Professional & cultural exchange program for social workers and youth workers

Council of International Fellowship-United States of America

CIF Nepal: 2017

CIF Nepal: Reflections of People and Place

Submitted by Marcia Mauter, USA
CIF Nepal participant, 2017

A small country wedged between the giants of  China and India,

our 2017 CIF group admittedly knew very little about Nepal.

But that would change quickly!

A gracious and welcoming  CIF Nepal board provided the necessary structure and support to ensure that Monique and Reidar (Finland), Hetty (Scotland), and Danielle and Marcia (USA) would come to know the  history, culture, landscape,  the sacred and spiritual. We were informed, challenged, and inspired at every level; our professional exchange experience was as rich and life changing as we hoped it would be.

The first week we participated in a variety of cultural immersion experiences to deepen our understanding of Nepal.  We were briefed by K&K College faculty (Head of Social Work)  on all things Nepal, including the most recent earthquake that killed 8,500 people and impacted Nepal at every turn.

We visited sacred places including 1) the most important Hindu temple, Pashipanath where we observed grieving families and open air cremations, and 2) the sacred Buddhist  shrine of Swyambhunath (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) where we spun prayer wheels, learned about stupas and their symbolic meaning, and bought prayer flags to later hang in high mountain passes.

We engaged in on-site meetings with administrative directors of various NGO’s: The Butterfly Home ( and winner of the prestigious CNN Heroes Award), which houses and educates children whose parents are in prison…. Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) which addresses children’s  rights, dignity, empowerment  and protection…..SERC, a facility for  handicapped children….and more.

We glimpsed, surrounded by a 360-degree view of the Himalayas, the early morning sunrise on Mt. Everest, the crowning glory of Nepal and the world! We savored momo’s (delicious dumplings), juju dhau (the creamiest yogurt in the world) and daal boat (traditional rice and lentils).

We concluded our week by choosing our own weekend adventure: Flying to Bhutan, adventuring in Chitwan National Park, or exploring charming Pokhara. There was so much more to our week of learning and bonding as a group….but time to meet our host family and work assignments!

For the next few weeks, our host families were tasked with sharing the pulse of daily life with us. I quickly developed a deep affection for my host family. Two accomplished university professors, together with  their daughter-in-law, and an energetic eight-year-old granddaughter welcomed me unconditionally into their home, hearts and lives. No matter what we did together, there was always a free and authentic flow of conversation that kept us closely connected and the learning going forward.

I would ask:

  • Why do you wear a bindi showing you are married but your daughter in law does not?
  • How do you feel about so many college students leaving to study elsewhere in the world?
  • Why do you give me a spoon, when you don’t use utensils yourself?
  • What would the Hindu religion have to say about my own personal struggle with my neighbor?
  • Does today’s  generational shift in behavior and attitude cause you to be more excited or upset?
  • Why are your political elections so policed? 
  • Tell me about the son you tragically lost a few years ago in the USA,  and how you find the heart to go on.
  • Can I go with you to the women’s hostel that you started 40 years ago, and spend the night?
  • What heat source do you use when this cold turns even colder?
  • How do you feel about driving in the sea of motorcycle traffic as you age?
  • What impact does the frequent load shedding (power outages) have?

My host family might wonder:

  • Isn’t it true that Americans eat big breakfasts…that’s why we serve you so much?
  • Why do you encourage your kids to leave home , often far away, and not stay in your house? 
  • Who will take care of you in your advancing age?
  • Are you sure you know how difficult your Himalayan trek is going to be…do you think this is a good idea?
  • Tell us about (your grief in) losing your husband.
  • What do you think of your current president/policies?
  • Will you come with us to the meditation center? 
  • Can we have our daily family meeting now?
  • What is that on your teeth (Invisaline braces) and what purpose does it serve?
  • And, regarding my placement with the Nepalese International Red Cross: What is the condition of the high and remote tribal villages that you were escorted to?
  • What progressive Nepalese government policies seem to be working to effect change?
  • What new ways of thinking are being encouraged in the mountainous regions re:  community living, earthquake building, government support, available medical care?
  • We can’t advise you on how much to leave as a gratuity, follow your heart, etc.

At the conclusion of our time together, all CIF board members, host families and participants gathered for a celebratory cross cultural meal, awarding of CIF certificates, and acknowledgement that we had all grew from meeting each other at life’s crossroads.

My parting gift to my host family was a set of large silk prayer flags. My goal was to undertake a two-week post Himalayan trek in the Annapurna Mt range - and hang them at the top of Thorung La Pass, 17,500 feet.

To know that today they are fluttering (or whipping furiously) as a way to honor my CIF Nepal family, my host family, and my family back in Cleveland, sweetly remember those family members, my Nepalese family and I both lost and grieve….and to celebrate all friends and colleagues who have supported and cheered me on to this point and place in my life fills me with gratitude as deep, wide, and high as the Himalayas themselves.