By Cam Lucadou-Wells
An Upper Beaconsfield couple took the term ‘working holiday’ to new heights by helping rebuild a school in Nepal.
An exhilarated Taran O’Donovan, who along with his partner Melanie Hill and 16 others in the THISWORLDEXISTS tour group hauled rocks, levelled earth, rendered walls and dug trenches, says he’s keen for more.
“It’s about making a difference,” Mr O’Donovan said.
“It was an awesome experience.”
After hiking to Everest Base Camp in minus-30 degree temperatures, the tour group visited a village Sorung Chhabise to rebuild its school extensively damaged by earthquakes in April 2015.
Students were still using part of the school as the volunteers and villager-builders set to work on a “complete rebuild” for the next six days.
Mr O’Donovan, a student teacher, said it was his passion for education that got him interested in the volunteer project.
“Education is something we take for granted in Western society. We have the opportunity to study whatever we want.
“It’s foreign to them. The school we were building teaches English as well which gives them an advantage to make something of themselves.”
In about two months, the project is expected to be finished. At that stage, the school will have tripled in capacity to about 200 students – and will hopefully attract more children to attend classes.
The classes would be unrecognisable to a Melburnian student – no internet for research, dark rooms with little natural light or ventilation, and small tables and chairs.
Many homes were without power, and remote – about a 10-hour hair-raising drive from Kathmandu.
“If they had the internet, it would open up a massive world of learning. They wouldn’t have to be travelling long distances to be educated.”
The days of hard, back-breaking work at Sorung Chhabise started at 4.30-5am.
There were few tools – just “two shovels and half a wheelbarrow” – to clear a vast number of huge rocks and rubble from the site, Mr O’Donovan said.
One of the party improvised tools from bamboo to help scrape and level surfaces.
It was certainly different to Mr O’Donovan’s other trips through Asia and Europe.
“When you normally think of a holiday, you think of putting your feet up.
“This was a challenge.”
One of the highlights was immersing in the village culture, mixing with appreciative villagers who hadn’t seen foreigners before.
“They were just looking at us with disbelief.”
Another searing memory was looking out the bus down the edge of a narrow mountain pass to a river about one kilometre below.
The THISWORLDEXISTS tourists were a mix of Melburnians and Americans. It was co-ordinated by THISWORLDEXISTS founder Ryan Gray, of Wonthaggi.
The tour business pledges to invest its profits into the visited countries Nepal, Cambodia and Mexico.