All Hands Volunteers: my great experience in Nepal

This post is about how I ended up with All Hands Volunteers and my experience as a volunteer in Nepal with the All Hands and heart earthquake disaster relief program.

I have a long history with Nepal.  My first visit was in 2006 as a volunteer teaching english at a primary school to which I returned the year after. Then in 2008 I finished my master thesis about multiculturalism in Nepal and finally I worked for two years in the far Western part of Nepal as a human rights defender with Peace Brigades International.

The Nepal Earthquake in 2015

I will never forget that first message from a friend in Nepal about the earthquake in April 2015. As smaller earthquakes frequently happened such messages were not uncommon, but soon I received more messages.

When I was still working in Nepal we got earthquake trainings every once in a while. Everyone knew Kathmandu was expecting a big earthquake in the near future and that the consequences would be devastating.

The country where I spent so much time and where I have so many beautiful memories was now suffering. Meanwhile I was far away in my home and there was nothing I could do. It took me days to find out that everyone I knew was safe.

Kathmandu after the earthquake
Kathmandu after the earthquake

All Hands volunteers in Nepal

It had been 5 years since my last visit to Nepal. When an organisation asked me to help their local partner organizations with advice, I immediately booked my ticket. Hopefully I could inspire and motivate the organizations with sharing my experiences in Haiti where I worked after the earthquake. But I wanted to do more.

I liked the direct and simple approach of an organisation called All Hands Volunteers. They offer practical help such as clearing rubble and building temporary learning centers. Disaster relief is not an easy job. In the midst of chaos, when the first survival needs are barely met, it is difficult to know what is needed.

What is the best way to help without causing harm or dependency in the long term? I am normally quite skeptical about unskilled volunteers going to a disaster zone, but All Hands Volunteers somehow found a concept to put them to good use.

All Hands volunteers clearing rubble
Clearing rubble with All Hands volunteers

The All Hands Volunteers approach

It was just two months after the first earthquake and rubble was still everywhere. While most Nepali’s were quite active in cleaning up and rebuilding their homes, for some this was a more difficult task.

Elderly people, widowed women and single mothers had less support and were therefore the primary focus of All Hands volunteers who would sent a team to help clear the rubble. All Hands volunteers was also helping damaged schools to build temporary learning centers from bamboo.

All Hands Volunteers at work
All Hands Volunteers at work

My experience with All Hands Volunteers

It was physical hard work, but my month with All Hands volunteers in Nepal was a wonderful experience. Every morning we would leave with a team of well spirited volunteers and a bus full of tools to help families clearing the rubble from what was once their home. Sometimes we managed to salvage valuable items from under the rubble such as pictures or kitchen ware.

It was good to be of use in a more practical way and see quick results. All Hands volunteers was making an impact and I felt happy that, even if it was only for a month, I was part of that. They gave me a chance to do something back for the country that I consider to be my second home.

Temporary Learning centre build by All Hands Volunteers
Temporary Learning centre build by All Hands Volunteers

Ethics of Voluntourism

Volunteering abroad or voluntourism has received a lot of attention recently. You might think volunteering abroad to help people is always a good thing, but this is not necessarily the case. There are a lot of projects out there that actually do more harm than good. 

In this article about the negative impacts of voluntourism you can read more about how your intention to help can actually have the opposite effect. However, this doesn’t mean volunteering is always bad either. There are many different ways volunteering can have a positive impact on communities. 

It does mean that you need to do your homework and think carefully before selecting a project that you want to invest your time and money in. In this article you will find 10 things to consider before booking your volunteering trip

My experiences with All Hands Volunteers in Nepal was quite positive, but there is always the risk in building projects that volunteers are taking away local employment opportunities. It is good to take this into account and also whether you are a good match. Its hard physical work and you live and work in a big team of, mostly younger, volunteers. 

All Hands Volunteers at work
All Hands Volunteers at work

Practicalities All Hands Volunteers in Nepal

All Hands Volunteers is now All Hands and Hearts smart response. Different name, but the same approach that helps thousands of survivors in the aftermath of a disaster.

Whenever disaster strikes, All Hands volunteers sends a team to explore what is needed and whether volunteers can make a positive impact. So far they have had projects in Haiti, the Philippinnes, Bangladesh, the USA, Puerto Rico, Dominica, Mexico and Nepal.

How to volunteer ?

Volunteering with All Hands and Hearts was a great experience. They are still looking for volunteers in the Sindhuli district where they are rebuilding schools as part of their Nepal earthquake recovery project.

They have become quite popular so they might not always have place for volunteers. You can apply online here with your information and expected timeframe you are willing to go. They will respond as soon as possible.

How much does it cost ?

Volunteering with All Hands and Hearts is free of charge. There are no application or registration fees or whatsoever. They even provide free accomodation and food.

However, you do have to pay for your own travel costs to get to the project. The costs for a ticket to Kathmandu in Nepal will probably be your biggest cost. Transportation in Nepal itself is very cheap.

You also need to pay for your food in the days you are off and for any other personal expenses. Again, food in Nepal is not expensive.

You might want to set some money and time aside to do some sightseeing in Nepal or go on a trekking into the Himalayas after your volunteer experience. Nepal is a beautiful country with plenty of things to do.  

What to expect as a volunteer?

There are no skills needed, but be prepared to do hard physical work. The kind of work depends a lot on the project you are working on. 

When I was there it was either clearing rubble from homes or building temporary learning centers. Every team had a manager that looked at everyone’s skills and divided the work accordingly. One day I was shoveling rubble all day while the other one I was measuring the distances for the foundations of a temporary learning centre. It helps if you are flexible and open to learn new skills.

The accomodation is simple and on a shared basis. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are simple, but filling. Often breakfast is western inspired, but lunch and dinner is the local Nepali cuisine.    

More information is on the FAQ page of All Hands and Hearts. 

Last updated: January 2020

4 thoughts on “All Hands Volunteers: my great experience in Nepal”

  • Well done you. I think it is fantastic that you returned to a place you had a connection with to help out at a time of crisis.

  • I can still remember where I was when I heard the news also. There are certain mommets in time, certain significant events that stay with you like that and this was one of them. Goon on you for doing what you could to help and three weeks is not nothing! Rebuilding takes so much time and I am sure they were happy for any help they could get.

  • I visited before the earthquake and took thousands of pictures, nowadays a lot of what I photographed sadly doesn’t exist or is badly damaged. It’s great that people like you have it in their hearts to donate time and effort into rebuilding.

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