The following was written by a previous Hands on Development tour participant
Upon arriving in Kathmandu and starting my Hands on Development Immersion tour, I was struck by the beautiful, bustling colourfulness of Thamel. Rickety lane ways lined with stalls selling anything from beaded bracelets to meat and fish saturated the pathways. Motorcycles and cars beeped their way through the dusty streets, shared by many walking Nepali people in a chaotic mesh of bodies and vehicles, surprisingly somehow everyone seemed to get where they needed to go just fine. Friendly locals nodded a smiling ‘Namaste’ towards us as we passed. I felt as though I had been transported into another time or magical place during this tour at Hands on Development. It almost seemed possible to find potions and broomsticks like those from Diagon Alley - or see Abu and Aladdin flash by, followed closely by palace guards.
Our first day was spent settling into our new surroundings in Nepal, getting to know other members in the Hands on Development tour group and learning about the history and culture of Nepal. We walked through the streets of Kathmandu to Dubar square, a UNESCO world heritage site that features several styles of Hindu Temples and is a big part of the lives of Nepali people. Here, Anita our chatty local tourism guide and director of Seven Women told us a story of how in the sixties Jimi Hendrix would play his music at the square. A Nepali man he befriended would often dance beside Hendrix whilst he played, she mentioned that this man still frequently visits the site and is now known by the nickname Jimi. Unfortunately we did not see Nepali Jimi during our visit but we learnt a lot of interesting information and even got a glimpse of Kumari the young living goddess, who lives in the impressive 3-storey Kumari Ghar building inside Dubar square.
After a delicious lunch we visited Pashupatinath Temple, a Hindu cremation site where we gained knowledge of the cultural practices of Nepal and the public way in which Nepali people pay respect to their dead. It was a very eye opening experience seeing bodies being cremated and families loudly mourning their loved ones. I became aware of how much more private we are in Australia when it comes to mourning the dead and the different cultural practices we use. The confronting aspect of witnessing the cremation process performed impacted me personally but at the same time I found it quite liberating to observe such open displays of emotion. I believe that back home after this experience I will now be more understanding of other cultural practices which will allow me to empathise and get along with a wider range of people.
Day two of the Hands on Development tour in Nepal for me began at Hotel Moonlight’s yummy buffet breakfast hall but for a few early rising group members it started on the hotel rooftop overlooking stunning views of Kathmandu for a spot of morning yoga.
After a discussion on Social Enterprise led by the amazing Anita Kerr (Seven Women Country director) we began our journey to the much anticipated Seven Women Centre. Following Paddy, our enthusiastic guide, who fearlessly stopped traffic in its tracks, we walked through the streets of Kathmandu to the women’s centre. There we were very warmly welcomed with red dots painted onto our foreheads - flowers placed in our hair and beautiful yellow scarves presented to each of us. The women were very excited to have us - their warmth and passion shun through very brightly.
We were lucky enough to have Stephanie Woollard with us on our tour. She started the Seven Women Centre at the exceptionally young age of 22 on a university trip after meeting seven disabled women struggling to work in a tiny tin shed in Kathmandu and now also runs educational tours to Nepal through her organisation - Hands on Development. The Seven Women Centre aims to provide disadvantaged Nepalese women with skills to thrive.
After meeting the incredible women who work at the centre and seeing the beautiful products they create, we partook in a Nepalese cooking class run by these inspiring ladies. We all got chopping and learnt how to make delectable momos – a traditional Nepalese dumpling-like dish. Once we finished it was just about lunch time - so we sat down to feast on all our hard work.
After lunch Sandhya from the centre took us for a Nepalese language lesson, where we got to learn some frequently used Nepalese phrases as well as some handy numbers. Before coming to the Seven Women centre I was expecting it to be a giving experience on my part, where I would be sharing skills with the women but once it was time to leave I realised it was me who had been gaining the skills and understanding! After spending time with the women I became aware of the similarities between us - our need to belong, for freedom, self-esteem and love and even though we came from different cultural backgrounds, these similar basic human needs between us impacted me. This cultivated a feeling of human connection within me, I hope to be able to keep this feeling of connection back at home and support organizations who help promote the rights of these basic human needs for all.