• Assunta French

A Monastery Experience

This year started not at a New Years Eve Party or huge celebration but at a Monastery in Pokhara, Nepal talking with a Guru and learning about Buddhism - something I never would have thought I would ever do or words that would come out of my mouth. But there I was and it was beautiful.

I had wanted to volunteer in Nepal teaching English to Monks for some time and finally made it happen for two weeks. I chose a volunteer organisation called Love Volunteers which I would highly recommend, they have world-wide projects depending what you are looking to experience.

My days at the Monastery started off from a wake up call at 5:30am between two young Monks or Lamas (Lama meaning student of Buddhism) waking each other up to start their daily routines.

It was quite a unique experience as there are about 14 Lamas at this particular Monastery however, 12 of them were at a camp in Kathmandu for three months studying. As the youngest two Lamas were still at school being 10 and 12 years of age, they were unable to attend the camp.

My days over the two weeks consisted of my 5:30am wake up call (I didn't quite get of bed at that time to be fair) helping with breakfast, awing over the incredible view, exploring Pokhara and all it has to offer in the peaceful and relaxed city, or just enjoying time at the Monastery talking with the Guru or his niece who was living there for the moment with her beautiful baby girl. In the afternoon for an hour or two it would be teaching English or playing games - I hadn't played Simon Says and Hang Man in I don't know even know how long but they loved playing games and I forgot what it was like to just be childlike and have fun.

At first I found it was quite challenging as it was my first experience volunteering I wondered if I was doing it right, if they were learning, what had other volunteers done in the past and hoped I wasn't wasting their time - these thoughts would come up daily.

By my last night I thought they had been using some different words, but put it down to over thinking and then found out they actually had been asking in Nepali what some of the words I was using meant! I couldn't believe it and the joy from spending time and teaching them was just heart warming and when I think back to my time it makes me smile.

I wasn't entirely sure what experience I was expecting to have but what I did have was a heart opening and life changing experience, I guess that was what I could have hoped for. The first week I was there, I was brought to tears from the simplicity of how life is and how different it is to Western ways of living. How different we are yet how accepting we were of each others differences, and how curious they are to learn about where I came from.

I went from feelings of overwhelmed to grateful for how I was brought up yet couldn't hand wash my clothes properly, one of the young Lamas kindly helped me one day as I think he was getting a little frustrated with my lack of skill!

By the end of my two week experience I felt like part of the family, I had bonded and enjoyed many conversations with the Guru, his nephew and niece in the evenings. I had spent one Sunday afternoon with the Guru driving to other monasteries, meeting his Lama friends where I tried Tibetan Tea, I met his family where I ate so much delicious food and just felt like I was visiting my family.

Everyone's experiences are so different when it comes to volunteering and what you are wanting to gain from it. If you are thinking about a volunteer project, look around, find what resinates with you, what you are drawn to. It will be the best thing you'll ever do, you'll never be the same again for the better.

I look forward to returning to Nepal, there are so many beautiful and unique places to visit, the history and culture so rich and diverse, the people so kind and welcoming. Most importantly I look forward to returning to the Monastery to visit the Guru.

Thank you for reading, if you would like to leave a comment I would love to hear your thoughts!

Assunta x



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