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Nepal and the Fine Art of Volunteering

By Clare Morin

We are sitting with Tony Brammer in a gorgeous teahouse in the village of Birethanti, when it occurs to us that this is the first time that Brammer has actually been to camp. “I haven’t been in camp,” he agrees. “That is the biggest difference for this race; not going back to camp and not being in camp every night. Usually, you only get to stay away on the long day. It is nice being out.”

Brammer is a star volunteer here in Nepal, a race which is proving to be a new paradigm for RacingThePlanet organizers. The mountainous terrain means that staff and volunteers are camping at checkpoints, and not congregating every night. Brammer is a 4 Deserts veteran (he was the first British person to complete all four races) and has also proved to been a legendary volunteer. He’s helped at the Sahara Race, RacingThePlanet:  Namibia, the Atacama Crossing and now Nepal.

The man is a straight-talker, with a solid sense of humor, and these two qualities combined with his strong experience out on the field means that he’s the only volunteer as an assigned checkpoint captain. “I entered as a competitor, but I was bit of a shandy lightweight’ he explains with a laugh (he actually had an operation on his ankle).

Then, he is interrupted. He needs to dash off for a moment to help coordinate checkpoint bags, cars and drivers (interruptions during interviews with volunteers prove to be a common occurrence, proving just how busy everyone is on this race).

When he returns, we ask about his daily schedule. “The biggest thing about being a volunteer is being flexible,” he offers. “It is nice to think you know what you are doing the whole week, but reality is that things change…” He grins, and adds, “Eat when you can! Sleep when you can!”

What are the toughest parts? “Not sleeping enough,” he says with a laugh. But he also points to the great benefits of helping out here: “The best part is being able to be a spectator of something that no-one else gets to see. The coverage of the London marathon must be 20 million, and there are only 22 of us here.”

Alexandra Leckie (aka Alex) is another experienced volunteer, who made her start at the Atacama Crossing 2006. The British, Indonesia-based teacher explains she’s here to support her sister, and her father who needed to drop out.

“I feel more hands on here,” she says when asked to compare the experience to Chile. “It is really busy, pretty much all the time, but it hasn’t been too overwhelming. It was nice to know what to expect having done one before, but it is quite different this time. It is more varied in terms of jobs, sleeping out at checkpoints, which has been really great, and a lot of variety of people.”

Like Tony, her highlight thus far has been the camping at checkpoints: “Falling asleep under a blanket of stars and waking up to a spectacular sunrise. And then seeing my sister appear at checkpoints, and at camp each night.”

By the time we get to Grace Au Yeung, we're getting the feeling that the volunteers may have one of the best roles of this race. And like the others, Grace is thoroughly enjoying the experience thus far. “Being a volunteer, it’s really a case of do as you’re told and get things done,” she says. “I don’t think it is stressful; we get to chat to anyone. I think as a volunteer you get it better than the competitors; as a competitor it could be quite solitary, this is more sociable.”

Grace is a legal counsel for an investment bank in Hong Kong, and the co-founder member of the Dirty Weekenders (which isn’t as dirty as the name suggests, it’s actually a group of 80 volunteers who regularly get together to do charity work.”

She says the highlights so far have been the views: “which are just amazing.” Grace does, however, point to one major drawback: “The cybertent gets smelly during the day because of the feet and the sun and the competitors,” she warns. “But it’s okay, you can play music.”

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