Here I combined this fun game with the application of basic composition techniques such as framing, subject positioning, rule of thirds, close-up, etc. Each group was provided with one smartphone camera and a sheet of paper with the checklist of items or scenes around the school that need to be photographed. The goal of the participants is to finish the checklist correctly as fast as they can. I was amazed by how they easily picked up the lessons and applied them in their shots.

I asked them to shoot a group portrait, this is what they came up with:

A classroom photo taken by a kid applying the rule of thirds:

Framing:

The other one was the “Film Swapping” activity, which, I must admit, was a strategic one. Because I only brought a limited supply of negative films, I decided to make the most of it. Whenever a group finished shooting a roll, I would rewind it and give it to another group. This session resulted to double or multiple exposed images that display an impressive blend of overlapping scenes, shapes, and colours.

Actionsampling:


A student holding a multi-lens photograph of himself with light leaks:

Perhaps the highlight of my time at Koseli was the culmination of the workshops. Prior to my departure, I brought the negative films to a shop in Thamel and have them processed and developed. It was an epic moment when I showed the photographs to the students. Most of them have never seen what a processed film looks like and seeing their reaction was priceless. They were so pleased to see their photos in tangible, printed form.

Kids looking at the negative film against the sunlight:

Students viewing the prints:


Amazing prints!

The time that I spent at Koseli was brief, but I was left with treasured memories to bring back home. It was truly an inspiration to see so much images of hope, excitement, and happiness etched in the faces of the children during the workshops, despite the harsh conditions, political instability, and poverty they have to endure on a daily basis. The happy and enthusiastic attitude of the students made my commuting ordeal from Thamel to Shantinagar worthwhile. I would have wanted to spend more time with the kids, but unfortunately, I only applied for a two-week visa and had to head off to Calcutta to meet a friend. I am beyond grateful to everybody for being so welcoming and for giving me the opportunity to volunteer and share my knowledge. Hopefully, I can come back in the near future.

Dhanybhad!

* * *

For those who are interested in the free volunteering opportunity at Koseli School in Kathamandu. You can contact them at:

Email: nepalkoseli@gmail.com
Phone: +977 984 921 55 33

Address:
Koseli School,
Tinkune, Shantinagar
(behind Lions Club)
Kathmandu
Nepal

How to Get to Koseli School by Public Transport:
If you are staying in Thamel, Koseli School is about 20-30 minutes by bus, depending on traffic. You need to walk all the way to Rani Pokhari and look for buses or mini vans that go to Shantinagar or pass through the Madan Bhandari Road. Tell the driver or conductor that you are going to Shantinagar and to drop you off at Shantinagar Gate.

Another landmark that you can tell is the Lion's Club of Kathmandu. From there, the school is only a few minutes' walk. If you have a smart phone, I recommend you use the Google Maps and pin the location. I used it before to locate the school and it led me to the right direction.

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