There is this school in the middle of an evergreen jungle in Tanahun Nepal that is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Its inhabitants are around 200 students from different walks of life united by their thirst for knowledge and their hope for a better future. I came to this school in mid-October and left mid-December with a heart twice as big, and a soul infinitely more fulfilled.
So what should you expect when you come and volunteer at Maya?
A Tour of the Grounds
Before we take this journey together, you should know that Maya means love in Nepali, and love is the strongest pillar in this community. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built. The teachers, students, volunteers, and anyone who even passes by speaks this language fluently and is accordingly welcomed with open arms and an open heart. When the volunteers and I first arrived, we were taken on a tour around the campus, and to be honest, I found the landscape to be daunting. The school is uniquely built around the magnificent scenery, instead of encroaching on its presence. It’s almost as if it is a part of the jungle rather than a man-made extension. I felt that at the very first moment we walked through Maya. It was a raw sensation like everything was bare or stripped, honest and clear with all its imperfections on display for the world to see.
Our guide Lea walked us through the many parts of the school on a tour that took around an hour. We made our way through the well-trodden jungle paths stopping at the classrooms, kitchen area, village houses sprinkled around the campus, the freshwater source, and finally our volunteer accommodation. I remember feeling overwhelmed that first day, but Lea assured us we would feel more comfortable once we met the students and had more time to find our bearings. She was right of course. The huge campus and the great distances seemed to dwindle to an afterthought in our minds once we started getting to know the school’s inhabitants, the students.
There was something unique about the students that I just couldn’t define at the beginning. Sure they were innocent and happy, curious and thirsty for knowledge just like all kids, but they stood out in another area. I noticed during my first couple of days in Maya that they supported each other fully. It was one big happy family where everyone took care of each other. There was no envy or jealousy, just love, and appreciation, and before I knew it I was infected with this love bug and found myself more giving than I had ever been in my life. It was truly a magical feeling that only managed to be magnified with the passage of time.
When I started teaching them, I was surprised by how fulfilling the experience was. Everything I said mattered and held weight. I was held responsible by their wide eyes that followed me passionately across the room. I was teaching them science, and their questions were fittingly as big as the universe that intrigued their curious minds.
Within my first month, I found myself discussing all sorts of life questions with these young Mayans. We talked about women empowerment, ancient philosophies, world politics, technological advancements, and of course the science that guided our species throughout history, and that was only in the classroom. Outside in the jungle we all called home, I found myself mimicking their actions and behaviors and striving to learn their language. Even though I was many years older, I found their life experience to be profound and admirable, so I listened to their stories and was their shoulder to cry on. We ate together, laughed together, cried together, and ultimately loved each other. They embraced me without any prejudice, they accepted me without any limitations, and they welcomed me in the home of their hearts as a father, a brother, a friend, and eventually a Mayan. A Mayan! Once you enter this magical land, this word becomes a badge of honor that is proudly displayed on your face and in your heart.
At the end of my adventure, I walked through the campus for the last time, and I hugged everyone I saw. Students and teachers alike warmly embraced me and thanked me not just with their words, but with their quivering lips and their watering eyes. I had found a home in an unsuspecting land and a family I had no idea I needed. So, before I said my last goodbye, I made them a promise, a promise that I wholeheartedly intend to keep. I will be back again. I will have to come back to this larger-than-life community that embraced me and loved me for who I am. I will be back to this ever-glowing jungle that helped me shed my insecurities and focus on my strengths. This is what you should expect when you volunteer at Maya. Expect to discover yourself, expect to fall in love, and most importantly expect to find a home and a sanctuary in the heart of all its inhabitants because you too will be a Mayan, and being a Mayan is for life.
Hadi El Talje is one of 7 billion human beings living on a tiny blue ball floating in the vastness of space. He hopes his writing intrigues your mind and inspires you to be true to who you really are. For writing opportunities, you can contact him at [email protected].
Hadi has travel plans to return to Nepal in 2022.
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