As a Year 10 student, Alexandra Hawthorne of O’Connor Catholic College ventured over to Nepal. In this interview she explains how her trip has deepened her appreciation for the Australian education system and the love of her family.
How did you first become interested in the children of Nepal?
I first heard of Forgetmenot Children’s Home in Nepal through a family friend who was involved with the organisation. She had visited the girls’ home in Nepal with her husband and inspired me to get involved and visit myself.
When did you go to Nepal, and how did you organise this trip?
I went to Nepal last April (2011). The Forgetmenot organisation runs 2 visitor/volunteer trips to the girls’ home in Nepal each year, and I signed up to join in with the April trip. When I first heard about the orphanage in Nepal, I immediately wanted to visit if I could. As a requirement to visit the home, each trip participant was asked to fundraise to make a donation to the organisation of $2,000. To me, this seemed impossible at first; however, I was determined to reach that goal and after holding a few small fundraising activities through my school, selling hundreds of chocolates and receiving many generous donations from the O’Connor and Armidale communities, I raised nearly $3,000 to donate to Forgetmenot.
What is the lifestyle like over there?
Getting used to the different lifestyle that the Nepalese people live was one of the biggest culture shocks I experienced on my trip. Kathmandu, where I spent most of my time in Nepal, was unlike any other place I had ever visited. It was loud and busy all the time, and society seemed to lack any concept of road rules. Waste is a major issue in Nepal, and the streets and water systems were very dirty compared to what we are used to in Australia. The lifestyle is also more influenced by religion, women dress much more conservatively, and I was woken very early most mornings by the ‘Call To Prayer’, which would echo through the streets.
Tell us about the orphanage you worked in?
Forgetmenot Children’s Home is one of two orphanages run by Forgetmenot from Hervey Bay Queensland. Lars Olsen founded the organisation after he volunteered in Nepal for 5 months and fell in love with the many orphaned children, who were full of happiness. After much fundraising and research, the home in Nepal was opened in 2006 and is now home to 21 girls ranging in age from 6 to 17. Forgetmenot also has another children’s home in Uganda, which houses both boys and girls. In Nepal, the girls’ home is in Kathmandu across the road from the school that the girls go to. Arriving at the home and seeing the girls waiting on the balcony for us to arrive was a truly moving experience; I have never been greeted with such love by complete strangers, as I was by these beautiful girls. Not once in my time visiting them did I see any of them exchange harsh words; they shared all of their belongings happily with each other and greeted each one of us with hugs and kisses when we arrived each day. The love that they showed to each other and to all of the volunteers amazed me.
What did you gain from this experience?
It’s difficult to know where to start. I gained a huge appreciation of how lucky I am to have education, a clean and safe place to live, and most importantly, a family. One thing which I will never forget about the girls in Nepal is how incredibly happy they all were and how appreciative they were of what possessions they did have, despite the struggles many of them had faced in early childhood. I realised, through seeing their happiness, how much we take for granted everything we have – especially in Australia – and how materialistic our society can be. Many people donate to charities and generously support organisations throughout the world; however, having the chance to meet and spend two weeks with the girls who would benefit from my fundraising was a really unique experience – and one I will never forget. As well as becoming close with the girls in the orphanage, I also made some close friends within the group who travelled to Nepal from around Australia.
How can others contribute to these people?
There are many ways in which people can contribute to Forgetmenot. You can make donations to the organisation through their website: www.forgetmenot.org.au. On this website you can also sponsor children in the orphanage in Nepal or Uganda, or even become involved in a volunteer trip yourself.
Plans for the future?
When I have completed my HSC, I would really like to return to Nepal, either as part of another visitors’ trip or for a longer time to see the girls and help out at the home. Although I was only there for a few weeks in April, I formed a strong bond with the girls and think about them often now that I am back in Australia. Once you have met people as amazing as them, it’s impossible to put them behind you.