Come. You hug me.

Kathmandu, Nepal


Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a good one? I’m not even going to bother telling you about mine, mainly because I’m a little bit embarrassed, and partly because my nan reads my blog. Hi nan. Lets just say it was an eventful evening and I ended up in my bed at 11am. I certainly saw the year out with a bang.

So far, the new year has already had its ups and downs, but like I said, always focus on the ups. Which brings me to the ‘100 happy days’ thing thats been doing the rounds lately. I think it’s a fantastic idea. Basically, what you do is take a photo a day of what makes you happy. It’s that simple.

‘We live in times when super-busy schedules have become something to boast about. While the speed of life increases, there is less and less time to enjoy the moment that you are in. The ability to appreciate the moment, the environment and yourself in it, is the base for the bridge towards long term happiness of any human being.

71% of people tried to complete this challenge, but failed quoting lack of time as the main reason. These people simply did not have time to be happy. Do you?

People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:
– Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
– Be in a better mood every day;
– Start receiving more compliments from other people;
– Realise how lucky they are to have the life they have;
– Become more optimistic;
– Fall in love during the challenge.

Even when the challenge is over the collected 100 happy moments can always remind you about the beauty of your life. For that, you can receive a little 100 page book with your 100 happy days at the finish line of the challenge!’

I LOVE THIS IDEA.

Today, I’m on day 4. I’ve decided to explain the meaning behind this photo in the blog because it has several reasons it makes me happy, and I can’t fit it all in on Instagram – it deserves a lengthy explanation. So, what is it? Nepal. The photo is of the time I spent in Nepal.

I was going through a break up and I was taking it much more harder than I would’ve cared to admit, when I saw an advertisement.

VSO ICS is a UK government funded programme that gives anyone aged 18-25 a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend six months volunteering abroad in Preston and Nepal. Working alongside young in-country volunteers, you will contribute directly to genuine development projects.
It’s an opportunity to experience another culture, challenge yourself and develop transferrable skills to bring back with you. The six months volunteering could be part of post-school or college skills development, or a career break.
You don’t need cash, skills or qualifications to take part in VSO ICS – just the ambition to make a difference.

This sounded interesting.. so I applied. I had to go for an interview and do several tasks to prove that I was a suitable candidate. Turns out they agreed and accepted me onto the project. When I found out, I was obviously excited, but also nervous. I had just moved back to England from Ireland, and now I was off again? I’d be living in Nepal with people I’d never met, working with people I’d never met, and communicating in a different language? Ah.. screw it. I had nothing to lose.

So I, along with a number of other British volunteers with the VSO-ICS program, went up to Preston where we met our Nepalese counterparts. I still remember it like it was yesterday. They arrived at Harbon Hall in a coach, bewildered and bushy eyed. We were too excited – we kept trying to talk to them but they remained reserved, with one or two confident enough to try and talk to us.

As the weeks went by, their confidence grew. We got to know to each other. I was partnered up with Jamuna – she would be the girl I would live with for 6 months. I was also partnered up with Gunjana, who would be the girl I would work with for 6 months.

Gunjana and I were placed at Manchester University with the Social Research with Deaf people (SORD) programme in the Nursing, Midwifery and Social work department. SORD is a programme that consists of deaf and hearing researchers who promote the well-being of deaf individuals families and communities through applied social research. During our time there, we helped them out with researches on genetic testing, support network for deaf patients with Alzheimer and Dementia and their families, an old people’s home for the deaf, a BSL bible and a research into the mental health of children who are allocated to schools with insufficient support to match their needs.

For me, I loved the academical ****.. but for Gunjana, it was different. She learned a lot about the researches and how it had an impact on people’s lives. Take the research into the mental health of children, for an example. Sadly, for most people in the deaf community, they will be able to relate to this. When a child is placed into a school with insufficient support to match their needs, it has a detrimental affect on their lives. The government insists on mainstreaming deaf children, with the view that it’ll help their social skills and so on. Bollocks. It’s cheaper, that’s why. I attended a school for the deaf until I was 6. It was decided between my mother, teachers and I that it would be better for my education to attend a mainstream school instead. WE decided on that, not the government. I was placed in a class with 35 hearing children without any support. Looking back now, that was slightly foolish. I should have been offered support, but being the arrogant, proud and cocky so-and-so I was, I was determined to get by without any support. I was bilingual, which helped a lot. Bilingual, not bisexual. That part came later. Anyway, being deaf still does poses huge barriers, regardless of what the government thinks or say. In a civilised society, deaf people shouldn’t have to go through life ‘coping’..

SORD compiled data from four focus groups – one group attended a deaf school, and three groups attended a PHU unit. They were tested in the 1980s, and SORD tried to track them down, and asses their mental health. My dear friend, Dr Katherine Danielle Rogers *titters* was in charge of this. ‘Deaf people and mental well-being: Exploring and measuring mental well-being in British Sign Language’. They published it in the hope that the government would take this into account. You can read her thesis here..

https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/a pi/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man- scw:209223&datastreamId=FULL-TEXT.P DF

ANYWAY.. the whole point of me going slightly off-track (as usual) is that if given the right tools, and the correct support, you are capable of doing anything you put your mind to. This was a perfect example of what the whole project was about; teaching others, gaining transferrable skills and learning life lessons. In my opinion, being placed at SORD was excellent for Gunjana. Katie was the perfect example – a deaf lady (although at times, she doesn’t act like one), a BSL user, with a degree in Psychology, a fellowship, and studying for her Phd. It just goes to show that regardless of how many barriers there may be, you can still overcome them to be whoever you want to be.

(No Katie, I do not want anything from you. I’m bigging you up because you deserve it.)

Whilst we were working at SORD, we also had to perform a play to showcase at the end of the three months in Preston, Nottingham and Manchester with the rest of the volunteers. In addition to that, we also had to do some research for our GCD day, (Global Citizenship Day) where every week, a pair has to choose a subject that affects the world, such as poverty, politics, racism, and so on, and educate the rest of the group. This meant we were together every day, even at weekends. Now.. imagine 18 people, two different languages, in each other’s faces everyday? I’m not going to lie, there were arguments. Some between the British themselves, some between the Nepalese, and between both. But the good
thing is, we always sat down in a circle, talked about why we were upset, and asked for other people’s views. Sometimes this was a good idea, sometimes it wasn’t. But we all communicated, learnt to respect each other’s view even if we didn’t agree with it, and learnt how to compromise. We were literally a family.

When we went to Nepal, it was a HUGE culture shock for the British counterparts. The language, the food, the clothes, the weather and the transport. I had to commute for over an hour to work in a tiny van, with 20 people pointing and staring at my face every day.

Jamuna and I stayed with the Shrestha family. Sachin, Pooja, and their children Poojan and Sanyuka were our hosts. They also happened to live with Sachin’s mother, Sachin’s brother, his wife, younger brother, his wife and two children, and a lady and her two children, and three dogs. Yeah. NO privacy at all. The upside was it was a beautiful building, and they were a lovely family. We only had electricity for four hours a day. This meant at night, instead of watching TV, we would sit around a candel and talk away to our hearts content. I’ll say this, they’re not rich in terms of wealth, but they’re rich in terms of community and love.

I worked for the Blue Diamond Society, which was an LGBT human rights organisation, committed to changing existing laws against homosexuality and to advocate for the rights of Nepal’s gay, transgender and other sexual minority communities. It also provided care, counseling, and services to victims of HIV/AIDS.

I was originally placed at the Nepal Disabled Women Association (NDWA), and was excited about this. It wasn’t until I arrived that I realised how awkward it would be. Blind women. Hi. Deaf British woman, working with hearing and blind Nepalese women? The only thing we could do was say “Namaste.” to each other. There were other women there who weren’t blind, but the language barrier got into the way. We could communicate a bit through gestures and so on, but it wasn’t easy. I was told I could just chill out on the roof. I wanted to do something beneficial, not work on my tan.

Our GCD day came, and Jamuna and I decided to give a presentation on LGBT issues. I got into touch with Orla, an Irish lady and a VSO volunteer who did the accounts for Blue Diamond. I met her our first week in Nepal, when she and other VSO volunteers gave us a pep talk. I asked her if someone could come and talk to the group. She brought along someone who was absolutely inspiring and amazing – Bakhti Shah, now a transgender, who was kicked out of the army for falling in love with a female officer. Both the ladies (at that time) were kicked out of the army, and Bakhti was kept in prison for 60 days and beaten up. You can read their story here, although it doesn’t mention her being beaten up, just ‘feeling weak’.. typical media cover up.

http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu- post/2013/05/24/on-saturday/battlefield -redefined/249127.html

They came and gave a talk, and everyone literally said nothing all day. They listened to what they had to say, they listened to me talking about my best friend, Mischa. They listened to how I spoke about her pain at being so confused, how depressed she was, and how she finally realised that she was born in the wrong body. They listened to how supportive her family and friends were, because we loved her for who she was. They listened to how I spoke about gay marriage being illegal, and were confused when I went up each single person and said..

“Can I have your permission to marry the person I love?”

“Umm.. yes, you can?”

They thought I was being a bit silly for doing this, until I asked them if they thought the fact that gay people have to pretty much ask every single person in their country for permission to allow them to marry the person they love, because gay marriage wasn’t legal, was also silly? That stumped them.

Afterwards, I spoke to Orla and Bakhti and asked them if they had access for deaf people. They said they didn’t, so I asked if we could come and work with them and create accessibility for deaf, blind and illiterate people. They said yes, and we worked there instead.

I loved my time in Preston and Nepal. Partly because of all the skills I learned, but mainly because of the people I met. I loved them all. We all grew as individuals. One girl hated public speaking, in the end she was a narrator for the play, signing to 800 people. One girl was quiet as a mouse, in the end she was a little Rottweiler, prepared to defend her opinions to the end. Some of you may have noticed that I have a piece of string tied around my wrist? I have kept that for four years. It’s actually been 4 years to the day today, that a Nepalese woman gave it to me on top of the Manakamana mountain. I’ve never taken it off, because I valued everything I learnt and everyone I met.

One person in particular.

Rita.

The people involved in the VSO project will all agree with me when I say Rita was an amazing person, possibly one of the most happiest and inspiring people I’ve ever met. She had an AMAZING smile that shone for miles. Her laughter was infectious. Whenever she saw that I was down, she’d come up to me, and say..

“Oi. You sad, why? No. You must smile. You must be happy. Come, you hug me.”

And just like that, regardless of how upset I would be, her smile and hug was a like a huge ray of sunshine. I am NOT exaggerating. Ask anyone who knew her.

Sadly, Rita died 3 months after the project ended. She committed suicide. Still to this day, as soon as I think about her, I start crying. Her death is still, and will always be one of my most painful and upsetting moments. Why she committed suicide, we don’t know. We’ve heard different stories, but none confirmed.

Her death inspired me to get involved with charity work. It is my dream that one day, there will be counselling centres for deaf people all over Nepal, and in other third world countries. I want to have centres where they can come in to talk, preferably to a counsellor who can sign or at least with an interpreter.

It enrages me that there are no support for them. They live in poverty, language and social isolation and have no education. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do this, or even if it’s possible – but I have the ambition and dream. I am going to study, and one day I will work for the VSO and create a better life for those living in third world countries.

I know that I may not speak to them much now, but joining the project was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I still think of everyone fondly.

Sometimes, you just have to take a risk and throw yourself in unexpected situations – you’d be surprised at what you find. I urge you to travel, I urge you to go out and meet new people. I urge you to be selfless.

I like to do good things for other people to make them happy, because it makes me happy. Maybe that’s not so selfless because I benefit from it too? But, I don’t think that’s so bad.

Someone once said to me..

“I distrust people until they earn my trust.”

For me, it’s the opposite – I trust people until they give me reasons not to. I know that it’s risky and I may get hurt. But I’d much rather live a life seeing the good in people rather than be cynical. That’s what Rita taught me.

So, go on.. create memories. Create happy days.

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