Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Orphans in Kathmandu

I came home from the orphanage yesterday to find Pangum's father,( one of the children living with Uma) talking to Uma sitting on the stone steps outside of the house. An 'uncle' who speak fairly good English was trying to explain to Uma and I the reason they turn up without any prior notice.

Up until the beginning of 2008, Uma was working in an orphanage where there were 20 plus children. The proprietor ran the orphanage as a business. ie any donations are absorbed as income for the proprietor and his wife, leaving the minimum possible to feed and clothe the children. Uma was not impressed with the care given there. She then decided that she can do better . So she left that orphanage. She then asked for some of the children she has been looking after to join her at her newly set up orphanage. Pangum was one of the 6 children given. At the time there was no accompanying history for Pangum . Uma only knows that she has an older sister in the same orphanage.She has tried to get the sister to join her, but the proprietor refused because she already has a sponsor which mean income for the proprietor. He would lose the income if he were to give her to Uma. Uma offered to pay for her release.The proprietor then asked for a very large sum of money which Uma could not afford. It was basically blackmail. Uma decided that she has to drop the idea.It was upsetting at the time because Uma has been planning for her arrival together with another sister of one other child she has. We talked about it. It was not meant to be...

Since then, Uma has been badgering the authority and the orphanage trying to establish whether Panhum is truly an orphan. There is no birth details. Often the actual age of the orphan is based on guess work. We think Pangum is 7 years old.We have no birth date. No one has ever visited her at the orphanage, certainly not at Uma's since almost 2 years on. Then out of the blue, her father turned up with her sister and an uncle who did all the talking.Uma was most put out

It would seem that Pangum's family comes from high up the mountain in a very remote village. Boy,I can vouch that its remote alright. I stayed at one of those villages (if you can call it a village with only 4 houses) when I went trekking last year. There is no work available.One can only find trees and vegetation there. A school is 3/4 hours of working away. Many of the mountain villagers gave up their children to orphanage because they know they will have a better future with opportunities for education, better nutrition and living.So they come to Kathmandu and leave their children sometimes in an orphanage, other times just by a train or bus station.Alternatively through an 'uncle'. Pangum was around 3 plus when she first went to the orphanage. She does not remember her father. She refused to come out of her room even to say hello. She tentatively circled round her older sister. I saw her sister briefly last year one evening when Uma took me and the kids back to pay the old orphanage a visit. That visit reminded me of a Romanian orphange at the time. Pangum's sister was there with crew cut hair in an old dirty vest sitting in the dark with other kids during one of the power cuts , at 7pm. The contrasts couldn't be greater then

Pangum's sister has grown her hair long, She looks small compare to Pangum who is 3/4 years younger.Otherwise well.She was playing with the older children in their study room. When I came back out later, she was having her hair combed through with nits falling on the floor.It would appear that there is no stigma attached to having nits, just an inconvenience.I could not believe the amount that were coming off her hair. The floor was covered. I feel itchy just thinking about it now

It transpires that there is a mother also. She is coming to visit tomorrow! Pangum 's father asked to take Pagum out with her sister to a nearby Monkey temple to give thanks to god etc. Uma would not hear of it .She said to him that if he takes her out, he did not bother to bring Pangum back, ever. In any case, Pangum would not go with her father who is like a total stranger to her

In the absence of news in the past 2 years, Uma has grown particularly close to Pangum. She has admitted to me on many an occasion that Pangum is her favourite. Though she does not show it openly, I guess children are pretty cute . They pick this up themselves, saying that Pangum can get away with murder with mommie.

This turn of event has upset Uma greatly. She was having a real go at the father yesterday, asking why he has not bothered to visit Pangum at all in the last few years. To then just turn up and expect things to be normal is just too much for the kid...especially at the festival time! I did think its a bit harsh to refuse his reguest and issue an ultimatum.I guess I do not have the emotional investment which Uma has made over the years. She must feel used

It would seem that what Uma experienced is not uncommon. Apparently there are many so called' uncles' who take money from the parents promising them that they will find a good orphanage for their children . Parents being isolated up in the mountains and generally uninformed, are in a desperate state to give their children better lives. Frequently the mother is working in town away from the family.Father is then ended up with the child care . He often cannot cope. So they pay money to these manipulative 'uncles' who make a good living out of the miseries of these impoverished and desperate parents.

Uma has just found out that one of her recently acquired orphans has both parents livng and kicking. Her mum is actually working in Kathmandu. Uma is planning to return her to her family when the current school year finishes.

In her view, her orphannage is there for orphans or children suffering from genuine hardship. Anyone who came with less genuine reasons will be returned to their family.I agree with her totally . She now faces a real Dilenma.......

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