This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Paying to Volunteer - Scam or Legitimate Social Program?

The dangerously handsome man sitting at an adjacent table in the Pokhara coffee shop nodded as I wrapped up my interview with two young girls who’s had an abhorrent experience with a local volunteer operator. A jumble of dreadlocks peeked from beneath Hugo Caminero’s rainbow knitted skullcap as he leaned across the aisle and admitted that he’d been eavesdropping. Hugo was also working with children, but he’d created his own program rather than pay a firm to arrange for volunteering in Nepal. He flashed a seductive smile through his two-day stubble. Would I like to accompany him the following day to see for myself?

Hugo, drummer for the popular Spanish cover band RETO 999, was inspired by the philanthropic works of Carlinhos Brown, a Brazilian percussionist who was born in Candeal Pequeno, a small neighborhood in the Brotas area of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. As a child, Brown played in dirt streets where human waste flowed; when it rained, excrement and mud washed into the homes. Yet it was the rhythm and percussion sounds from these same rough streets that brought him fame. Hoping to give back, Brown opened a music school in Candeal and formed the musical group Timbalada, recruiting more than 100 percussionists and singers called “timbaleiros,” the majority of them young kids from the streets of Candeal. Timbalada eventually recorded eight albums and toured various countries around the world. Today, largely through the efforts of Brown and Pracatum Social Action Association community action organization also set up by the drummer, the streets of Candeal are paved and free from sewage.

Taking his cue from Brown, Hugo bought a dozen drums, flew to Pokhara, and began looking for an orphanage where he could put his skills to use. One day he knocked on the door of the Protection and Rehabilitation Centre for Street Children and soon he was tutoring kids for an hour or so each afternoon in simple rhythms they were sure to master. At a jam session in a local bar one night he met Kim Jinuk, a Korean guitarist, and Pablo Etayo, an amateur musician from Basque Spain who had studied music therapy. And then there were three.

The next afternoon, Hugo led me through a maze of Pokhara’s dirt back streets on a shortcut to the highway, where the inconspicuous centre concealed itself behind a low concrete wall. A door cracked open we were ushered inside, where raggedy urchins immediately latched onto our legs, our clothes, whatever they could grasp. They bickered and pummeled one another; one young boy performed backflips from a nearby bench hoping to win our attention. Utter chaos reigned until Hugo broke out the drums.

Forming an orderly circle in the center of the courtyard, the children focused on Hugo as he drilled them on their respective parts.

Ick, dui, tin, char!” One, two three, four.

Within minutes the undisciplined mob was transformed into a cohesive unit, automatically working together for the good of the group. It was quite remarkable to witness and it wouldn’t surprise me to see these kids performing in a major parade someday, featured as one of the world’s great rags to riches stories.

Considering a future visit to Nepal? You’ll want to check out my Essential Travel Guide for Pokhara, Nepal, which is updated regularly.


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