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Volunteer Spotlight: Hartford Acupuncturist Learns About Big Knives and Leeches in Nepal

Marni Adhikari, left, is taught how to prepare goat meat for drying on a family farm in Nepal. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms found two families in Nepal wiling to provide Adhikari with room and board in return for working on their farms. 

Courtesy photograph

Marni Adhikari, left, is taught how to prepare goat meat for drying on a family farm in Nepal. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms found two families in Nepal wiling to provide Adhikari with room and board in return for working on their farms. Courtesy photograph

White River Junction — To travel or to volunteer?

That’s probably not the question most charity-minded people ask themselves. But for those who would like to do a little of both, Marni Adhikari would encourage them to check out Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

The international organization, known as WWOOF, helped Adhikari travel extensively throughout Nepal. The organization found host families willing to provide Adhikari with room and board in return for her labor on family farms.

Altogether, Adhikari spent about two months trading work for lodging, staying first on a rice farm and then on a coffee farm. In the process, Adhikari said, she became “a part of the culture rather than being a sightseer.” She was also able to develop a home base from which she gained the confidence to travel through Nepal for the better part of a year.

The self-employed acupuncturist who lives in White River Junction said the type of work a person will perform through a placement with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms can vary greatly.

“The work you end up doing depends on a combination of what your skills are and what country you’re in,” she said.

In Nepal, Adhikari said, the language barrier, cultural gender expectations and the physical realities of the actual work that needed to be done created a scenario in which she often assisted with household chores rather than helping with farm work. On the rice farm, for example, when the family finally allowed her to accompany them into the fields, she immediately understood their reluctance to put her to agricultural work right away.

“They go out into the rice fields with these big, curved sharp knives wearing flip-flops and walking on rocky, slippery paths in between the rice fields. They really didn’t think that handing me a big knife to go follow them was a good idea.

“I also learned about leeches. It’s nothing for them. But I had to learn how to take them off and not freak out. So it was good that I learned how to do that without holding a big knife at the same time.”

She encountered similar physical challenges on the coffee farm. “I did some sorting of coffee beans,” Adhikari said. “But when it came to carrying the big bags half a mile down the road to the cars, that I did very, very poorly. … There was also no running water there, so they had to carry water, which I was also very bad at.”

Adhikari said she made herself useful to the family by performing less arduous jobs.

“It was fun. I did dishes. I cut their grass. I cleaned their walls,” she said. “They were certainly glad to have some respite from some of their work. It’s a hard life being a farmer in Nepal, with no running water and having to carry everything on your back.”

Now 32 and settled into her acupuncture practice in Norwich, Adhikari said she has no regrets about satisfying her desire to travel by entering a foreign country under the umbrella of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

“I loved it. I really felt like it gave me the ability … to take that step away from my comfort zone,” she said. “I fell in love with Nepal and the people and the beauty of the country.”

Editor’s Note: Information about Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms can be found at www.wwoof.net. Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-727-3221 or dtaylor@vnews.com.

Do you know an Upper Valley volunteer whose efforts deserve to be recognized in a Volunteer Spotlight story? Send suggestions by email to Volunteers@vnews.com, or by mail to Volunteer Spotlight, Valley News, P.O. Box 877, White River Junction, Vt. 05001. For more information, call 603-727-3221 during regular business hours.