Volunteering for The Mountain Fund in Kathmandu

Seth Sicroff's picture

Photographs and text by Olivia Bryanne Zank

"This is one of three pieces about the work of The Mountain Fund and their director Scott MacLennan. MacLennan was recently designated winner of the 2010 Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal. See http://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/stories/participatory-tourism-climber-adopts-village.html for an article about Tony Freake, previous winner of the Hillary Medal."


Please see:

Because I Can, about 2010 Hillary Medal Winner Scott MacLennan

The Mountain Fund's 2010 Nepal Medical Trek, by Chuck Lovely 




Pigeons, Kathmandu

Pigeons, cows, and temples at Durbar Square, Kathmandu


I am a 21-year-old student from Denmark.  I have worked as a volunteer in Madagascar and South Africa as well as traveled in Kenya, Tanzania and India over the past two years.  I was on a gap year  traveling in India and Nepal when I decided to hook up with a volunteer project in order to get a better feel for the culture.


Sunrise at the Kathmandu va

Sunrise over the Kathmandu Valley rim


Olivia Bryanne Zank, bungee jumping

Bungie jumping into the chasm



Olivia Bryanne Zank - girls dancing at the HIV school

Girls dancing at the HIV school run by The Mountain Fund


The Mountain Fund jumped out at me immediately. Within half an hour of meeting Scott, I had signed on. I stayed at the Mountain Volunteer's house from November '09 to April '10. In the beginning I worked for Punarbal Plus, a school that helps children who have HIV or are otherwise discriminated against in Nepal's public schools. I helped fundraise and  prepare for the opening of their new boarding school. I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Kailalai in far Western Nepal, one of the poorest districts in the country. Here we visited families of HIV-positive children who would live at the new boarding school of Mountain Fund's Punarbal Plus in Kathmandu.  It was a sobering experience -- and one of the highlights of my trip.


Olivia Bryanne Zank - Ganga

Ganga, the girl I sponsor


HIV positive women

HIV positive women


World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day demonstration


After a couple of weeks, as another volunteer was leaving, I also took over a beginning English class for adult Tibetan refugees, mainly housewives. A month later I started working in the administration of the organization running the school, Himalayan Society for Youth and Women Empowerment, HSYWE.  I wrote reports, helped launch their Web site, made syllabi for their English classes, and helped start a job placement service to connect job seekers and employers in the Tibetan community. 

Then Scott had to leave for the States. He asked me to be his assistant and volunteer coordinator while he was gone. This job consisted of handling the correspondence with future volunteers, overhauling the Web sites, and launching The Mountain Fund's new direct-application process. Previously MF had relied on other agencies to recruit volunteers. I put together a manual for running the office and stardardized every process and procedure in order to make things easier for the next coordinator. All the time I was training a Nepali girl who would take over after me. 


Orchid Garden Day Care

Daycare at Orchid Garden Day Care


Lunch at Orchid Garden Day Care

Lunch at Orchid Garden Day Care


The principal of the HI

The principal of the HIV school Purnarbal Plus


Scott and I had long discussions about what motivates people to volunteer or donate and how one goes about doing development work in Nepal. When he was away, we had email contact pretty much every day, and he helped me whenever I encountered problems.  Through Scott's mentoring and a range of hands-on experience I learned a lot about the mechanics of NGO and service organizations and gained confidence in my own ability to manage an undertaking such as MF. 

I feel like I accomplished a lot working in Nepal, much more than I would have as a tourist passing through. Seeing my students progress and graduate was a deeply rewarding experience. I will never forget how proud I felt when my beginning students arrived for their first class at the intermediate level, looking so eager and happy. I also worked hard to encourage the Nepali girls in the MF office to take on more responsibility. It was a huge payoff for me that I was able to prove to them that a young woman can actually run the show. I think I was probably the first to plant the idea in their minds that they could do anything a man can do, and that a woman doesn't have to be just a slave to her mother-in-law.


HSYWE students

HSYWE students



Orphan washing up


Sunrise prayers at Boud

Sunrise prayers at Bouddhanath


Working for Scott was a watershed in my life. He mentored me and inspired me to follow his footsteps and I am starting a course in International Development in Norwich, UK this fall.

I will most definitely return to Nepal again and again. The work I did was so interesting and amazing that I never took time off to go trekking in the mountains, so I still have that to do, as well as visit all the friends I made. At the moment I am planning a family trip to India in August, and I hope to get everyone to make a side-trip to Kathmandu with me so that I can show them the Nepal I love.


Nepalese men in traditional attire

Nepalese men in traditional attire



Bhaktapur, the medieval capital just east of Kathmandu


Fruit vendor

Fruit vendor


Prayer flags at Bouddhanath Kathmandu

Prayer flags at Bouddhanath




Seth Sicroff, Nepal Editor for Wandering Educators
Manager, Sunrise Pashmina


Photos courtesy and copyright Olivia Bryanne Zank