Vanessa Budah

Can you imagine growing up without access to a school? Sadly, that’s a reality for millions of children worldwide. The Travel Corporation’ Vanessa B set out to change that reality for one group of kids in Nepal, but the experience ended up changing her more than she expected.

From Paris to Nepal – it may seem like a far cry to connect the dots for a U by Uniworld boutique river cruise, to the absolute basics of a mattress, sleeping in a tent in a rural village few hours north of Kathmandu. But as Petra Nemcova, the supermodel philanthropist and co-founder of All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response describes the correlation, “Living youthfully, fully and connecting with others in a meaningful way, which is also the essence of U by Uniworld – we have so much in common,” you can’t argue with that.

So when I found out the Nibugaun School in Nepal, built by U by Uniworld and TTC’s foundation TreadRight was re-opening in March, it was an easy decision to offer myself up as a volunteer – to be a humanitarian, something I’ve always wanted to pursue since I was a teenager, giving back to those less fortunate etc etc. But after spending quality time with the locals and fellow volunteers, what becomes apparent – in spirit, these communities are no less fortunate than you or I – they just know how to make the most out of what little they have – a truly inspiring quality that would honestly make the world a better place if everyone took a leaf out of their way of living.

After the 2015 earthquake which left the school unsafe due to a devastating magnitude of over 7.3, thanks to the relief efforts over 11 weeks – two buildings were retrofitted, providing four disaster resilient classrooms, four toilets, installed water filtration and a playground.

U by Uniworld Nepal

Over 50 nationalities from all walks of life coming together for the same purpose, to build a better future and make a positive impact… it’s a beautiful thing. Few had building experience, the rest, like myself had zero construction skills yet all contributed equally each day. From students to retirees and young professionals, ‘basecamp’ became a home to many as we gathered around the campfire each night, swapping stories whilst eating our rice and lentil based meal. The non-profit has been working in 13 countries around the world and has helped rebuild over 200 schools, assisting over 100,000 students in getting back to school – to be a part of all that, just wow.

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Depending on what part of the construction site you stood on, the music switched between rock, pop and Nepali tunes. Ducks, goats, chickens and the occasional ‘holy’ cow roamed the site with children either playing or curiously looking on – Nepal, a sensory overload, a kaleidoscope of colour as Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags hang from the roofs combined with the natural beauty of Mount Everest as a backdrop, and the scent of incense burning wafts onto the dirt pathways hitting you in the most calming way.

 

Day in the life of a volunteer, my point of view shot on GoPro…

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After work, we taught English to the local masons

To be a volunteer is something I strongly encourage everyone to do at least once in their lifetime. All these rural communities have is their home and school, so when disaster strikes, they’re left with nothing and an entire generation missed out on an education. To play a role in ensuring their happiness with these basic comforts is priceless – not to mention the joy that is felt by some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

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After hours of serious labour and not showering for a few days – pouring warm water from a bucket in a tin shed over myself, felt like the equivalent to a day spa, heaven. And if I stepped on my tippy toes on the bamboo slats (*tall people had no issue here), I had the perfect view of the Himalayas. Hashtag blessed.

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Onto the school opening….

The fire lit was to mark new beginnings as we celebrated opening the new school – built by @UbyUniworld #TreadRight #TTC .. and the song was written and sung especially for us by the students!! Truly humbled to represent U for such an awe-inspiring day spent with @allhandsandhearts #SmartResponse, its incredible co-founder @pnemcova, and all the feels to my new friends around the world. #GoProTravel

A makeshift dance party took place after the formalities and everyone from four years old through to their seventies danced until dusk. Petra and I had a moment reminiscing of the silent disco on U in Paris, to now dancing on a blue tarp and having equally as much fun covered in dust, throwing out shapes to Nepali music and, Despacito by Luis Fonsi – the universal anthem of good times.

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A smile will always break the language barrier, and apparently, so does a “selfie”. Yes, even in a third world country, kids know the meaning of selfie… (!!)

All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response, operates disaster programs in countries all around the world from the Virgin Islands to Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Peru – all this will cost you is your flight, everything else is priceless. Namaste.

Click here for more information on All Hands & Hearts, and click here for more information on U by Uniworld.

READ: U by Uniworld helps Nepal’s recovery by building a new school

READ: Making a beautiful difference as U by Uniworld’s Guardian Angel

Has voluntourism changed you? Share your experience with us below.