Volunteering in Nepal can be a rewarding alternative to simple tourism. Currently in Nepal, the tourism industry is far removed from the everyday village life of most of the population. Trekking or package tours often move too quickly through the country to provide an appreciation of the natural beauty and diverse cultures. Volunteering is sometimes the only way to see remote areas outside the Kathmandu Valley and well-trod trekking trails.
Unfortunately, volunteer tourism has mostly become more profitable than real tourism. Foreign operators and Nepali agents have found an inexhaustible supply of well-meaning but naieve people who will pay big money to "volunteer" in Thamel, Lakeside and Chitwan.
Teaching English is a popular project for volunteers and is often combined with courses in computer literacy or health and physical education. The Nepali school system, which many children only attend for a few years, requires English fluency so there is always a demand for native English speakers of all ages, races, and nationalities. There are no prerequisites for teaching beyond English fluency and, in some programs, any university level degree.
There are many options for finding volunteer opportunities. Several international organizations will find you a project, room, and boarding - either at the school or with a local family - for a fee.
This fee can range from 500 USD to 2000 USD depending on the type and length of program. Often only little of the money will go to the school and host family, often they are too poor even to support a volunteer, the bulk often goes however to the agency.
In some cases the agency will provide language and culture lessons as well as general teaching supplies and support. Once you make a deposit on a particular program there may be limited options for change. Programs can last from two weeks to six months, but keep in mind the longer stay is more rewarding for both you and the school, as it can take several weeks to get into the swing of things. Above all, examine carefully how your money is spend and who really benefits.
An alternative to paid placement is to find a local, grassroots program, or to contact schools directly in Kathmandu when you arrive. Local hostels and restaurants usually have bulletin boards full of requests for volunteers. More and more local groups are placing ads on the web as well. These programs are more likely to charge only for room & board, but you will need to do some research to find out the specifics of each group and what, if any, support you will receive. Waiting until you arrive also lets you get to know the areas you can volunteer in and allows you to shop around for a situation that best suits you. These placements tend to be longer term (3-6 months), but this is always negotiable with a specific school or project.