Reflections on Returning to Oda - Aaron Charney, 2017-2018 Education Fellow
My name is Aaron Charney, and last year I worked with Oda Foundation as one of the education fellows. I came to Nepal in early August of 2017 and was in Oda through April of this year. For the 8 months I was in Oda, my responsibilities included working as a teacher in both our tuition classroom, and working with the government school.
Since leaving Oda in late April, I spent 6 months backpacking through other parts of Asia before returning to Nepal a few weeks ago. I am spending two and a half weeks in Oda before heading home to Colorado for the first time in nearly a year and a half, and I couldn’t be happier about ending my trip here.
After being away from Oda for a few months and having the opportunity to return, I have been able to step back from my time as a fellow, and appreciate Oda, with some new perspective, and fall in love with this place and these people all over again.
Immediately upon arriving back in Oda, I was welcomed back into the community with total warmness and open arms. I knew that this is how the community welcomed guests, but as our founder came down from Oda in the dark to ensure I made the hike safely, and as our Aunties (amazing women who work as cooks for the foundation) had tikka (red powder put on your forehead ceremonially), and dinner ready, I instantly remembered why I felt at home here.
In traveling through Asia, I found that most people were amazingly hospitable and welcoming, especially in the more rural areas I visited. I am obviously biased because of the amount of time I spent in Oda, but even after visiting and experiencing rural cultures by doing homestays in rural villages from the mountains of Vietnam to the jungles of Borneo, the kindheartedness of the people in Oda stands out immensely. And you can see it in the smiles of the kids and grandparents alike as you walk through the village.
One of the most special parts of my return visit to Oda is that I am lucky enough to have met my mom in Kathmandu, and brought her all the way out to the village. I think one of the really tough things about having spent time in Oda, is that it is so different that it can be really hard to put into words what it is to be here, and pictures just don’t do the beauty of these mountains justice. With that, I am beyond excited knowing that I can truly share what Oda is with my mom, and have someone who more truly understands my experiences. I am also just beyond happy for her to have the opportunity to see the terraces and meet the people that make this small village in the middle of nowhere such a special place to me.
After traveling for 6 months, and constantly being thrown into new places and cultures, on returning to Oda I was misguided in understanding how unfamiliar of a place it is for people who haven’t been here. Thus, I was walking with my mom in the dark through mountains and villages that I consider a second home, but are for her one of the most different places possible.
When we woke up the first morning and she saw the view from the medical; when I took her on her first walk around the village, and she got her first glimpse of what life is like here, and truly how many kids there are everywhere; and when we had our first lunch at Karan’s (the Nepali founder of the organization) house, and she saw 4 generations of a family eating together, getting her first glimpse of what family and community means here, her reactions were a testament to truly how unique and amazing Oda is. For the past few weeks, I have been able to take a step back, more than I did as a fellow, to really think about how lucky I am to have not only seen, but truly experienced and been a part of such a special place. Although these few weeks are vastly different experiences for my mom and me, I couldn’t be happier to be able to share it with her.
On our first village walk, I had the familiar experience of hearing my name yelled across the hills and valley as little kids, some of which I worked with a lot last year and some of which I had never seen before, ran up to us to say hi. I had staff members of the organization come up to hug and welcome me with huge smiles on their face, and was told by people how excited kids were that I was back. From all this, I got the sense that I had left an impact or some sort of impression here, and no matter what that might be or have been, that was a major goal for my time in Oda. Seeing that in some way I had achieved that gave me the renewed understanding that being in Oda was one of the best and most important experiences I have had.
Aside from the personal reflections of my time in Oda, returning after even just a short 6 months has given me the chance to see change. There are changes in the community, with new kids filling the nursery classes becoming the next generation of students, and many of the kids I taught have moved or are soon moving out of Oda for the first time to receive education elsewhere. New houses are being built around the village, and a new road that is still far away, is slowly but surely working its way towards coming directly into Oda.
There are also immense changes going on within the foundation itself. Since I left, we have hired; 3 new teachers dedicated to our early childhood development program; a new program manager overseeing many projects; a full time doctor and an additional HA (Health Assistant), and 2 midwifes, greatly enhancing the capabilities of the on the ground medical team.
There are now 2 classrooms on the foundations ground instead of just the 1 I worked in; our staff has outgrown current living spaces so a new housing structure is being built; the clinic has been reorganized to make room for a brand new birthing center; and many more future plans are in the making.
Although many of these changes have given being in Oda a different feel than I was used to last year, with so many more people around and so much going on, seeing how much progress has been made in just 6 months has reminded how amazing the work that is being done is.
Getting to know the new staff, including 2 new fellows who are doing an amazing job, has reassured me that the foundation will continue to grow to help even more people, and has reminded me how lucky I am to be part of such a special thing.
As I will be back in America in just over two weeks for the first time in 16 months, I am preparing myself for how different it is going to be. I am expecting the culture shock of going home to be even harder than it was when coming to Nepal, and I am expecting to deeply miss the beauty of the place, people, and work being done in Oda. But having this opportunity to come back to Oda and see the people of the community and the organization again has given me confidence that going home does not mean that I will no longer be involved or connected with what is going on here. And although when I leave this time I don’t have a date for when I will be back, I feel even more confident that this will not be the last time I get to sit in and be surrounded by the beauty that is Oda.