Volunteering in Nepal
Home to the Himalayas and 29 million people, Nepal is well-known for its spectacular mountainous scenery.
Nepal is famous for the Himalayas and is home to the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. There are also plains in Nepal, known as the Terai, which are in the country's south.
The majority of Nepalese identify as Hindu, with Hindu rituals incorporated into everyday life. Buddhism also has a strong tradition in Nepal, and the country is recognised in Buddhist tradition as the birthplace of Buddha. For many Hindus, Buddhism is not considered a separate religion and many practice a combination of both religions.
Nepal experienced a ten-year period of civil conflict from 1996 to 2006. In 2008, Nepal became a secular republic. A new constitution was enacted in 2015.
The constitution stipulates federal, provincial, and local level governance structures and provides wide-ranging power and responsibilities to locally-elected government bodies. Local governments are responsible for the planning and implementation of local development programs and the delivery of services.
Nepal's infrastructure is vulnerable and the country has suffered frequent natural disasters. In 2015 two devastating earthquakes struck and caused major setbacks in the progress of development, with the death of more than 8,000 people and widespread destruction of infrastructure, heritage sites, and agricultural land. Nepal is continuing to recover from these earthquakes and economic growth is expected to rebound.
Australia has a long history of supporting human and economic development in Nepal, and Australian volunteers have been supporting development in Nepal since 1974.
The Australian Volunteers Program has a strong focus on supporting government agencies to enhance organisational capacity to deliver quality programs.
In recent years, Australian volunteers have supported local government bodies, government universities/hospitals and other government agencies. With special permission, volunteers have also supported disabled persons' organisations.
Volunteering opportunities in Nepal support communities across a range of development priorities, including:
- Reviving the livelihood opportunities for vulnerable groups, such as returned migrant workers, displaced temporary-wage earners, and micro-entrepreneurs.
- Resuming delivery of primary and secondary education, including education for people with disabilities.
- Improving access to health and social service COVID-19 response activities for disadvantaged communities.
- Deepening integration of gender equality, disability-inclusiveness and social inclusion (GEDISI).
This potato salad is one of our Nepal team's favourites, often eaten for lunch in Nepal alongside smaller meals, such as momos (dumplings), bara (lentil flour pancakes), or fried noodles.
Download the recipe for Aaloo Sadheko
Life as a volunteer in Nepal
Culture and religion
Family is important to the people of Nepal and may well be prioritised over other things, including work. You may notice colleagues taking leave from work to tend to their sick parents or for familial visits.
Elders are treated with great respect and children are responsible for their parents’ well-being as they enter old age, including the provision of financial support. Many children live with their parents until they marry and even after, and volunteers may sometimes encounter large extended families living under one roof.
Nepal adopted its caste system from India and, while discrimination based on caste has been illegal since the 1960s, it is still practiced in Nepal particularly in rural areas.
Forming around a third of the population, Brahmins, Chettris (including Thakuries) have dominated Nepal for centuries, holding control over much of the country's wealth and power. Brahmins continue to occupy many civil service positions and have influence in a number of workplaces, such as in political parties, media/journalism and non-government organisations, and as teachers, doctors and engineers.
Teachers and elders are held in high regard in Nepal, with elders and people in authority respected and their wishes obeyed. This well-established system of cultural hierarchy operates in the workplace as well as people’s private and social lives and is not always immediately obvious to newcomers to Nepal.
Nepali people are very friendly and courteous and will go out of their way to engage in conversation. Nepali people have a strong sense of humour. They are able to laugh at themselves and have a rich history and culture of cartoons, comic actors and stand-up comedians.
They frequently engage in political discussions and this is reflected in the media, which is able to be openly critical of the government and political leaders. While they consider themselves Hindu, they are open to other religions.
Office culture in Nepal tends to be relaxed, and time management may not meet Western expectations. Nepali workers are often eager to learn new things, which can take time as they process new approaches and ways of accomplishing tasks.
Due to the cultural hierarchy of Nepal, as discussed above, it is unusual for an employee to speak against a superior and they may need to be encouraged to offer their personal opinions and contributions. Employees may agree with a comment because it was provided by a person of authority. They may also not indicate when they are unsure of what is expected because they do not want to be seen as unsure or contradictory.
Gender and relationships
Generally, it is not culturally appropriate to be openly flirtatious with a member of the opposite sex or to live together outside of marriage. Being seen in public with a member of the opposite sex will attract attention from the community.
Relationships and sex are not commonly discussed within families, and parents and teachers do not talk to children about relationships.
The Supreme Court of Nepal has ruled that same sex marriage is legal in Nepal. However, the government has not passed laws to this effect. Open displays of homosexuality are uncommon, which may be due to a perceived negative impact on reputation.
As with other parts of the world, gender equality has not been fully achieved in Nepal. While it is required by law that one third of members of parliament are women and women have held significant positions in the Government of Nepal, it is still less likely for women to hold senior government roles.
Modest clothing is preferred throughout Nepal, and required in religious places such as pagodas, temples, and monasteries. Footwear is almost always removed when entering any building and must be removed to enter all consecrated buildings.
While men in Nepal traditionally wore the Nepali dress with a hat called the 'topi' and women wore saris, these dresses are becoming rarer and it is becoming more common for men and women to wear trousers.
It is also important to dress for the climate. Cotton clothing is recommended for hot and humid regions, waterproof footwear is recommended for wet weather, and warm clothing for colder regions. Central heating is not common in Nepal and streets can have poor drainage. While it is easy to purchase clothing in Nepal, styles and sizes are limited.
English is not widely spoken in Nepal and learning a local language can be very important for volunteers.
The common greeting in Nepal is to say namaste and place your palms together in front of your face. Some Nepali people may shake hands with foreigners, but this is not widespread.
The Nepali language is spoken with four levels of respect. The most formal and polite form of Nepali is used in offices and to address strangers and seniors. The lower level of respect is shown to people who are close and friends, and the lowest level is used to address servants and younger family members. It is best for volunteers to use the most polite form of language at all times.
Speaking loudly and direct confrontations are not usually well-received in Nepal. Conversations should be approached quietly and calmly.
Many areas of Nepal are lacking in technical and physical resources but are rich in human resources, with young Nepali people often highly competent in contemporary software and hardware systems.
Internet is available in major cities, however, it can be slow and unreliable. Power cuts are not as common as they were a few years ago.
Due to its diverse topography, different parts of Nepal have different climatic conditions. The northern part of Nepal tends to be cold, while the southern parts tend to be warmer during summer. During winter, all parts of the country are cold, with the hills much colder than the plains.
Evenings and nights in many parts of northern and western Nepal can be cool and at times freezing.
Dal bhat is the most commonly eaten dish in Nepal, which consists of rice, lentils, and pickle, with seasonal vegetables. It may be served with meat (chicken, mutton or buffalo).
Fresh vegetables are readily available, while supermarkets are found only in big cities.
It can be difficult to cater to food intolerances as it may be challenging to find specialty foods.
Housing in Nepal varies depending on the location and the type of accommodation. It may include limited bathroom and toilet facilities, basic kitchen and cooking facilities, a lack of appliances such as washing machines, dryers, heaters, dishwashing machines, air conditioners, electrical cookers etc, and limited or intermittent access to electricity.
Levels of privacy and noise can also differ from experiences in other countries.
Due to Nepal's geography, road transportation is hazardous and subject to seasonal conditions.
Volunteers will receive location-specific guidance on requirements for using local transport.
While Nepal is prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, it is generally considered a safe place for travel and for foreigners.
Australian volunteers are provided guidance on how to mitigate risks associated with accommodation and transport.
We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities.
To support this, access and inclusion plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Nepal, please do some further research on living in Nepal and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.