TEWKSBURY - Dylan Cullen, a Tewksbury resident and graduate of Lowell Catholic High School, recently returned from a service trip to Nepal. As an Environmental Policy major at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, Dylan participated in this international service trip offered through the Center for Service and Civic Engagement at Champlain College. Dylan spent seventeen days in Nepal with eight other students and two adult leaders, volunteering through Volunteers for Peace, a Burlington, VT based organization that organizes abroad service experiences. Through Volunteers for Peace, the group was connected with Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN).
Their experience included building squat toilets for families for the first week, teaching English classes, and painting a chain link fence for an elementary school.
Dylan explained how the Nepali people were so grateful and welcoming despite all of the struggling that they endure on a daily basis, and he believed that was among the most beautiful things about the trip. It wasn't the mountainous hillsides or terraces that captivated him, but the lessons that the Nepali people were teaching just by living: kindness, no matter what the situation, is always an answer. It may not be the solution to the problems revolving around sanitation, education, and poverty that these people face, but it is an answer that inspires others to action.
One thing Dylan found incredibly important is that often service is glorified as something the privileged do to feel good. A lot of the time while he was volunteering in Nepal, he had to embrace the fact that he was powerless. He did not have the strength or skills to line the six foot deep by six foot wide septic tank hole with stones and mortar, and so a local professional did that part. What VIN stressed to the group was that while they could not always help, they were still serving for a purpose. Without their presence, the families would most likely have continued on with their lives without a toilet. The group’s purpose was to educate them on the importance, and to get the ball rolling so that they felt personally invested in the project.
Likewise, their time in the schools was incredibly challenging, but often times made Dylan question what good he could really do for those children. They were placed in classrooms of children with varying comprehension of the English language and the school didn’t give any lesson plans. Dylan said he often wondered if playing games and teaching grammar was actually helping the students learn but VIN explained that the children are often not motivated to go to school at all. This was understandable as many of the students needed to trek uphill for 30 minutes just to get to school.
The group’s presence in the school made the students excited to be there, and excited to learn. By painting the fence, the group brightened up the space, and as one of the girls in Dylan’s service group commented, the fence was a way to keep the special things - the education that would provide brighter futures for the children - inside.