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Helping Nepal to get back on its feet

Date added: Tuesday 12th May 2015

Spring is a busy time for gap year organisations. Not only are they planning next year’s programmes and promoting the benefits of these to would be participants at school and universities across the UK, they are also making final preparations and delivering briefings for projects that will start in the coming weeks and months. There used to be a bit of down-time between the annual cohorts of young people wanting to experience the world of work, training, study and volunteering in the UK or overseas. Today, the range of options available to people of all ages means that individuals can sign up to start a programme –lasting 2 weeks to several months - in any month of the year.

The level of choice places more of an onus on the individual to carry out due diligence before parting with hard-earned and hard-fundraised money. A few hours checking out that operators are well-run, offer financial protection, that volunteer projects are addressing real need and that adventure training and expedition programmes have the requisite expertise, will provide proof of legitimacy for donors and re-assurance to participants and their families.

There will be other considerations too. Take Nepal for instance, a popular destination for tourists, adventure seekers and volunteers but suffering badly in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in their recent history. If you are a potential volunteer with Nepal in mind as a destination, what should you do next?

1. Sit tight for now but register your interest

Gapyear organisations such as those who are members of the Year Out Group have been operating expeditions and volunteering programmes in the region for many years. They employ local people and have strong ties to individual families and communities whom they support or rely on to assist with their projects. Their friends, colleagues and volunteers who were in Nepal at the time of the earthquake have been helping out since, removing rubble or providing critical aid materials paid for by fundraising efforts. These will begin to help re-establish some sense of normality within communities and provide the foundation for long-term support.

Travel operators will be following current Foreign Office advice that only essential travel to the region is undertaken. They will also be assessing the situation first hand and liaising with the local authorities in order to establish what the local needs are, how best and when, they can contribute to recovery efforts.

Anyone outside of the region hoping to volunteer to help on the ground will need to hold back for a little while but check YOG member websites, tweet or better still, call them to find out more about their plans. Your time as well as the fees you pay will be important contributions to the effort. You also have the option to donate to the immediate relief effort through the operators themselves who can tell you how the money is being spent. Alternatively you can donate via the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal.

2. Don’t abandon Nepal

When Ebola struck Sierra Leone and Liberia, volunteering programmes and tourism in other African nations experienced a drop in bookings that put thousands of jobs and livelihoods at stake. Nepal will need support - beyond emergency aid- to help villages and businesses re-establish themselves and there are other areas of Nepal (not directly affected by the earthquake) that continue to need the time and energy volunteers can contribute.

The situation in Nepal will move from one of emergency relief and critical medical care, through to tackling problems of water supply, sanitation and shelter and on to rebuilding livelihoods and social capital. International aid, volunteering projects, organized expeditions, backpackers and further donations will all play a part in the long-term recovery of Nepal.

The sustainability of communities has always been at the heart of volunteering efforts in the region and volunteers will be required for a long while yet. Specialist skills will be sought-after but so will enthusiasm and simple hard graft. Don’t be put off by those who disparage the so-called ‘unskilled’ volunteer, as everyone is provided with the support necessary to do the job at hand.

3. Be better prepared than you might otherwise have been

With hindsight, the disaster affecting Nepal, makes us sit up and take more notice of the information that is in the public domain. Nepal was an area identified as being at high risk of earthquakes but how many of us take time to look up the most recent travel advice for a country and consider what to do in the event of an incident?

Structured gap year programmes such as those offered by Year Out Group members are led by staff with knowledge and experience of the countries in which they operate and they will also have plans in place to manage an exit or enforced stay in the event of a crisis. Participants will be briefed on these matters and you should ask for details like this from any operator with whom you intend to travel. In addition to checking out the competence of the organisation, gap year seekers should also find out what they can about the geography, climate, social and political environment of the places they might visit and use that knowledge to consider how else they might prepare for their time away. This could include learning a few key words and phrases, gaining first aid knowledge, knowing how to read a map, ensuring vaccinations are up to date and ensuring your rucksack is appropriately packed. These won’t make you invulnerable and you should always be alert to potential hazards when overseas but they could make a positive difference to you or someone else in an emergency.

Finally, whilst you wait to join a programme overseas why not plan your fundraising efforts and gain pre-departure experience by volunteering in the UK?