Schoolies Week with a difference

By Olivia Duffey

Spending her post-VCE holidays on the family farm at Blighty would have been an easy choice for Ashleigh Simpson.

It is what she would normally do at the end of the school year, but Ashleigh chose to undertake community service instead; in Nepal.

This trip was organised by her school, Ballarat Grammar, as an alternative Schoolies Week.

Students travelled to Nepal to help build a retaining wall at a small village near the Mt Everest Base Camp, called Bupsa.

The village was devastated by the 2015 earthquake and has been progressively rebuilding.

With the help of some Grammar alumni who came across the village and recognised the need for help, the school has raised money throughout the year to support its villagers.

‘‘The school projected it as a Himalayan Schoolies, an opportunity for us to explore a different culture, support local communities in rural areas and to travel,’’ Ashleigh said.

‘‘I wasn’t interested in the normal schoolies thing and I wanted to do something else, so the trip gave me an opportunity to explore something different and meaningful while getting to travel and experience the Nepali culture.

‘‘We went in a group of 22 including 19 students. Ballarat Grammar has been in contact with the community of Bupsa in Nepal and have kept a connection since their help and donations in 2015, so we chose to again support their community.’’

The group started its journey on November 23 when they travelled to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Ashleigh returned home to Deniliquin on Wednesday.

The students stayed in Kathmandu for a few days before flying to Phablu, another remote village, before travelling to Bupsa through remote terrain in Jeeps for several days.

They had five days to build the retaining wall at the school, which was the focus project of the trip, but with the help of local builders it took just two days.

‘‘We funded the delivery of rocks for a wall,’’ Miss Simpson said.

‘‘People were employed to carry these massive stones from the river well below the school to where we were going to build the wall.

‘‘We formed a line and passed the rocks along to the students at the end who threw them over to where the builders were working on the wall.

‘‘The wall not only gave support to an existing building, but it means they will be able to keep animals such as livestock out of the school grounds.’’

Students then had the opportunity to connect with the local community and experience the culture, which is so different to Australia.

‘‘We tried traditional dishes such as Dal Bhat - which is a rice dish with portions of potatoes, pickles, spinach - and sometimes beans or mutton in curry, and you would be given a soup on the side,’’ she said.

‘‘We also got to interact with the school kids, and we taught them how to do the the ‘Hokey Pokey’, ‘Duck Duck Goose’ and a modified version of Aussie Rules.

‘‘We also played volleyball with them but because it is their national sport we generally lost.’’

Towards the end of their stay at Bubsa, the students donated uniforms for every student, English books, activities, sporting equipment, stationary, musical instruments, computers and a printer to the school and village.

‘‘They really loved it and the students put on their uniforms straight away,’’ Ashleigh said.

The group then trekked from Bupsa to Phablu which took two days before flying back to Kathmandu where they explored a ceremonial crematorium, Patan Durbar Square and other iconic and cultural landmarks.

‘‘The trip was fantastic in the way that we were not just tourists, we were making a difference,’’ Ashleigh said.

‘‘I now have a completely different view on the opportunity we have in Australia.

‘‘It has also made me realise these experiences are things you can’t just see or understand from words, you have to go and explore it for yourself.

‘‘I wasn’t an eager traveller but this has been an eye opening experience and has made me want to travel and explore more cultures around the world.’’