They say people come into our lives for a reason. I am convinced that my friend Ruth came into mine at the right time. I met Ruth from Spain during my trek on the Annapurna circuit. She is a very special, kind, full of life, passionate, loving and extremely authentic human being. She offered me an opportunity that I had actually been looking for.
One day during the hike she tells me that she is going to volunteer in a Children’s home and she has to do a profile on the children for the NGO in Spain that supports it. These profiles will be used to attract new sponsors and educate families looking to adopt. The issue is that she does not speak English and she needs to communicate with the children and the Director at the center.
While in Nepal, I wanted to volunteer either with an orphanage or help rebuild homes destroyed by the recent earthquake. I tried to join a group from the US to do the latter but unfortunately things did not pan out. It was hard to find a volunteer program that would place me with an orphanage without having to pay a big chunk of money. So when Ruth told me about the orphanage and her concerns I jumped at the opportunity to offer myself as a translator and help her complete the profiles. I decided to end my Annapurna trek a little earlier than planned and headed back to Pokhara to plan the next leg of the trip to Kathmandu and then Godavari, the village where the orphanage is located. After speaking with the Director, we made arrangements to spend three afternoons and a full day (Saturday) with the children.
We had the fortune of spending time with sixteen magnificent little souls. This group is made up of six orphans and ten abandoned children (boys and girls) of ages 7 to 17. They are supported solely by one NGO in Spain that covers their monthly school costs, food and housing. Unfortunately the adoptions from Italy, Spain and the US stopped a few years ago due to the stricter adoption regulations that the Hague Convention has imposed on countries and that Nepal has not fully adhered to. It seems the US has recently started to revisit adoptions with Nepal but interested parties only want to adopt children under the age of 3. Needless to say these children will most likely never be adopted.
These kids have coalesced to form an amazing loving family that shows very strong bonds. They share a kind of love and respect for each other that is not easy to find out there. During some of the profile interviews, the older kids embrace the little ones as they tell us about their dreams, one by one, of someday becoming a Doctor, an Engineer, and a Teacher with hopes of helping to further develop Nepal and end poverty here (their own words). They are so intelligent, so well behaved and so nice that it is hard to believe these kids have gone through any kind of hardship in their recent past. They quickly make us feel like we are part of their family. The only struggle that is evident to us from time to time is their yearning for love as they cling on to us and ask if we will be back the following day.
As we walk around the house we don’t see any toys, any games, any play balls, any bicycles in the yard, or any other toys that children should have…
We ask the children to wear name tags and ask permission to take their photos. These Nepali names don’t come easy to us so we want to memorize them. Ruth and I study hard to make sure we know all their names by the following day. The following day we get there early so we can greet them as they get off the school bus. We call out each kid by name and they get super excited. They are very happy to see that we came back and that we remember all of their names. We play, sing and dance for the next two hours, the time that we are allowed to spend with them before we have to catch the last bus back to Kathmandu. The girls teach us Nepali dances and braid our hair. The boys want to arm wrestle and take photos with us. They ask if we can bring a cricket bat next time we visit. We are surprised to hear that prior to us, they had not seen any foreign visitors in a couple of years.
On Friday, we are joined by our friends Mark and Mireia and the children are happy to see an even bigger group. They invite us to stay over for dinner and we gladly accept! There are a couple of women who live in the house and cook everyday for the children. We share a delicious meal of the traditional Nepali Dal Bhat (rice, curry and lentils). They give us a tour of the house and show us the wood fire in the back patio that they often use for cooking when they loose electricity.
As a side note… Nepal suffers from chronic power shortages; which have increased in certain areas after the earthquake. The country is still recovering and reconstructing after the earthquake. The difficult situation is exacerbated by the lack of fuel and elevated food prices; which are some of the direct effects from the recent Nepal-India political issues. There has been redrawing of provincial boundaries in the country’s new Constitution that the Madhesi, the indigenous group from the Terai region (of Indian descent), do not agree with. The disagreement between the Madhesi and the government has resulted in a reduction of economic activities (import of fuel, medicine and food grains), a lot of protests, and border blockades between the two nations. India has reduced its fuel export to Nepal by about 70% and like everyone else, the orphanage is affected by this. Just to give you an idea of what is happening here, prior to the fuel crisis, they could buy a gas cylinder for cooking at 1,400 rupees (US$14); which could last them up to ten days. The same cylinder now costs 8,000 rupees or US$80 in the black market. The NGO in Spain may not be able to continue to cover all costs and the orphanage Director has been asked to look for more sponsors.
We plan a full day of activities for Saturday, our last day with the children. We had spent Friday morning on the street markets outside of Thamel trying to find soccer balls, the cricket bat the kids had requested, and other gifts that we wanted to offer them as a surprise. On Saturday after breakfast the children take us on a long hike up a nearby hill to see a big Buddha shrine. They also take us on a tour of the near-by Hindu temples. As we walk around we are lucky to experience a typical saturday where everyone is outside enjoying the local parks playing music, dancing, and grilling.
The children all hold hands with us, and the big ones ensure the little ones are comfortable during the long walk. We have an amazing time. We follow it with a nice lunch in the house’s back patio and we later give the children their surprise toys. We play the afternoon away!
It breaks our heart to have to leave but Ruth and I are convinced that we will sponsor this place as soon as we make it back home. But our help will not be enough and we will need to think of a way to find more support in our own countries. Maybe this is the opportunity to start the non-profit that I have been thinking about…
For now we can send these kids toys, school supplies or clothes. If anyone would like to help, please write to me directly and I will send you their address and/or bank account. Here is a place where I can assure you that your money will be well spent and it will go directly to the children. As we learn, the Director who has been there since 1994, volunteers his time (he does not get a salary) and he employs Mr. Shankar to stay there full time and watch over the children. The orphanage constantly receives new kids and financially supports six other children’s studies outside of the orphanage.
My heart has truly been touched by this experience and I already miss the children dearly. In such short period of time they have occupied a special place in my heart. I will never forget them and what they taught me about love, the meaning of family, and respect.