Neco Home Independent Report
Personal experience: I spoke to Bishow in person to learn more about the NECO home. The website gave a sufficient amount of information on the basics but did not divulge too much information on all of the children or the volunteer program. Due to Bishow and my travel schedules, we were not able to communicate about NECO until I had arrived in Nepal the month before. I exchanged a few brief emails with Samjhana several weeks prior to my visit and crafted a tentative schedule on the first day of my arrival. Luckily, I was able to cancel my existing homestay reservation without penalty fees.
Suggestion: Provide accommodation suggestions for locations near the NECO home. I had a difficult time figuring out which location would be most convenient and mistakenly thought I would be able to ride a bicycle every day from the homestay.
Personal experience: I was fortunate to be able to spend three “non-school days” with the children. During my week at NECO, there was one school holiday, a strike day, and the annual Parent’s Day event. These extra recreational hours gave me the opportunity to work on the mural project with them. Samjhana, Ramesh, and the staff were extremely supportive of my requests and needs. Within the same day that we agreed upon doing the mural (my third day on site), I was able to host a program with the children to create the design, procure supplies from the paint store in town, and get started on the project. This wouldn’t have been possible without a certain level of autonomy given to volunteers such as myself. I believe the children also benefited from being able to develop a project from conception to completion.
Suggestion: Continue to give volunteers the support and autonomy to create projects quickly. Encourage a larger, ongoing impact project during their tenure at the home while also teaching smaller, 1-hour programs with their skills. For example, during this time my impact project was leading the mural project. My small workshops included creative writing for the younger and senior children, mural design (art), and international travel (geography and inspiration).
Interactions with Staff
My experience: All of my interactions with each staff member was positive. The guards greeted me and the children respectfully. They were attentive to the doorbell chimes and kept the children safe from street traffic as they would depart and return on the school bus. Indira made me feel welcome to enter the kitchen at any time. She took the opportunity to ask questions about my background and taught me Nepali words. The children seem comfortable interacting with Indira. I observed Kalpana helping in various domains including the kitchen, housekeeping, and caregiving. I was not able to observe Maiti interacting with the children as much, and especially with the boys. Ash was immensely helpful in accompanying me to procure paint supplies, my suitcase, and other small requests. He brings delight to many of the children and makes himself available to answer their questions or attend to their needs. Samjhana made herself approachable to any of my questions and suggested suitable times to hold programs for the children. The kids respect and act favorably towards her. Ramesh diligently led the children in a deep-cleaning project in the kitchen during one of their holiday days. He keeps the kids updated with news from home, school, or other activities before their meal time. The kids look to him as an authority and source of information. Samjhana, Ramesh, and Ash get along great, which creates a positive environment for the children and for volunteers. The children truly seem to enjoy their company and see them as family figures.
Suggestions: Several of the staff members including Indira, Kalpana, and Maiti fell ill with a cold. It occurred around the same time, so the senior children stepped in to assist in the kitchen. I found this to be a nice opportunity for the children to gain cooking experience (and they seemed to enjoy it), but I was concerned about the spreading of germs. I suggest a quarantine dormitory area should be available for anyone who is recovering from illness. The staff should also take extra precautions to take vitamins, cough on the side away from others (perhaps wear face masks), and wash their hands frequently. The staff should continue to take rest days during illness to prevent others from being sick. I also suggest having an antibacterial pump be located in the kitchen area, as well as require all children to wash their hands before every meal. While the round the clock security is appreciated, I am not sure it is completely necessary. Goldhunga is quiet; I think the property would also run smoothly with just one guard.
Interactions with the children
My experience: Each child here has a unique personality, story, and need. Under the care of the NECO staff members, they appear healthy and happy. Most of the children are naturally inquisitive and were not shy to approach me with questions. In general, the younger children are given the opportunity to eat and partake in activities first. They do a magnificent job sharing limited supplies with each other, treating elders with respect, and going about their daily activities with a cheerful demeanor. The senior children were initially more reserved, but I was able to get to know most through one-on-one interactions in the kitchen, dormitories, recreational activities, or during the workshop. During the first few days, I sat and ate with the kids during their meal times. This show of solidarity helped open up the opportunity for them to ask me questions in a smaller setting. Later on, I began to serve dal during meal times. This gave me the chance to see every face and give them a greeting. I took intentional effort to spend time with each age group and gender, which helped me get to know the children better. They are a joy to be around!
Suggestions: Encourage each staff member to get to know every child. The senior boys may seem mature, but it is important that they are receiving attention as well. Create opportunities for different small groups to mix together, such as pairing a senior girl with a junior boy (and vice versa) on a recreational project.
My experience: The NECO home is clean, well-kept, and feels friendly. Having pets on the property yields a positive effect, as the children regularly stop to play with the dogs or watch the rooster cause trouble. The plants make the environment seem wholesome, and there are plenty of running water faucets for hygiene. In the dormitories, the children have small areas to keep their belongings. The hot water drinking fountain dispenser is extremely popular.
Suggestions: There are no immediate changes that come to mind (besides having a quarantine sleeping area for ill children), so here are ideas for other improvements for the future. Encourage the children to hang personal effects and decorations in the dorm areas to make it feel more like their own. Enclose the dining area for added warmth (but leave one glass side so the sun can shine in). Work with the children to design more mural walls around the property. Add shoe racks outside of every common room door (unity room, indoor gym, dormitories), add a trash bin for combustibles, compostables, and non-combustibles near the dining area.
I was impressed with the tools available to the children (laptops and projector). Their love for music and dancing has been clearly manifested! I think they would truly enjoy having another updated transportable speaker system (even a small bluetooth) set up in the common area so they can listen to music outside or in different areas. Also, having a mirror in the gym room would help with their dance routines and taekwondo precision. During my time at NECO Home, I felt welcome to participate in any activity. I truly enjoyed spending one on one time with the kids during meals, and even playing games in their dormitories. Please continue to open the volunteer program to other interested participants, and feel free to refer them to me if they want to hear feedback from someone who has experienced it. Finally, I suggest having each volunteer create an article or video of their experience for the NECO website in addition to their independent report. This will help with future marketing and fundraising efforts.
Finally, thank you so much for opening the NECO home to me! I learned a great deal about the power of kindness from these children, and hope that I can continue to support the NECO Home in the future.