Hasantar | Nepal
I did the voluntary work in the monastery Hasantar Gumba in May/June 2016. After a few days of introduction in the Nepalese culture, including a few Nepali language classes (they were very helpful), I went together with one other volunteer to the Gumba. By taxi from the volunteer house it takes about 45-50 minutes. The nuns are good organised but quite spontaneous, meaning you’ll hear the day before or at the same day (or afterwards) when a Puja (ceremony) takes place. We spent the first few days leaving in the morning at 6 o’clock to a Puja in Sharminub Institute in Kathmandu to pray for the rebirth of the Sharmapa (the right hand from the Karmapa). The interesting was that all the “lay devotees” (the not monks and nuns) had a special room with nice cutlery to eat and drink. As you can see on the picture, the monks and nuns sat together and the lay devotees were sitting at the entrance of the temple.
After this experience the classes officially started on Monday, in the morning I got the schedule of the classes.
My day was organised as following:
- 5:00 – 6:30 1st Puja of the day (it is voluntary to join) and the kids will
practice mandras on the roof. Meaning, you will wake up around this time J
- 6:30 Breakfast
- 7:30 – 9:00 Classes, their duration is 45 minutes (so 2 classes here)
- 9:00 – 9:15 Tea break
- 9:15 – 11:30 Classes
- 11:30 Lunch (from here I had time off)
- 13:00 – 15:00 Handwriting classes on the roof
- 15:00 – 15:30 Tea break
- 15:30 – 17:00 2nd Puja of the day
- 18:30 Dinner
- 19:00 – 19:30 The gates are closing, sleeping time for the volunteers
- 19:30 -21:00 Study time for the nuns
The monastery is on a hill looking over Kathmandu, you can walk down to the main road and take either a bus or taxi from there. If you take a left turn after coming off the asphalt road, you walk straight to Swayambunath, that takes about 1,5 hours. You can find all kind of shops there, you can buy fruits (take a pocket knife with you! and Ncel top up as well. Another option is to walk up the hill to another monastery (the nuns can tell you the way or ask them to come along). You can also ask the nuns to call the taxi driver Asu for you, he will take you down by car. As I was off every afternoon I mostly went out for a walk, played with the kids or did some laundry. For the laundry you have a bucket and you can by washing powder (wheel) at the small shop in the gumba or just walk down to the shops (the green soap you can buy works very good). The small shop has things like toilet paper (a must), sweets, cosmetics,
etc. Almost every day they opened it for a short period of time, you can look through the window what you want and pay them (or later if you don’t have money on you). You can always ask a nun if you need anything.
My room was quite clean, you have a shower (yes, cold water) and a standing toilet. The beds are quite hard, I put an extra blanket on the mattress. I didn’t not have a mirror (maybe now they do as I told them I missed it J) and the light is only working if there is electricity. There is a schedule hanging in the small hallway next to the kitchen (you pass through there when you go to the temple), however, do not rely on it. Take either candles or just 1 or 2 headlights. In the evening they close the gates from the inside so you cannot enter the courtyard where rooms of the nuns are connected to. However, if you have dinner with some of the nuns inside, they can let you out without any problems, they are very sweet J.
Don’t forget to take towels with you!
I had off on the weekends, I liked going away then, either to the volunteer house or I once also visited another Gumba (Nala Gumba, nearby Bhaktapur). You can keep in contact with Bhagwan (contact person from Karmalaya in Nepal) and he can tell you what the other volunteers are op to. You can easily join them for trips are going away for a few days. The nuns are quite flexible as well. The kids love to play, a robe would not be a bad idea to take or a ball. They do not have many materials to play with. Think of some games which are easy to teach and involve a lot of running, they love that! They are quite naughty as the older nuns told me, so if they get hold of your phone you won’t get it back with either an empty battery from playing games of making pictures. I took some pictures from home, but they weren’t very interesting in it. they are however interested in the picture from my boyfriend which I wore in my medallion. Another thing they like is your hair, as you can see on the pictures they have to shave theirs once per month (they do not mind as they all have short hair). So for the girls: if you are okay with it they will make all kind of braids and hair-dos.
In June 2016 they opened the retreat centre, I was very lucky to meet the nuns before they went into retreat for 3 years. These nuns where the ones who I met speaking quite some English, besides the captain of the gumba I am not sure now who is left speaking good enough English from the older nuns. Just ask around, offer your help (especially in the kitchen I can recommend during preparations for a (bigger) puja) and ask if you can have lunch or dinner with them. As they it all in their rooms you normally end up eating with the kids on the roof (which is also very nice
Food & drinks
You will get a plate, a bowl, a cup and a spoon (they do have a knife and fork if you ask for it). For every meal you should take that what you need down (depending on the menu, for the tea break just your cup). After a week you will know what will be served on which day. The meals mostly exist of rice and/or potatoes. If you like spicy, they have a special spice to put over your food, be careful with that! Meat is only allowed during specific months, then they eat it 3 times per week. Also depending on the pujas it could be that you do not get any. The food was very tasty and it is all quite hygienic, you do not need to worry about that. Do not expect any beers there, they have filtered water to drink (tip: take a drinking bottle with you) and tea, either black tea (ask for this one) or butter tea. You have to learn the salty version of the latter one. The kids love sweets and chocolate, taking some will definitely motivate them during the classes. Do not give them too much, as they have some money to buy it themselves at the shop.
I went well prepared with many colouring pictures, coloured felt-tip pens, coloured white board markers (a must!), stickers, books to read for the kids and some grammar material. The language barrier made it quite difficult for me to teach them and for them to understand me. Not only Karmalaya sends volunteers here, also other organisations do or some go there individually. This means that you have no idea what their level is. I tried to do
any grammar with them, but it is very difficult. As I was there “only” for 3 full weeks (due to pujas as well), I decided to do games and drawings with them. Don’t forget that they have to study a lot on the Nepali and Tibetan language and the nun teachers are quite strict. I just offered them some distraction. Sharing is not the best thing for them to do, so if you put the felt-tip pens on the floor, make clear that they have to share.
I had three different classes, three different levels. My class with 4 nuns loved playing hang man with the words I taught them that day. The class with the highest level was mostly not complete or not even there. I did i.e. directions and the clock/time with them. With the smallest I did the ABC (they know it by heart) and among other things fruits. I took them with me and asked them for the English names. I wrote it on the board they did it on a paper and drew a picture of the fruit to it. Those kind of exercises worked very well.
Enjoy your stay, I hope you will like your stay as much as I liked it. I purposely left out quite some information, as you should experience it by yourself and your interests might be different than mine. If you like to learn more about the Buddhism, they can offer you some books and/or classes, just as will all the other things, ask for it.
ab: 840,00 €
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