In a small room a couple of hours out of Pokhara, Nepal, the rain is coming down hard. It’s been bucketing all night; outside the air is thick and mist circles the village. How long has it been raining? Days? Weeks?
Twenty-five-year-old Rhianne, on her final placement for a Masters degree in Humanitarian and Development Studies, doesn’t remember the moment the rain stopped. She just remembers standing in front of the sink, washing her hands, and then casually lifting her eyes to the window.
What she saw stopped her in her tracks.
“There were mountains,” she remembers. “These vast, towering, snow-capped mountains just looming above the landscape… it was mind-blowing. Surely they weren’t there the day before?”
For weeks at a time during the rainy season in Nepal, the combination of pollution and bad weather can obscure everything but what’s right in front of you.
“But afterwards – when it clears – it’s completely transforming,” Rhianne says. “You see things you never realised existed.”
In many ways, that experience summed up Rhianne’s time in Nepal. She returned with a clarity she couldn’t have predicted when she boarded the plane from Sydney – bound for Kathmandu and three months in a placement that rounded out her degree.
“I didn’t ever imagine I’d go to Nepal – I was born in the UK before coming to Australia as a one-year-old, but my parents are from Sri Lanka,” Rhianne says. “So part of me always assumed I’d be doing a placement – or spending my life – working in Sri Lanka or maybe somewhere in Africa!”
Unexpected it may have been, but the time in Nepal turned out to be completely life changing. While the placement itself had its challenges, on her return to Australia Rhianne realised she’d fallen in love with the country.
“The people, the culture, the food, the music – I just loved everything about it,” Rhianne says. “I knew nothing at all about the place before I went but by the time I came back, I knew I wanted to work in Nepal. It felt like I had left a piece of my heart in Nepal, and I couldn’t wait to go back.”
Originally seeking volunteer opportunities after graduation with the Australian Himalayan Foundation, Rhianne found her way to International Nepal Fellowship Australia. While she felt that both worked on similar types of projects, INF had one significant advantage.
“While I was in Nepal, I think I began to experience God in a completely different, independent way,” Rhianne says. “I don’t really like the word spirituality, but my time away was so different to anything I’d experienced before that it really made my relationship with God come clear too. So volunteering for INF, with its grounding in faithful Christian people who wanted to serve among Nepalis, was very attractive to me.”
Seven months after beginning her stint as a volunteer, Rhianne applied for a job with INFA as a Nepal Programs Officer. She says that her time in Nepal helped re-shape the way she had imagined engaging with development work, and her role now has far more emphasis on equipping local people to take control of their own projects.
“I watched my parents my entire life looking for ways to serve others,” Rhianne recalls. “They were such a powerful example to me that the international development sector seemed like the only place I’d want to work.
It’s been so good being part of an organisation who really respect the people with whom we partner. Rather than being in charge of the development process, we help equip people to create their own changes. It’s just one more thing that became clear to me because of my time in Nepal, and it’s been cemented by my work with INF. I’m so grateful for every opportunity that has led me to where I am today – working with an incredible group of people to serve and love the people of Nepal.”