Spiny Babbler

Volunteers' Voice

Sudeep Prajapati

Spiny Babbler has been a great for me to learn so much that I did not gain in my school life regarding the arts and culture of Nepal, particularly as they relate to the country's past. Learning about these aspects of Nepal has enabled me to put my life and surroundings in a clearer perspective.

My research on the traditional arts of Nepal has been the greatest of my achievements here. It helped me learn the basic elements that compose our society, culture, arts, and the deities in Hindu and Buddhist religions. I had the opportunity to interview representatives of different arts organizations and politicians discussing their views and actions within the present scenario of the traditional arts of Nepal. After my research I started noticing the Nepalese traditional arts in a different way as an amateur scholar and a person who will be responsible for their preservation in the future, recognizing their importance. I can now name the different types of windows in a traditional Newari house, different postures in which deities were depicted to signify their character, and the sequence in which the arts developed over the history of Nepal.

Besides research, I was also drawn in conducting community arts festivals and development programs at Thaiba and Sankhu. These two programs developed my association on social levels, working with local organizations, teachers and students. The children who took part in these arts festivals helped me understand how the arts can enhance the learning ability of a student as he or she grows up. The idea behind volunteering at Spiny Babbler is to learn about the country's arts and culture as well as how to educate others and then apply that knowledge in society.


Andrew Garnett

Upon my arrival in Nepal, I was fairly ignorant as to the things that I would find here. I knew of Mt. Everest, the jungles, the poverty, and the more recent political problems that the country has been facing. I do not think that I was aware of the commitment that I would be making when I came here nor what that commitment would encompass. I now feel obligated to my work and to helping those who are less privileged. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I have fallen in love with the country and the determination of the people within it. Having been here for a month and a half now, I have absorbed so much that I have not yet been able to reflect upon it. The present political instability was initially a major concern of mine for fear that I may be in danger. The Kathmandu Valley remains relatively secure and I, along with others around me, do not feel in danger although the potential is real. It is important for people to remind themselves of the danger so that they do not lose sight of it. This is frequently inapplicable to the masses as most Nepalese lives depend on agriculture and are living hand to mouth. The serious problem lies in villages and towns that are isolated from the capital. It is frequently difficult to gain access to these regions to provide aid to the people and suppress rebel forces due to difficult terrain in either thick jungle or over tricky mountain sides and passes.

Many of the people are poor and uneducated, but warm and open. Places that I have visited to conduct community programs often lack essential social structure within which I had the privilege to learn in my home country what I refer to as "common knowledge." Malnutrition as well as unsuitable sanitary conditions are prevalent in many places resulting in disease and depression among the people. The ability to deal with these realities is something that should be realized in order to properly work in the conditions.

 There is a great need across Nepal to educate people at the fundamental level so that they can begin to develop upon them. The government often fails to meet these education requirements as it cannot afford the programs needed to reach people. Many of the problems that the people face have developed over generations and have become embedded into their way of life and are not even recognized as things working against them. The citizens of Nepal are not primitive but merely require someone there to make them aware of and understand the problems around them and how they can go about fixing them.

This is one of the goals of Spiny Babbler's program section that uses the arts to work with people at risk, communities and educational institutions. I have also been conducting research on almost every aspect of the traditional arts of Nepal for that specific section and have been interviewing various artists, politicians, and non-government organizations. One area of Nepal's artistic field that requires greater attention and interest is the contemporary arts. I have been fortunate to start exploring this area by meeting local artists and I am excited for future ventures to explore it further. I strongly recommend one to explore the Spiny Babbler website to fully understand what the objectives of Spiny Babbler are and the programs it is conducting.

I have been living at a local school in Kathmandu where I have had the good fortune to interact with its teachers and students on an everyday basis. I pay one hundred United States dollars a month to live and eat there; however, it is possible to live for less depending on where and how you would like to live. Visas are issued for a two-month period on arrival for thirty United States dollars and extensions for one month periods cost thirty United States dollars each. The neighborhood in which I live is close to Spiny Babbler's office, located in a safe and clean area of the Kathmandu Valley. Many things are different here; some I do not agree with. However, it is necessary for me to recognize that this is life in Nepal and that its problems, if in fact they are and I am not just applying preconceptions, will take time and effort to solve.


Tineke Moerman

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to go to Nepal. The diversity of the country interested me, and it still does. With the Himalayan Mountains in the north, the hills and the valleys in the center and the tropical plains in the south, Nepal is quite amazing. Different kind of ethnical groups are living together and sharing their religions.

When I finished my Bachelor study in Cultural and Social Development, I got the opportunity to work as an educator for 15 months in an ethnological museum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In the museum I developed educational programs for primary students. I also taught primary school classes that visited the museum.

When I finished my work at the museum in October 2003, my plans to go to Nepal still remained. I wanted to do some kind of volunteer work, because that seemed a good way to get to know the culture better. Because this was the first time for me to travel to a country that is so different than my own country, I felt that I wanted a base from which I could get used to Nepal. And of course I wanted to do volunteer work to develop myself and to do something useful, instead of only traveling (which is going to make me too lazy).

At first I wanted to teach children in a school until I heard about Spiny Babbler. I decided to do volunteer work for Spiny Babbler because I like the combination of teaching children and working with (visual) arts. Spiny Babbler gave me the opportunity to develop art lessons for the art syllabus which is going to be used for the children of the People at Risk Programs. In the future the art syllabus will also be implemented in schools.

In the beginning it was sometimes hard for me, because there were no books on art history and I had to find all the information on the internet. That took a lot of time. I also had to get used to the organization and their way of working. After a while I got used to this and I really enjoyed developing the art lessons. It was a challenge, because education in Nepal is different than the education in the Netherlands. A lot of people don’t know much about art. Especially western art movements are difficult to understand, because it is so different from what children are familiar with. Nepali young volunteers are teaching the children, so the lessons have to be understandable for them as well.

It has been really good to work for Spiny Babbler. It is amazing what they can do with a small staff and without having lots of money. I am still surprised by the amount of projects that they set up and run. For me Spiny Babbler is important because it is one of the few organizations in Nepal that combines different disciplines of art with people at risk and schools. Spiny Babbler tries to make people express themselves through arts as well as teach them about arts.

I’ve been traveling and volunteering in Nepal for 6 months now. Next week my visa is running out and I have to leave the country. I feel like I could stay here at least another half year and work for Spiny Babbler and enjoy Nepal and the Nepali people. I’ve had a really good time; I lived with a Nepali family, did a trek around the Annapurna, saw a tiger and leopard in Chitwan ate wonderful food and cycled to small villages in the Valley. Upon my arrival in Nepal, I was fairly ignorant as to the things that I would find here.

I knew of Mt. Everest, the jungles, the poverty, and the more recent political problems that the country has been facing. I do not think that I was aware of the commitment that I would be making when I came here nor what that commitment would encompass. I now feel obligated to my work and to helping those who are less privileged. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I have fallen in love with the country and the determination of the people within it. Having been here for a month and a half now, I have absorbed so much that I have not yet been able to reflect upon it. The present political instability was initially a major concern of mine for fear that I may be in danger.

The Kathmandu Valley remains relatively secure and I, along with others around me, do not feel in danger although the potential is real. It is important for people to remind themselves of the danger so that they do not lose sight of it. This is frequently inapplicable to the masses as most Nepalese lives depend on agriculture and are living hand to mouth. The serious problem lies in villages and towns that are isolated from the capital. It is frequently difficult to gain access to these regions to provide aid to the people and suppress rebel forces due to difficult terrain in either thick jungle or over tricky mountain sides and passes.

Many of the people are poor and uneducated, but warm and open. Places that I have visited to conduct community programs often lack essential social structure within which I had the privilege to learn in my home country what I refer to as "common knowledge." Malnutrition as well as unsuitable sanitary conditions are prevalent in many places resulting in disease and depression among the people. The ability to deal with these realities is something that should be realized in order to properly work in the conditions. There is a great need across Nepal to educate people at the fundamental level so that they can begin to develop upon them.

The government often fails to meet these education requirements as it cannot afford the programs needed to reach people. Many of the problems that the people face have developed over generations and have become embedded into their way of life and are not even recognized as things working against them. The citizens of Nepal are not primitive but merely require someone there to make them aware of and understand the problems around them and how they can go about fixing them. This is one of the goals of Spiny Babbler's program section that uses the arts to work with people at risk, communities and educational institutions.

I have also been conducting research on almost every aspect of the traditional arts of Nepal for that specific section and have been interviewing various artists, politicians, and non-government organizations. One area of Nepal's artistic field that requires greater attention and interest is the contemporary arts. I have been fortunate to start exploring this area by meeting local artists and I am excited for future ventures to explore it further. I strongly recommend one to explore the Spiny Babbler website to fully understand what the objectives of Spiny Babbler are and the programs it is conducting.

I have been living at a local school in Kathmandu where I have had the good fortune to interact with its teachers and students on an everyday basis. I pay one hundred United States dollars a month to live and eat there; however, it is possible to live for less depending on where and how you would like to live. Visas are issued for a two-month period on arrival for thirty United States dollars and extensions for one month periods cost thirty United States dollars each. The neighborhood in which I live is close to Spiny Babbler's office, located in a safe and clean area of the Kathmandu Valley. Many things are different here; some I do not agree with. However, it is necessary for me to recognize that this is life in Nepal and that its problems, if in fact they are and I am not just applying preconceptions, will take time and effort to solve.


Bas Stoffelsen

Volunteering and setting off to a third world country for six months may look normal and simple for one person, yet for another it can be the biggest step in his life so far. I am in between those opposites.
Two years ago, when I left university in Holland I had never imagined myself being here, sitting in the shade of a tree, staying with a genuine Nepali family together with 30 children who also stay here; they live to far away from the school this family runs. So how did I get here? What were my reasons, dreams and expectations and most of all, have they come true? Let me tell you my story, a story of good luck, being at the right moment at the right time, following a blueprint of life that I am not totally aware of.

The main reason that I am sitting here is restlessness. After receiving my masters in business management I worked for a year when the feeling slowly came to me that this was not what I wanted. My world didn’t revolve around money, career and a nice house. After a year I had lost my contract and was applying for the position of text writer in an advertising company. Being a writer is my biggest dream, and this was as close as I was going to get with my background. The solicitation went very well and it looked like life was taking the direction I wanted. At the same time, however, I still wanted to travel but didn't have the guts for it. A call came from a company were I worked before, if I would like a good paying job for half a year, helping them out. And there I could see it, two paths, one of making a career in Holland, one of working for half a year and then having the time to travel. So I decided to jump into the unknown.

I decided to go to Nepal, for its culture, religions, and nature. I came to the conclusion that when I really wanted to know how people live I had to work, volunteer there. I came across Spiny Babbler via a Dutch-Nepalese organization. I did not want to become a teacher, nor did I want to help in a shelter-home, simple because this doesn't fit my background or character. An organization that has its roots in the arts however, seemed perfect for me. And now I'm here, working as a researcher and helping out with various cultural programs for kids in need, brightening their minds through the imagination of the arts.
The biggest part of my work at the moment is research. In Nepal there is no catalog or summary work of the main artists. Information is scattered and the “old masters” who helped bring in contemporary art into Nepal are maybe a few years away from never telling their life stories again. Because of my Western education, which evolves around analyzing and logical thinking, I can profile them well and most of all quicker. I am not being arrogant, that is the way it is.

For a while I thought I was given an advantage I didn't deserve. Meeting famous artists of Nepal, talking to them, interviewing them, visit their studios having tea and small chat with them. Later on I discovered that I have been given an opportunity; the opportunity of helping to document and preserve the minds of some of the greatest artists of Nepal. Perhaps even lay my own bricks in the foundation of a better future for new and gifted young artists.

As you have read, my background wasn't really in arts and sometimes I miss that. But interviewing is a skill, and writing as well, so this did make me feel somewhat qualified for the job. The daily team I work in is small but there are a lot of Nepali youth volunteers in the people at risk programs. I don't think I've met them all yet, but talking and working with them has given me great pleasure.

Spiny Babbler arranged for me a place in a school nearby their office. This means I'm nowhere near any tourist place and can completely indulge in Nepali culture. And how different that is from my own. It was a nosedive that ended in crash-landing on a planet called Nepal. But the people who found me are really wonderful and understanding. After three weeks I already feel part of this family, which has been taking care of me after the rough ride on culture road. I owe them a lot; more then I can explain I think. Best I can say is that I am glad that I am not in a three star hostel in Thamel tourist area. Maybe I will do that later on my journey just for the sake of exploring what it is like.

So this is my story, I can't tell you more because you have to be here to understand what I have written. But if you want to do volunteer work in Nepal, and are looking for something off the beaten track, then Spiny Babbler is your place. With their research, education, people at risk programs and cultural investigation it makes them unique and the only organization in Nepal that does work like this.

Namaste.


Ben Foley

Contemporary Art in Nepal? Actually, yes, along with a lively but small group of fine artists who continue to challenge the norms and boundaries of Nepal’s numerous cultures, traditions, and personalities. The famous traditional arts, temples, statues, trekking, and mountains, are all here too, but Nepal is nothing close to a static Shangri-La, an image so easy to adopt from the popular images circulating on television, or “adventure” magazines. Modern Nepal combines the old and the new, and many contemporary artists have thus created new metaphors that deserve a more prominent voice.

With nearly no local financial support, it is organizations like Spiny Babbler that work to support these creators, thereby allowing the people of Kathmandu to reflect and promote ideas often neglected and overlooked by the struggling government and political institutions. And because I came to Kathmandu to learn more about the relationship between fine arts and social change in South Asia before I embark on life as a graduate student of Asia Studies and Anthropology, finding Spiny Babbler, an organization devoted to the promotion of the arts in Nepal, was close to a miracle.

My job here is to interview fine artists and write their profile for the contemporary arts section of the on-line Spiny Babbler museum. Meeting artists, authors, poets, musicians, and performance artists in person! When in the USA does research (at least for someone who isn’t already a professor or journalist) involve meeting the artist rather than reading a few articles on the Internet? With experience only in the latter, my first few interviews pretty much knocked me off of my feet (luckily most were taken while sitting on the floor, reducing the chances of an actual fall…). Some had tears in their eyes. Other’s sparkled with the excitement; speaking with the dynamics reminiscent of the awesome civil rights leaders I studied in a High School, whose speeches moved parts of America to finally see the hypocrisy. When will these artists get a similar spotlight? And how?

Living in Kathmandu is, of course, unbelievably different. For me, it’s wonderful. Where else can I write up my articles on the rooftop my building, soaking up the warm morning sun, and catching a glimpse of the Himalayas on the horizon? Or visit Boudhanath Stupa, which, two days ago, was lined with candles and butter lamps to recognize the new moon? And then sit in Patan Durbar square contemplating the incredible history and intricate architecture of ancient Nepal in concert with a recent installation exhibition reflecting on the Maoist insurgency that I went to earlier in the day. Kathmandu Valley holds onto its history and creates its future, despite the current turmoil.

I’m from Cadillac, a small town in northern Michigan, and a have I B.A. in Anthropology and an M.A. in Education, both from the University of Michigan. Since then I’ve taught in Detroit, Shanghai, and Kathmandu, and hope to continue my life as a teacher and researcher, only this time at a university level. And return to Nepal as frequently as possible.


Sign up Information

If you have questions, or if you wish to contact the volunteer coordinator, write to admin@spinybabbler.org