Beautiful sunset in Nepal during a service education trip
15 August 2017

How travel changed me

​​​As a young girl, growing up in the eastern suburbs of NSW Australia, you tend to have everything you need. The area is wealthy, there are wonderful schools, a plethora of jobs, restaurants and shops. The beach is at your doorstep and there’s an endless list of activities to fill your weekend. Yet, we still complain. “It’s too cold, it’s too hot, I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m hungry, my university lecturer didn’t give me enough notes, my sushi was made more than three hours ago and there was too much froth in my morning cappuccino”. Honestly a day didn’t go past, where I didn’t have a good old Australian whinge. This is true for most people I know.

A few years into my job, I was given the opportunity to take some St Catherine’s students to Nepal for trekking and to work with a charity. A free trip, AND being paid to work. “Of course, why not?” I said.

Arriving in that amazing country you are met with a beautiful array of colours, sounds, smells. It is so different to life in Australia. We had the chance to trek in the Himalayas, meet the beautiful Sherpa locals, stay in tea houses and learn a bit of the Nepali language.

However, Nepal is still under-developed. Electricity cuts out often, hygiene standards are low, children learn in classrooms of over 100 students (if they go to school at all). Marriage is often arranged, child labour exists and a high percentage of girls as young as seven are trafficked for sex each year. Yet most Nepalis you meet are friendly, hardworking, and are some of the most positive people on earth. This sure changes one’s perspective.

The critical point in ‘the trip that changed me’ was visiting Asha Nepal. It is an organisation working with girls rescued from sex trafficking. Girls who are under 18 are found and brought back to Nepal by this charity and supported  with their schooling; helping them to develop their English, business skills and their confidence. Often it is hard for them to return to regular school with a certain stigma attached and for fear of discrimination (especially when girls are already treated as a lower caste). Asha Nepal helps them to rebuild their lives.

When we visit Asha Nepal with St Cath’s students, we teach the Nepali girls positive psychology skills —  how to celebrate their strengths, goal setting and confidence building. One day a girl stood up and read a story she’d written about her life. It was of the darkness of her life from the age of seven and the trickery that caused her to be taken or ‘sold’. As she continued, she told us the impact Asha Nepal has had on her life and how it has helped her to be the confident and happy 16-year-old that she is. She was in darkness and she found light, all thanks to Asha Nepal. To finish, she sang a song of thanks she had composed herself. She was such an inspiring and resilient young woman. Despite all the difficulties in her own life, she was happy and positive and making the most of her world.

When I find myself in a country with a lack of resources, missing my morning coffee or TV series or feeling that yearning to go back home, I just think of this girl and her story and know that I want to visit Asha Nepal every year. My students are pen-pals with the girls there, and I have since travelled to Nepal seven times to see these beautiful young women continue to grow. I still see this particular girl and how well she has developed over the years. And each year she says she’s counting down the days to see us.

This impacted my life so much because we didn’t teach the girls there much at all. How could we teach gratitude or resilience to them? In fact, they taught it to us. I came home so much more grateful and realised that if the air conditioner is a bit too cold or my egg isn’t runny enough in the morning, it really isn’t something to complain about.

People around the world live in dire circumstances but often have great attitudes to life despite this. We don’t need to need to feel sorry for them, we need to learn from them and provide them with friendship and a listening ear.

So this is how travel changed me. And infinitely for the better.

Sarah Chalres service education at St Catherine's Ms Sarah Charles
History teacher and Year 10 Mentor
Service Education
BA Ancient History and Grad Dip Ed​