Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Final Farewells

I cannot believe that 3 weeks have gone by! Its just one more day before I leave for home.

Having been here for the last 4 years, it feels comfortable to be living amongst the children. In addition, the 5 children from Neel Barahi School have become more relaxed with me . Their daily attendance here for their English language class has meant that I see them most mornings. All the children get on well together, helping one another in his/her home work

Upon my arrival , I gave every child a notelet/letter/card from hie/her sponsor, accompanied by some goodies,( obviously). Uma's children were quick to write the thank you letters to their sponsors. The 5 children from the school are less able to do it. So Uma's children helped. It was lovely to see them working together each morning.Sometimes the English teacher is a little late in arriving, then one could almost witness the making of a third world war. However,they are children after all, Any excessive energy need to be released every now and again.

One of the main differences between the children here and those in the UK is spontaneity.With the pressure of surviving and existing in Kathmandu, the children here are very compliant and obedient. They seem to be so well behaved at all times.There are times when I think they are all little adults.They are so responsible, like keeping house and preparing meals at the age of 8/9 years. However, Uma's children are more care free and happy. A lovely thing to see.

We have had our KFC feast for the second time.It was truly finger licking good, especially for me.I do love it but would ration myself to have it twice a year for all the obvious reasons..My venture out on the bike (again)during the evening rush hour to buy the KFC was hairy to say the least.It was worth it just to see the smiles and appreciation on the children faces.

Saw the school children this morning for the final time. All letters have been given to me to pass on to the sponsors.This coincided with Uma's children sitting for their school exam today. Talked about last minute cramming. I remember doing that as a student, a life time ago.

Reflection ? Well I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again .I know I will miss the children . However, I will leave with the satisfaction that Uma's children are growing up well. They are grasping every opportunity that's given to them. Yes, it is less so with the other children who live at home with their families. But they are on the starting block. Their journey will be more torturous and convoluted. For now, we can only give them the best we have. The rest is up to them and their families.

Namaste, Kathmandu!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Children's Day Nepali style

Its Children's Day today.Children were let off school early .I said to Uma that I would like to buy bits and pieces , food wise to give them a treat.

It was interesting to go to the market to buy the fruit, cakes, sweets, juices and crunchy curls. Apart from the fruit, most of the food are unhealthy but nice.Bananas are bought at x rupees each. I was with Sankur, one of Uma's cousins who was dispatched to help me carrying the shopping. He was asking the street hawker how much the bananas would cost. We settled on 50 rupees for a big hand of bananas.Then it went up to 55, then 60 rupees. Its the fact that I am the foreigner therefore he hiked the price up.We walked away, angry.Its the same scenario I have experienced in Malaysia. The taxi fare would double the minute they see a foreigner in tow!

Its increasingly common nowadays to see cows sitting /crossing/wondering on the road.Being a sacred animal, there is no chance of them being hit by a speeding car. The driver would rather crash his car onto something than to hit the sacred cow.That would spell trouble, in a form of mob attack! However, there is a real problem to cross a road when you are out and about.The motorists do not stop , not even at pedestrian crossings. A chanced remark from one of Uma's volunteers in her soft German accent' I wish I were a cow'. It was said totally out of context . We looked at her,perplexed, not understanding. Then she said ' cars stop for cows, that's why'. We just collapsed with laughter. Uma had tears running down her face, it was hilarious.

Sankur the cousin comes from a remote village, hoping to look for work here. He is also applying for a visa to work in Qatar or Kuwait.Life is tough here. He has his elderly parents, his wife and son dependent on him.He is without a job.He is staying with Uma for a week or two hoping to pick up the odd job here and there.He has left his wife to toil the small field at home while he tries his luck here. He was telling me that food in his village in Terai is a lot cheaper than Kathmandu. For example, a banana would only cost one rupee, as opposed to six rupees here,not that I have any understanding the value of one rupee.

We walked to the Kalimati market which is a mile away, and bought pomegranates, pears, apples and bananas for the kids.Any bash for the children cannot happen without the cakes and sweet desserts. For 15 people in all, we had a feast for a princely sum of 18 pds sterling, with quite a lot of left over. This is what I call value for money. Sterling does go a long way here.

For their part, the children perform their folk dancing to entertain us. They dance very well, especially Nitisha and Sangmu. I have videoed them performing the dances.One could see how much they enjoy dancing, including the boys.I intend to show them at the Sponsors' tea on the 1st October

I can't help but reflect , in the scheme of things, how lucky these children are comparing to many others in less salubrious orphanages and homes with parents. They have stability, love and encouragement from Uma, and everyone around them. They are nurtured.In the same token,how lucky the children are in UK,and those in the developed countries.What the children here would not give to have the same opportunities as those in UK!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Our Moral Dilemma

Having completed all the tasks we have set out to do , Uma and I have been doing a bit of post mortem on how we have done things, as well as what are the pressures and gaps in what we are doing.

One of the issues is around putting the existing children on a waiting list. At present we have 5 children who are without sponsors (Probably less by the time I return to UK). The main reason which the sponsor cease tend to be around the inability to continue payment for whatever reason. We decided that we will put the children in an order of priority, then we'll see what happens.

We reviewed each child in terms of progress and future potential, taking into account the support or lack of it from the parent/s. The case of K, the 12 year old girl whose mother runs an illicit bar came up.I have put forward a very clear picture in my previous blog. Its about the fact that her mother is only interested in what the sponsor can provide materially. We established during the home visit that Mum is not concerned at all about the child's welfare or future. It is highly likely that she'll end up not able to continue her schooling in the future,for whatever the reason. Are we likely to waste the sponsor's money given what we know now ? In view of the number of our children that are without sponsors, shouldn't we switch the money to a child who has potential and a greater chance of achievement with good parental support?

On the one hand, are we playing god and deciding a child's life on just pure merit? It is not her fault that her mum asks her to serve behind the bar, and been touched by lewd and drunken old man. Yes, its breaking our child protection policy (for UK
), but this is Nepal.But then do we just leave her to her fate? with sentiments like its tough, but its Nepal, or do we still do what we can until such time when we can no longer help her?

The flip side of the coin is that the much needed money for schooling could be so helpful to one of the other unplaced children. During one of our home visits, one of the mums almost pleaded with us to help her son. The son is going to school, but with the low family income of 3,000 rupees (27 pds approx)per month, the educational expenses place a great burden on the poor mum. Having visited and witnessed the dire home condition,we can be certain that this is a case of genuine hardship. Should this child be helped at the expense of the 12 year old K? It would certainly mean better outcome and money better or well spent ,if one were to take a long term view.

We are clearer on our position regarding another child.Mum has been trained as a driver for foreign agencies who work in Nepal. She is in the process of looking for a driving job.We both agreed that we will like to switch the sponsorship from her daughter to one on the waiting list next year when mum has started working.This case is more clear cut fortunately. Of course it does not mean that mum won't be upset by the change if and when the time comes...

Having slept on K's case, we both accept that the sponsorship will continue for the foreseeable future. We will provide all the educational material at the start of the October term as per all our other children. However, it will be reviewed in January 2012

We welcome views and feedback from all sponsors, donors and Friends on the aforementioned issue.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A Red Letter Day

Today was a red letter day

It started with a visit to the Neel Barahi School. I aimed to take photos of the all singing all dancing photocopier which was delivered to them yesterday. No, it was not gold plated but it certainly looks like a very useful and sturdy industrial model. I was told by the School Head that the teachers were overwhelmed by the gift. They were amazed at the functions it can perform at a touch of a button ! This means that the school will save money each year,but most importantly, the time and effort incurred by the staff when they outsourced all the printing jobs in the previous years.

Having written kikn on the copier, Uma ,Stephanie (volunteer) and I were asked to the staff common room cum Principal's office. A speech of thanks was given by the computer science teacher ,followed by the Principal who presented me with gifts.I understand from Uma later on that this was planned. She knew about it but forgot to mention it to me. It was a nice surprise,albeit totally unexpected. However , if I had known, I would probably dress a little more formally, possibly with my tiara on:=)

The other thing that took place early this morning was the delivery of the kitchen cabinet to Santimaya's home. Mum arrived @ 8 am to pick it up. She took one look at it and smiled. She realised that it is far too heavy to be lifted even by 2 people, let alone carry it back to her room/home which is mile and a half away. In the end , we found a porter to carry it back . For 200 rupees ( 1.75 pounds approx ), it was a tough way to earn a living. Mum went home very happy. Santimaya's newly made uniform was handed to her as well.

Uma and I then planned for our visit to the British Ambassador in the afternoon. Mr Tucknott , the Ambassador, was most welcoming.We had tea from the most exquisite china . The tea certainly tasted different in that cup.It's quality, something I can get used to quite easily I think

This is the second time in my life when I have met a VIP. The first was His Excellency, the Nepali Ambassador to UK . The meeting took place only a few weeks ago. The purpose of both my visits is to explore whether both the Ambassadors would consider to be the charity's patrons. Though my requests have not been turned down,they have not said yes either.I am afraid I have put them in a difficult position. Understandably they must have endless requests from charities like ours. Therefore they are in no position to say yes to everyone.I am still positive though , but would need to do more work on my return to UK. As the saying goes,
' Never say die '

Mr Tucknott talked about the social problems facing the country, making special reference to child and women trafficking. Interestingly enough, it is the same topic raised by the Nepali Ambassador when we met in London. He talked about the work of some of the charities in that arena. Again he would support the charity in that line of work should it chooses to go in that direction in the future.

We talked about the work that we have been doing in the orphanage and the school.He was most encouraging of our efforts.He is very much involved with the various Gurkha support groups/trusts in UK and Nepal.He gave us useful advice on various things which will help us in the future. To top the visit, he graciously agreed to be photographed with us. He laughingly said he is probably the most photographed Ambassador around. He even consented to the photo being put on the website! something I forgot to ask when I left the meeting with His Excellency, the Nepali Ambassador to UK

We left the British Embassy on a high. Though it was raining cats and dogs, it did nothing to dampen our spirits.We were both a little nervous before we left home. Having met Mr Tucknott MBE, we think he will support us in our future endeavours.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Bag Hunting

This is a sorry tale, and I only have myself to blame.

When I first arrived in Kathmandu, I had a talk with Uma about the bag. Unfortunately the reliable contact that she has is in Hong Kong at the moment. So I took upon myself to talk to my Pashmina man.He is the man whom I bought all the craft/pashminas/scarves etc from each year. He is honourable and reliable. He also has a factory.

I showed him the design we wanted for the bag a few days after my arrival. All the way along, he told me that there is no problem. It would take no longer than 10 days max to get the bags produced to our specifications. That was 24th August. With constant rain, and overrun with customers,he said he has not been able to make the necessary contacts.Therefore unable to give me any idea about cost or timescale. He kept reassuring me that there is no problem, he would do it the next day.I popped down to his shop almost daily in the previous week. Then I decided that I can no longer wait for him.So 2 days ago I took the design and bag samples off him.I realised at this late stage that he is just too polite to say he cannot do it, not within the timescale any way. I blamed myself for allowing it to drag on for so long

Uma made a few phone calls after I told her about this sorry state of affairs. As per usual, she came up trumps. We went to see a few potential manufacturers but to no avail.It was frustrating to say the least. The taxi fares is starting to accumulate. The visit we did this morning was the penultimate one. As luck would have it, it is possible and within the bottom line I have set for myself in this transaction. Uma and I were overjoyed to say the least. Then came the bumper. It is not going to be possible to get them done before my departure on 19th.

I agonised (again ) whether I should still go ahead and place an order . If I do it tomorrow, there will be 10 days at least before it will be ready.Knowing Nepal, the timescale could move again because the festivals are just round the corner. We are possibly looking at beginning of October( which will miss the sponsors' tea )before entering the uncharted water of sending the packet either by air freight or surface mail.And the cost is again dependent on weight!

On the one hand, it is a small order to test the water. The cost is not phenominal. On the other, would we be too late before people starts doing their xmas shopping? And hence we will miss the boat or will we?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Sunita's Home

This is our first visit to Sunita's home. Mum was very busy working when we tried to visit last year.

We left with Sunita and her brother in a taxi following their English lesson here.As we taxied along the chaotic and busy roads, we were amazed at the distance these children have to travel each morning to come to Uma's. It is a good mile and a half. Yet, these two youngsters would walk the distance each morning to Uma's for 8 am start, then onto school( another mile or so ) for a 10am start. To me ,that is commitment for one so young. I understand that they have never missed the English class. According to the teacher, Sunita is progressing well, so is her brother Sunil. Sunil is not one of our sponsored children, but he is included in the class because there is no one else at home when Sunita leaves for Uma's each morning. The arrangement is working out quite well.

The family lives in a rather small and dark rented room.It was very clean. I was amazed at how mum was able to keep the place so spotless when she has so little room to manoeuvre. We had to negotiate worn cobbled stone paths, uneven steps, uphill concrete path with railings to hang on to, through the backyards of some families before reaching Sunita's home.It was quite a journey to walk through before reaching the block of multiple rented rooms

Sunita's mum was waiting for us at the door, smiling and warm in her usual self . A very lovely woman. The husband now works as an odd job man, therefore the income is erratic. Mum cleans for a school. She gets a wage of @ 3,000 rupees( @28 pounds sterling) a month. It is not enough to make ends meet. Therefore she does the odd washing jobs in the area to get the extra income to stay above the starvation level.

Two double beds are placed on either side of the room, with the cooking utensils placed on top of the kitchen unit in the middle. The room is not big, but the space is maximised. The mother was very hospitable. She asked the son to get 2 bottles of coke, a real treat for the family. Uma and I shared one, with the other left for the children.

While we were talking, the room was suddenly swamped with people . Some were in the door way talking, others peering from outside the window giving opinions about something. One neighbour even came in to sit on the bed without invitation.I thought she was a relation, but no.Then there was a girl in class 7 who lost her mother recently.She was hugging by the door way, listening intensely.All of a sudden, the room was filled with a lot of noises and faces appearing from nowhere. I was a little confused for a while, unsure what was happening. It would appear that the whole community who live around here gets on well with one another. Though every household lives in rather cramped conditions, they all appear to be warm and concerned about one another. Every household lives in one rented room regardless of the size of families. This would appear to be the norm . However, it is interesting to see how differently each household manages the space they have in the room.

Life is pretty tough on mum, trying to keep the children clothed and fed,as well as giving them the opportunity for education.She is the main bread winner in the family.She finds the expenses on sending them to school is a real burden. Having a sponsor for Sunita has helped a great deal.She asked if a sponsor could be found for her son, Sunil.I told her that there is a list of children who are waiting for me to find them sponsors. I will add Sunil's name to the list, but I have made no promises. Mum truly appreciates the opportunity Sunita has been given.I reinforced the expectation of the sponsor,that she encourages Sunita to study hard and do well in her school work.

Both parents have not had any formal education in their time. And yet mum recognises the importance of what a good education can do. Mum has the foresight and wisdom to know . She truly wants her children to have what she has missed-a normal education which we take for granted, as a given.

We have done a few home visits in the past 2 weeks. We have despaired at the helplessness /hopelessness of some of the home situations we have found ourselves in . It is on visits like this that gave me hope . That I am not wasting Uma's and my time and effort in trying to make a small difference to the children we are sponsoring. And I applaud the mother !

Who says life is fair?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Computer and miscellaneous

The new computer was handed over to the school today.The photocopier which swallows up the cost of 3 computers will be delivered directly to the school next week. Along the way, we discovered that a decent first aid kit will be useful for a school of such huge school population. So we purchased that as well, seeing that we have managed some savings from the computer and the photocopier.

Mrs Nepal,the Principal wanted me to convey her appreciations and gratitude to everyone in the charity, for the much needed equipments the school is receiving .This is an example of her vision and aspiration in the face of poverty and financial constraints. In the past year, she has managed to secure a generous donation to build a filtering plant which provides clean drinking water to the children.

While we were there, some of the teachers were labelling paper bins for every class room. This is to start the process of educating the children to be civil minded, not to drop litter at will, but to keep the environment they are in clean and clutter free.The school had to take out a loan to build the toilets because of pressing public heath issues. As a result the other building programs , ie the science lab and the school hall on the second and third floor have come to a halt until the school finances improves.I was approached whether the charity could help with the loan payments. Regrettably I had to say no to that.

One of the projects Mrs Nepal would like to see happening is the provision of sanitary supplies to the girls in the school. I listened with interests but made no offer of help.It is an excellent project to fund, but would require trustees to agree to such commitment on my return.

I was shown the lower floors of the unfinished building. Since April, the nursery class has started on the ground floor. There are 57 children in the class with 2 teachers.Admittedly all the windows still require glass panes to be put in to be weather proof, what with the winter drawing near. Everyone seems happy enough though. The box of pencils(around 60-70 pencils) given to me by one of the Friends was very well received.The lower kindergarten class is placed on the first floor. Again the windows in the class room would need weather proofing soon.

The money for the construction work has run dry for the time being. Therefore the work on the science lab on the second floor and the school hall on the third will have to wait. Timescale is immaterial in this part of the world. Its as and when the finance starts to flow again.All things being equal, the School Principal has achieved much in the past 12 months. I am very impressed.

As requested prior to my departure, I have taken loads of photographs of everything and anything. Unfortunately I am unable to upload onto the blog until I return to my desk top. Still , all good things come to those who wait.......


P/S I did a fun thing the other day. I was a pillion passenger on a bike, only for half a mile though. It was fun. The occasion arose when I had purchased bags of pashmina and scarves,and the shopkeeper thought it will save my arm muscles (for carrying the bags) and legs(for the load).This is a first for me .I must admit I enjoyed the brief sensation of freedom and wind in my hair (no helmet). Uma saw me and she laughed her head off.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Challenges At The School

Uma and I visited the school and met up with the School Head again. She showed us the computer room, new toilets, the library, the new water fountain with clean water, and the yet to be built science lab ( a skeleton of steel rods at present) as well as the current one .

One of the new features in the school is a series of water fountain built into the concreted floor.The water is somehow piped from a clean supply.This was donated by a visiting couple.What a brilliant innovation for the school. The children can now access clean drinking water, one of the fundamentals in promoting good health

The new toilets are situated on the ground floor- 4 for each gender. They do look very clean from outside. They do not have a flushing system, but I baulked at asking how it works....

The school library is situated in one of the out buildings. One has to climb steep metal stairs to get to the library on the second floor. It is a lovely and spacious room once you get to the top. I can see the need to increase the varieties of English books at different levels . It is very encouraging to see that books on the shelves are well thumbed.

We have been to the computer shop and placed an order for the photocopier. I am reliably informed that it is a Canon digital copier which prints as well. It is a rather bulky table top model. The only concern I have is the price. It seems to be a lot of money for that. I have no idea if the price is realistic with 20% import duty added. With that purchase, we managed to buy only one computer with the remaining balance.

I have angst over the decision.Its a question of imposing our wishes to purchase the 4 computers as originally agreed, or to go in the spirit of helping the school to improve its facilities. Both are needed. However, in the order of priorities, it is the School Head who knows best I feel.Therefore I chose the latter.

We met the Science teacher who will do further work on the costing in clusters as requested.I was shown the current ' science lab' in an outbuilding.It has seen better days.It measures no bigger than 12 by 10 feet, a rather small room to be a science lab. The wooden stairs leading up to the lab/room are rickety, with some steps missing, others cracked and broken.It was a hazardous climb to see the room. I can understand the school is building a new one from scratch.The only thing worth mentioning is that there is a skeleton I call 'Jimmy'. This seems to be a common feature in every establishment/room that deals with science/health/nursing/medicine. When I started nursing, there was one in the classroom, and we called it Jimmy. And I have seen many since in various heath/ hospital set ups. A very interesting fact.

We gave the school the go ahead to start the Karate and dancing classes.Uma has been instrumental in getting the teachers to run 2 classes each for the price of one. Therefore there will be 2 classes of each per week to start after the Deevali festivals in October. We talked about criterias the school will use for the classes.I stressed the importance of feedback and review to ensure that it is effective and value for money. The teacher assured me that will happen. Uma will handle the payment etc

All in all, a satisfying project to date. It is accepted that there are more work to do.However, I have no doubt we will get there if we work together towards the same end

Footnote
Following our home visit to K's home where her mum sells alcohol involving K serving the customers, we have had many discussions. Though we accepted that there is not much we can do, Uma has since spoken to a few people in the social and welfare agencies for women and children, of which is her sister -in-law . Uma has been made aware of the things she can do. And I am happy to see it happen as and when. Hopefully saving s few girls to have a better future

The Home Visit

We went on a home visit to see K's parents today. We went to the basement bar for the first time last year.Mum was out then. Uma was not happy about the home condition then, and had a word with mum when she came to lunch. Uma urged mum to move to somewhere more suitable , what with 6 girls growing up in the household. Nothing has changed

The family lives in 2 rooms. It looks like the temporary outside wall was rendered to enclose the spaces into 2 bedrooms.The walls were covered in black ,damp and mouldy patches( in the summer).Old newspaper was used to cover bits of the wall. The rooms have a small bed each, with floor covering for the children to sleep in. Imagine what it must be like in winter- no heating with damp walls and floors !

One has to go down the dark dingy basement bar to get to the bedrooms at the back . We saw big rats running across our path last year.Therefore I was particularly nervous today that we would encounter this again.The dark dingy bar reminded me of the twilight zone. Imagine having to live like this all the time.Its pretty horrific

The bar is a place where local labourers come to relax and consume the cheap local brew.One can understand that the mother needs to work and make a living. She has obviously made her choice. Mum is a haughty looking woman wearing lots of gold and jewellery. She serves her customers drink and food as well.Unfortunately, with the older 3 girls growing up, they are living in a very unsuitable environment.The eldest have left since to stay with a teacher .K, the child we are sponsoring is 12 going on 13. She helps to serve the customers after school. She has been groped and touched by the somewhat drunken customers before now. She is starting to develop, and Uma is very unhappy about the state of affairs.

Uma is on a mission. The home visit today turned into a torrent of very strong words(sounds like to me anyway)aimed at the mother. Uma challenged the mother -' Are you not interested to protect your daughters? They are growing up. This is very bad environment for them. Do you want them to become like you?'.Strong exchanges followed. I was there taking in the non verbal communication, because I do not speak Nepali at all. However, through intonation, I understood a lot of what was being said.There were customers sitting behind us who had stopped drinking, witnessing this exchange with a Chinese woman next to one of them. I wondered what they must make of all these.

Uma was on a crusade to save her daughters, through bullying and blackmailing , like 'if you do not make changes, we may have to stop sponsoring your daughter next year etc' When we left, I experienced for the first time, that the mistress of the house did not wish us goodbye- 'Namaste' with both palms held up together.Mum was angry. She glared at us as we left the bar. No matter.

Uma and I talked about this. There is really not a lot we can do about it. She can see K getting into some trouble by the time she is 14/15 years old , and be on her own . Her life will be over by then. It is a very likely outcome, and I totally agree with Uma.

So , what's next ?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Our Nepali Lunch

I have a confession to make. I have always been treated as a VIP whenever I come to Kathmandu . It is especially so this year. I did offer to help in the preparation of the lunch, but was continuously told that its OK, the girls can manage. Admittedly the 3 older girls and Rajesh are so much more grown up this time round. Apart from being the cashier for all the shopping trips , I have not been allowed to lift a finger since my arrival on Monday. I did not even get a chance to peel one potato, not that I am complaining........

The day started early @ 8am. I sat in the English class to watch the children ( Uma's and the Neel Barahi school children ) doing a 5 minutes presentation (15 in total ) in front of the class.It was most encouraging to hear the school children actually speaking English clearly and confidently, apart from one. This shows the skills of the English teacher, comparing to what I managed to get out of them yesterday. I videoed the session for the sponsors' tea in October. It will give the sponsors an opportunity to see the progress of the child s/he sponsors.

Having met all the mums last year, coupled with recent home visits, every one was more relaxed and chatty from the word go.Uma had a volunteer cook whose son we helped earlier on in the year. It was the youngster who lost his father and we raised over 300 pounds at Chinese New Year towards his school fees.We had a most fabulous Nepali lunch. I have to say my jeans are getting tighter by the day!

With the first arrival at 10am, I have ample time to talk to some of the young adults we are sponsoring. I was able to check out the progress of Madhusudan, a 17 year old who has started his year 11 ( 6th form), as well as Nischall Karki, the boy who lost his father early on in the year. He is 15 and doing his year 10 ( 5th form). Madhu talked about the pressure of having to find his fares to college (@600r =over a fiver) a month. With 150 pounds in credit from his sponsor, I was able to help him out. Uma suggested that the money is given to his grandmother, whom he lives with, to manage. This was done. I made a big mistake in not doing it more discreetly. Reflecting back, it must have given some parents the impression that I can help them with anything (financially) if they only ask.

The jackets/tracksuits/t-shirts/socks were given out to every child. This was achieved by Uma's children taking turn to give them out.The children and the mums went on to enjoy a good lunch We had chicken, dhal, potato& vegetable and a soya protein in tomato sauce, with chilli and tomato salsa on the menu. It was yum.

There were @ 40 people in all . Some mums brought younger children along whom we have not met. I asked Uma to reinforce the message that the sponsors are still very committed to helping their children in their education. However they must do their bit as parents to encourage their children to grasp that opportunity to make something of their lives. It will help them to get good jobs to support themselves and their families when they grow up. Hopefully to break the cycle of deprivation. Uma and I share the same vision. She does not beat around the bush. If anything, she is probably more brutal in getting the honest message across. A little of finger wagging would not come amiss here, I have discovered.

I was waylaid during the lunch by one of the mums. She asked if I could help with some medical expenses for her child (one of our sponsored children). It would seem that the child has something wrong with her throat? tonsilitiss? whatever, and needed to see a specialist which the family cannot afford. It was a moral dilemma.Its about setting a boundary in my work here. I feel for the family. However, the charity's effort is focused on education and self improvement. I do not have the budget nor the trustees' agreement to spend on anything else. I talked to Uma about my difficulty. Uma explained to the mum the reason I was unable to help. I felt really bad, but had to accept that this is life. I cannot save the world, nor do I want to ,really. That has made me reflect on how I have done things which led to this .I have to take some responsibility for allowing this to happen.

All things being equal, it has been a very fulfilling and positive day ,albeit that it was long drawn out and exhausting.Some of the tasks for this trip have been achieved. Thank you all, sponsors , donors and Friends of KIKN for making it happen.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Home visits

With festival'Teej' around, the children have had 3 days off school this week. It was quite heartening to see that the children from the school continued to attend the hourly English lesson in the morning at Uma's

Without the teacher this morning, I had an opportunity to get down to their level and tried to talk to them in English. They have met me several times before now albeit always in the presence of their mothers/Uma/other adults and teacher. With my bags of sweets and fancy pencils, I was able to bribe my way into their little circle. They understood very little. Uma's children did all the translating. This is surprising to me having been told by the Head that every class has 2 periods of 40 minutes per day. Uma's view that the standard needs to be upped is right. We need to do everything we can to help to improve the standard in the school.

I had the opportunity to talk to each of the 5 children individually.Energy of the children was very low. I would imagine its to do with light breakfast, and difficult home conditions.Bikas is the only boy we have from the school. He was jolly and upbeat when we first met in 2010 with his mother. Today he looked listless, tired and almost depressed.It transpired that his mother left home 2 months ago. He has not seen her since. I understand that he went off the rail a bit initially. Being a very conscientious hard working boy,he was often found hanging around internet cafe with video games . Uma had spoken to him about this. He said he no longer goes there. When I asked about mum, he looked really dejected and flat.My heart went out to him.He no longer sleeps on the floor, he told me. He now sleeps with his father in the bed. At least there is one positive aspect out of all this sadness.

Uma and I then went on to do 2 home visits.The first one was Santimaya's home. It is a common practice that the family (in lower socio-ecnomic class ) lives /cooks/eats and sleeps in one rented room.I expected that. What I found heart rendering is that 5 adults and a teenaged girl could manage that in a room no bigger than 12 ft square! The furniture consist of 2 single beds , a square table with 2 gas rings on top, a small wardrobe and a fold up mattress. Her two older brothers sleep in one single bed, the other is occupied by her mother and a sister, with the remaining sister and Santimaya sleeping on the floor. I did find this aspect quite distressing. How realistic are we as sponsors to expect this poor girl to study under such horrendous home situation? How unfair life is ? Her sponsor has specifically asked that I buy something for the family, whatever we feel is needed. Mum said she would like a small kitchen unit with shelves. Uma has since placed an order for the cabinet to be built.

We then went on to Laxmi's home. Though we have to climb 4 flights of stone steps, the home situation was much easier.Again the whole family lives in one room, with shared toilet and bathroom with other families living in the same block, not just on the same floor!She has a much smaller family. There are her parents and a younger brother. An uncle is staying there temporaraily.And the room is much bigger -16 to 18 feet square approximately.

Doing these 2 home visits has reminded me of the reason I am here. I accept that I cannot save the world period. I can only do the best I can when I am here.However , it does not take away the angst I feel for some of these unfortunate children. Its called accident of birth. It could have been you or me, and we would not be any the wiser

I will stop here before I get any more morbid.......

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Shree Neel Barahi School

We met up with the School Head- Mrs Nepal and her English teacher yesterday. It was a very productive meeting.

Normally I would catch 5 minutes here and there in her office, in between queries from parents,her staff and the children.This was the first time I had a chance to have 2 uninterrupted hours of her time, exploring , discussing and understanding both our perspectives. Being a school holiday , Mrs Nepal was able to come to Uma's before going to the school to do some catching up.

Since my last visit in September 2010, the school took out a loan to have 8 new toilets built. It was a very pressing public heath issue I understand. I have been invited to visit the school on sunday to see the progress they have made in the various areas

Through total misunderstang on my part, it would appear that the school curriculum do include English language. The teaching medium is Nepali at the moment. However they welcome any help the charity can give to improve the language skills of the pupils there.In fact, the school has introduced English as the teaching medium this year for the first 3 junior grades.We had discussion around useful aids to engage the children more. A continuous audio video tape playing on a big screen would be useful. Something to plan for in the near future.

The purchase of 4 computers was discussed. From the school 's point of view , a sturdy and reliable photocopier is what is urgently need .The school currently spends s lot of money getting printing (exam papers termly for its 675 pupils among other things ) done outside. Just imagine running a school without a photo copier in UK ! However, the purchase of a photocopier would mean that we will be left with just enough money to buy one computer. But needs must. Uma is trying to source one @ 745 pounds sterling. There is no such thing as a contract for x years here in Kathmandu I am afraid. I am convinced it will save the school a lot of money each year. Hopefully the trustees agree with my view.

The school library could do with stocking up of more English books. They could be adventure/fable/ scence fiction, as well as factual books about the world aroud us.I showed the Head some of the books that I sourced from charity shops to ascertain the type and level the school needs.I feel sure this is an area the charity and its supporters would be able to help by donating unwanted dictionaries/encyclopaedias etc etc

The equipping of the science lab was discussed. Mrs Nepal will get the Science teacher to do further work on the costing before my return on 19th

The other important aspect we discuused was looking at ways of how ,on the chariity's behalf,Uma could be more involved with the school through joint projects with her children from the orphanage,as well as using her volunteers to teach English in the school.For longer term, possibly plan for an exchange programs with UK school children with both the orphanage and school children. We even talked about a cultural show involving both lots of children, and do a tour in UK.We fully understand the implication of that.However, it is good to dream , and dream the impossible. So, Watch this space :)

My First Days

Well I am here.A little jet lagged but rearing to go

My untimely arrival in Kathmandu was met with a mass protest in town (tell me something new !).The 30 minutes ride to Uma's took over 2 hours. I was dog tired by the time we reached 'home'@ 4.30pm. I had to stay up because the children have been waiting patiently on the door steps in the rain :) for god knows how long, to wish me ' Namaste Lai See didi'

The children have all grown ,in fact shot up.The older ones in particular are like bean poles. They are narrow and skinny. Puberty has set in I think for some of them. They all look amazingly well, and very happy.The girls change their hairstyle each year. It was short back and sides last year .This year is pony tails with plaits at the front, all looking very trendy. All are uniform in their looks. I think the older girls will catch up on me height wise, next year . I might have to look up to them I think.

We have our usual sponsors' tea time. The cards/letters/notelets were given out to the children, accompanied by lots of goodies from UK.The moisturising cream and talcum powder were shared out.They always look forward to their books and puzzles, followed by the choccies and jelly beans etc .It was such a pleasure to see them enjoying themselves.I finally went to bed @10pm.

Over breakfast, Uma and I caught up on the affairs of the children. We started to make a list of the things we want to do while I am here
They are:-
Purchase winter clothes for all the children(20)plus 2 young adults
Invite all the parents and children for lunch (3/9 )
Meet with the school head and talk about Science lab and their plans for the future
Purchase 4 pcs for the school
Do home visits to meet up with the mothers of the children from Neel Barahi School
Meet up with the 2 young adults who are doing year 10 (5th form) and 11 (6th form)
Go to optician's to find out about new glasses for Laxmi- a specific but separate reguest from her sponsor
To meet with Santimaya and her mum with a view to buy some necessities again a specific but separate reguest from her sponsor

We charged around for the second day running. I am pleased to say that all the clothes have been bought for every child .We managed to buy alot of clothes for the 22 children we sponsor within the budget . That involved diving through the back streets where the wholesale merchants are. Uma did very well, and I merely hanged on to her and helped to carry the 5 big bags of jackets (20)/tracksuits(10)/t-shirts (10) /underclothes (20) etc.alongside Rajesh and Rasmila.Uma did it in double quick time because she knows I am uneasy walking through the back doubles.

So its on to another day