Giving back - Robin Wong, Markham, Ont.

Wong spent two months with KOPILA-Nepal, then went on a second volunteer placement in Cambodia.

Robin Wong takes a break on a four-day trek in Nepal. "Trekking was one of the highlights of my trip, and I never would have experienced it if I hadn’t volunteered."

Right from the time he was a student at Brock University, Robin Wong dreamed of seeing the world. "There were posters around campus offering the chance to work and volunteer in Japan, Korea, South America," he says, "but I was part of the co-op program and didn't have the time."

As it turned out, Wong wouldn't have the time for another five years. After graduating in 2008, he got his accounting designation in 2010, then worked full time. But he continued to feel the pull of an international career.

In the summer of 2013, Wong's father received a copy of CGA Magazine that had an ad for AfID. Wong visited the website, submitted his resumé and set up a call with one of AfID's consultants. That is how he learned about KOPILA-Nepal and its counselling work with people affected by the country’s armed conflict. "KOPILA is helping raise awareness about mental health (in Nepal, where the topic is stigmatized). The war may be over but the problems persist and people are struggling," he says.

Wong arranged to spend two months giving QuickBooks training to KOPILA’s finance department and also worked with managers to prepare reports for overseas donors. While on site, he had the opportunity to go on a field trip to see the work the counsellors were doing with families of missing persons. "Seeing up close the results of KOPILA-Nepal’s work drove home the importance of this organization. Without KOPILA, these people would not be getting any long-term help. My career to that point was tax returns and financial statements. Being in Nepal, seeing the impact and knowing I played a part was powerful."

So powerful, Wong is currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on his second volunteer placement with AfID. He's looking into a new career trajectory in international development. "I want to use my skills to make life better for people."


  Nepal
Fewa Lake, one of the main attractions in the area of Pokhara, Nepal.

  Nepal
Fewa Lake, Nepal

  Nepal
The view from the balcony of the KOPILA-Nepal office. "On a clear day, you can see a good chunk of the Annapurna mountain range, with Mount Fishtail (or Machapuchare in Nepali) on the left side," says Wong.

  Nepal
Wong is blocked by a grazing buffalo on the narrow path from the office back home. “Water buffalo were everywhere in Nepal,” he says.

  Nepal
The view from Wong’s office at KOPILA-Nepal: “Cows would wander in all the time.”

  children
Wong became friends and played with the neighborhood kids a couple of times a week. "They would teach me local games with balls made of rubber bands held together at the centre," says Wong. "We lived along a narrow footpath and these kids are all from the families nearby. It was the first time I'd 'played outside' in years! Even though the kids from here have families with low incomes, at least they play outside and still find ways to have fun without video games or Internet."

  Nepal radio
A radio discussion on Nepali radio, in preparation for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. "Many local leaders of social organizations representing disabled and underprivileged people participated, as well as members of the Nepali parliament," says Wong.

  Nepal village
The village of Ranipokhari, in Tanahu district, where Wong spent three days with KOPILA-Nepal counsellors following up on field cases of trauma counseling. "About 80% of KOPILA’s activities take place in villages in the remote mountains, where education and proper medical facilities are in short supply," says Wong. "After seeing and living among the villagers here, I know that we take almost everything we enjoy in the west for granted. I was happy when we had power for a few hours every day."

  people in Nepal
Wong’s farewell ceremony on his last day at KOPILA-Nepal. “Pictured are some of the office staff, councillors and field staff. The woman to my immediate left is Bina Silwal, executive director and an original founder of the NGO. I lived with her and her family during my stay in Nepal.”

  Annapurna mountains
On his last day, Wong took a fixed-wing plane ride through the Pokhara valley and Annapurna mountain range. “I figured, when will I have a chance like this again?” he says.


About the Author

Mary Teresa Bitti


Mary Teresa Bitti is a freelance writer based in Oakville, Ont.

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