Sunday, 30 September 2012

Life in Kathmandu

My personal reflections , having been here for the past  4 years.

Toilet  paper is a luxury here . One  always  has to buy locally or bring enough from home country to make it last . This has caused consternation among some of the volunteers from abroad, especially if she is here for a few months. Imagine running out of toilet paper  unexpectedly ! Its just not bear thinking about ! :-o

Nepali business people are no different to the Chinese. We bargain for everything. They will always want the  first deal of  the day to be successful, symbolising  a good trading day to follow . So this is the buyer's best time for a very good deal.  :-)

There are 3 types of road surfaces in Kathmandu according to the Ministry of transport. They are black topped ( tarmac I think )roads , gravel and rough roads/paths. More often than not, its the gravel road, which are the rat runs that the taxi drivers go on to beat the traffic jam on the  black topped roads.. With multiple pot holes on almost every gravel road, the taxis tended to become ' bone shakers' for journeys undertaken. It could be viewed as a form of loose  massage in some quarters. I must admit I often feel quite  loose- limb ed after a taxi ride, quite therapeutic......:-ll

Like the Chinese, the Nepalis firmly believe that it is better to get rid of unwanted body fluid  (phlegm included ) than retaining it  in the system. hence the  spitting wherever they happen to be. It is a real challenge for the poor government to try to educate the populace through health education, and the implications of spreading diseases etc through this behaviour.
Malaysian government had to ban the practice with  fines imposed. It took years before it was understood and accepted by the population  :-(

The laws  of the jungle operate here  on the roads in Kathmandu. It is a fact that there are too many cars for the roads around town. It is the survival of the fittest, or rather the bravest, in terms of nosing your vehicle out in front of everyone else's with sudden jerks and stops. It is a nightmare for pedestrians trying to cross any road. No one would stop for  anything. I have developed a very powerful car stopping  wave. I have noticed that cars always screeched to a halt whenever I ventured across a road.This is one useful skill I have acquired  in Vietnam.. The key thing is to walk purposefully, try and eyeball the driver closest to you, then the cars/motorcycles will weave around you. I must say it is being put to good use almost on a daily basis. :-))

Lighter moments, I do hope you find them useful for your future trips here in Kathmandu

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Children of Neel Barahi School

It was a most unforgettable day yesterday. At our request, the school really pushed the boat out. With Janet's- (our chair) timely arrival, we were treated to an amazing dance performance, as well as a polished  demonstration of  the Karate class out in the sunshine.

During my trip last year , the Principal expressed her wish to see a dancing as well as Karate class introduced as and when the charity feels able to financially. Then 4 months ago, the trustees gave the go ahead for the dancing and Karate classes  to commence.

Since my arrival, I have been asking the school about the 2 classes. I was curious to see for myself how the pupils are using the opportunities, in addition to the computers the charity has provided for the school.It was then agreed that with the arrival of our Chair, the school will give us a flavour of how the pupils have achieved in the two classes.

The day started with some home visiting . It involved some of our newly sponsored children, meeting their parents in the homes. It helped to put the work we try to do in the local context.Most of the homes we visited were difficult for the parents, having to live in such substandard  conditions.However, they appreciate the support and help the charity is able to give to their children.Walking through the Kalimati neighbourhood, one can't help thinking that this must be one of the most deprived areas in Kathmandu. It is a sad fact that people just can't afford  to pay to have their rubbish collected.Therefore it is not surprising that the lanes we walked through were strewn ed with so much garbage that they formed part of the walking surfaces of the lanes, period

 After  lunch ,we  returned to the school to see the dance performance, followed by the Karate  demonstration. We were treated to some  beautifully costume on display, with many of our sponsored children taking part. A very considerate move on the school's part. Considering they have only been going for a few months, they were  accomplished dancers. They moved beautifully with such rhythm. Even the boys were amazing. Lots of photographic opportunities followed to mark this important occasion.

The Karate class was well underway when we joined the jostling children in the crowd. It must have been hard for the teachers to decide on who should join the class at the beginning. It was a joy to see that girls of various ages have been included. It is a real step forward to see that  there is equal opportunities here . This is  proof that the principal is forward thinking in her approach of managing school resources. The children did the teacher proud. They were focused, in tune with their movements as a group. And they displayed so much pride and confidence in their strikes and kicks that I was gob smacked. I was not expecting such level of synchronisation in such a large varied group of pupils. Janet and I were suitably impressed. However I did notice that there were a fair few of the pupils in the audience who were copying similar movements , trying to follow the class.It would appear that more classes are urgently needed if future funding is forth coming!

The day ended with a formal presentation to Janet-the chair  by the principal. It was fair to say the funding the charity has given is well utilised.The pupils have been given a broader education in the form of  exercise, developing self discipline,confidence, most of all,  fun, in a very restricted and somewhat deprived childhood . And I know everyone of us who are involved welcome this.

So, thank you all for your generosity and continued support. Everyone can be assured that the funding raised are benefiting the children here

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

ABC/ Nepal

There is no doubt that Uma has a wide network of  contacts in Nepal. Having spoken to her about the charity's potential foray into  issues of child trafficking and prostitution, I met up with her sister-in-law who is working in human rights and women's issues,alongside  the United Nations here in Nepal.

She told me that much research needs to be done before embarking on this complex area of work. And the best way to start will be through a NGO (non-governmental organisation, -a charitable organisation which is part funded by the govenrment and donations home and abroad) There are many women refuges here, notably Maiti Nepal and ABC/ Nepal. Imagine my delight when a meeting was arranged for Uma and me with the president of ABC/ Nepal yesterday morning

The president, Ms Durga Ghimire is a very inspiring lady. With her background in Law and Economics, she chose to turn her back on a prominent  academic career following a chanced encounter with a child victim. That was over 30 years ago. She is an activist, fighting for the rights of the  women particularly those who have been abused through violence, prostitution and gender discrimination . She has travelled  to many parts of the world,attempting to  learn and  understand about the factors and background contributing to child trafficking and prostitution.She lived in UK  for 2 years.During that time, she worked with BBC on programs concerning Nepal. What a learned and well informed lady.

Through the work of ABC/Nepal, much information have been gathered around the contributing factors to child trafficking, leading to  prostitution.The major causes are extreme poverty and hardship;lack of awareness; low literacy rates among women; low social status among girls and women;lack of employment opportunity resulting in lack of financial independence;polygamy and domestic violence.It has been observed that parental intention is one of the most important causes of girl trafficking-where parents willingly and knowingly sell their daughters into the trade. Abductions and fake marriages are also used as lures. Sometimes pimps tempt the Young girls with  promise of good job and decent salary. Being uneducated and unexposed to the cruel realities of the world, these girls often end up in the brothels of the big cities like Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi.

When the girls  were rescued, they faced severe physical and mental health problems. They  also faced rejection by their families and the communities they live in. It is against this background that ABC/Nepal started its ground breaking work in supporting and nurturing the rescued girls through counselling,education, training and where appropriate skills development, especially for those who are not literate. Many of the girls (over 70%) were diagnosed with HIV&Aids.They not only have to overcome the stigma, but to  learn  to live with the condition. It is evident that with the acquisition of a life skill, the girsl can become financially independent. That is a vital step in building self esteem and confidence. Not only it helps to alleviate poverty,it is also  a strong counter to  being abused and submissive in a male dominated society.

It is acknowledged that this is a global problem. However it is one which is accelerating at an alarming rate in Nepal. There needs to be a lot more collaborations among the agencies involved. More outreach work like street drama and projects aim at raising awareness must be continued.There are so much work still to do

Uma and I went away both humbled and inspired by this lady, and the work she is still trying to do

So how do we, as a charity fits in all these? Well I think the charity can play a very tiny role , possibly in the future , when more research has been done, and when we have access to more funding. When the time comes, the charity can help through an affiliation with a NGO like ABC/Nepal. You never know....... pigs just might fly........

Much of the information have been sourced from the work of ABC/Nepal.It is hoped that the biog will help the reader to understand better  the very serious issues faced by Nepal and other developing countries.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Our First English Language Class

For the first time, 18 children squeezed into the study cum the boys' bedroom  for their English Language class. It was a very rowdy first session.The 4 newly sponsored girls came today  to meet their older  counterparts.

Uma has decided to bring the class back from the school  to the orphanage. This will help Uma to monitor the attendance better. Having had a  chat  with  them all plus their parents, they are all under no illusions as to  the consequence of poor attendance. So for the first time in weeks, all the children turned up for the class, knowing full well that the big sister will be watching  from now on..

I met the new teacher for the first time. It was so good to see how Uma's children chose to sit between the Neel Barahi  children helping them with the lesson. It was such a spontaneous  reaction, so lovely to see. They were very patient in helping them finding their way round the lesson, particularly so with the new ones. It has never failed in me swallowing hard whenever  I witnessed such care and warmth in them. These children always revive my faith in human nature, regardless of the adversity one may encounter.

One of the challenges facing the teacher and the children is the expectation that every child will say something in English at the Open Day in a week's time.. Uma's children are all very confident, but the Neel Barahi students will be less able to. Many of them were being helped by Uma's children to compose  letters to their sponsors in UK. Needless to say, Uma's children have all done their replies independently , and in my safe keeping.I have to say I felt sorry for the teacher. Iit cannot be easy  having to juggle with the different age groups and learning levels in such a large group.

One of the things that amazed me is the wide variation in the standard  of spoken English by the Neel Barahi students.One of our top students speak perfect English, while his classmates can hardly string a sentence together. I accept that in the state school, the teaching medium is Nepali with one subject in English language, therefore it is not easy for them to be confident and fluent in their delivery. But why the big difference when they are taught in a similar environment ? I would love to understand better the reasons, then maybe we will be in a position to help to improve their learning .It feels like hit and miss at the moment.

Well this is only the beginning of a new group. The group dynamics changed when new members are introduced.I must be patient to watch them grow, at their pace, and not mine..

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Computer Room / Lab

Uma and I turned up at the Neel Barahi School yesterday morning. It was a pre-arranged visit to attempt to video the school and the computer room for our potential  funders.

As a novice video maker,  I had to do  several retakes before I was remotely satisfied with the outcome. The poor headmistress was patient but  nervous in her halting and hesitant delivery. We fell about laughing because it was a case of blind leading the blind.In the end, we were surrounded by hundreds of pupils who all wanted their one minute of fame in the video.. So I obliged.
The biggest surprise .in store  for us was the computer room.In the previous visits, the room was littered with some old non-working computers.It always look grey and in poor repair.  It is a large room, capable of taking at least 2 maybe 3 long rows of 10 computers each if the space is cleared and maximised. Imagine our surprise when we entered the computer room , it was s sight for sore eyes..Prakash, the computer teacher cum administrator had spent the previous 2  days (bank holiday) installing and connecting the new computers to the  Internet. There are now over 10 computers sitting in a long row, ready for action.

Uma and I turned and smiled at each other, we both thought' this is the day we have been working towards". All the running around and hard work have been worth it. It is obvious looking at the beautifully clear and clean room that it is  a computer room with a difference. Whoever comes in here to learn, s/he  will understand the hopes we have put into it.. The headmistress was overcome too, standing next to Uma and me. At that moment, I said to myself- this is what our charity is all about, providing opportunity  for a better  future.We acknowledged that we will need many more computers to enable a full class of  pupils to learn simultaneously, but this is an excellent start.

Once we have  recovered from our excitement, we interviewed a few students in the room to ascertain their views and future  aspirations .The girls especially were quite this new toy.They all talked about seeking and acquiring new knowledge through the net. One of them wants to a doctor, and the computer will help her tremendously- according to her Another talked about broadening her horizon. I was  just over the moon

Later on, the headmistress said to me that she will remove the partition between this room and the staff room should we manage to acquire all 35 computers eventually.It will create an ideal learning environment for the pupils.

 Our target now is an additional 17 computers,desks and chairs. When the time comes, the computer room will truly become  a computer lab

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Delightful Day

Following the various trips out to buy the  things for our 23 sponsored  children , Uma and I have started to slow  down. Guess what, no sooner than  I said about the unseasonal rain, the sun has come out today,for a change! Thus I was able to have all the washing done, and hopefully dry later on today. The downside is I did not break the record for wearing sweaty jeans - I was 2 days short of the record.

Yesterday was a long day in terms of sorting out the money to pay for the 6 computers. The local tradesmen would not accept credit card payment unless 7% is added to the final payment. It is largely a cash society, like Malaysia used to be. 7% means almost 80 pounds sterling, a ransom to Uma and myself. We can think of  many things we can buy with that money. So we went round countless  ATMs in Kathmandu  for several days, being refused payments on many occasions before we collected all the money required..I must admit I have never seen so much cash in my life. It was a thick wadge of 1,000 rupees notes. I have even taken photos of this money to preserve this momentous occasion.The computers have now  been delivered and  are being connected up today in the school

With the sun shinning this morning, I decided to take my first walk round the local area. The children were home from school because its a public holiday.The children lead a very protected life. Apart from going to  school, they do not go out at all. They hardly ever have friends calling or visiting. With Uma's permission, I took 2 of the older girls out for a walk .They were es tactic when I told them.. It was interesting to see them rushing downstairs to get ready The Team GB t-shirts from John are  very big hits with them . The girls put up their lovely long hair, with loopy earrings on. With nice fitting jeans and the pristine white t-shirts, they really looked  fantastic.

When I lifted the lock on the iron gate, they just whooped- ' We are out!' I was so amused to see their reaction. As we walked down the road, shopkeepers were doing second takes on the girls. They looked so good, and very different to the locals.The excitement on their faces was there for all to see.I thought we were just going for a walk. They were pointing out to me  some of the newly built houses. It was so refreshing for me to see things through their  eyes.

While we were walking through the Crown Plaza hotel, the first 5 * hotel in Kathmandu,a Nepali shop owner  stepped out of his boutique and asked them a question. Urmila replied, and they both laughed their heads off.. I asked what was said. .They told me that they were asked whether they were Nepali or foreigners, and they replied 'foreigner'. They were really enjoying the exchange. Cheeky monkeys.

While we were walking round the hotel ground, they were so taken by the  beautiful flowers around us.. Lots of photographs were taken of these two young lasses, by the swimming pool, in front of the hibiscus bush, next the the colouful flags etc. They were brimming  with such innocent happiness that it humbled me. Such simple pleasure, so easy to please

Whenever I am  talking to the children, I try to instill ambition and positive mental attitude in them They have come to believe me  that everything is possible in life if you want it bad enough. The most important thing for now is to work very hard and do well in their studies. The girls brought this up during our walk today. It was very emotional for me to hear them talking about their future in such confident manner

Our  walk finished with a nice ice cream  treat for all, myself included. What a lovely day.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Rain !.

Maybe its to do with  the climatic change,  it has certainly  affected the  monsoon season here. Apart from a very sunny day when I first arrived, it has been raining  ever since !

Uma says it is totally out of character, but that is no consolation to me and the volunteers here .Some of  the roads have deteriorated into big  holes with  puddles, muddy and squelchy when one  puts one's foot on it Our shoes and trousers are caked in mud and splashes from the passing cars.... It is not pleasant to say the least. Uma has taken to taxi for even the shortest journey  round the corner, just to avoid getting splashed and  her feet/footwear being covered in mud. And I am seriously considering doing the same! I am no hero.

The worst part of this wet weather is the inability to wash anything. Everything in and out of the suitcase feels and smells damp. The only positive thing I can see is whether I will break my personal record on the length of time of being  in a pair of jeans. My personal best, or rather worst  is 7 days. Its 5th day today and counting ...Urgh....The other day, I looked into the children's bedroom  and wondered 'why is Rajesh ironing, of all things, a sock?' Then I realised that his socks were too damp to wear to school. He was trying to iron dry his socks before going to school !

Reading through the local papers, large areas of the Eastern and central part( where Kathmandu is ) have been flooded .I suppose we have to count ourselves lucky that we are dry and generally warm most of the time.There are quite a lot of school holidays around at present. This has given me a chance to talk to the kids leisurely. They have all largely become very relaxed with me , having seen me and stayed here for the previous 4  years

I have been using this opportunity  to find out from them individually about their families, and times before they came to the Orphanage. I guess with 8 growing children/teenagers, it is not possible for Uma to do everything.With the 4 older ones, I wonder what they are thinking about their lives to date and their future? Having met and spoken to the other sponsored children from Neel Barahi school, the contrast is quite stark.Uma's children are able to verbalise some ideas of what they want to be as they enter the senior forms.The children from Neel Barahi  just looked blankly at me , not understanding where I was coming from. Maybe I am being unrealistic here, given that those children have a somewhat disadvantaged living condition.In addition , with the constant flow of volunteers passing through the orphanage, the children have the exposure of different cultures, values and role models they aspire to, and most importantly a chance to practise English speaking.

I have been heartened and impressed by what I have seen here. The investment  we have made have been worthwhile to date. I look forward to the kids' future with great optimism. And thank you all .You have made it happen. And the kids say 'thank you ::)

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The School

Another hectic day.

We met with the mothers of our sponsored children early this morning.It was pretty clear from the onset that there are conflict of interests here.Many of the children are living in very difficult home conditions...To help mum to sell vegetables or not, and before or /and after school ? which would mean missing the English language class. These are real dilemmas facing the children

Through Uma, I explained to the mums  the difficulties we face as a very small charity with limited resources. With so much unmet need in the school, the charity needs to maximise the resources we have. I fully understand that they have different priorities, and respect the choices they have to make on a day to day However, it would mean that the charity would want to move the resources to sponsoring another new child on our waiting list.The mums listened and appreciated  the time that we gave them to look at the issue. We will review the attendance in March 2013

At the  same time, we met the 3 new children whom  we have sponsored recently. It transpired that everyone of them is living. in dire home conditions .These children are coming to school hungry. To cut a long story short, I horse traded with Uma's son who is sponsoring 2 of them, in return I paid up front approximately 55 sterling  for the 3 girls to have breakfast in school from now until April 2013.\There are many more children in the same plight. But like John says, I cannot save the world. I can only do my best within the resources available to me....

However,.I did a quick calculation. Based on the number of sponsors, Friends and donors we have, it would not be difficult to raise fifteen hundred sterling to provide 50 daily  breakfasts for a year. This is the most cost effective way to feed the children , rather than setting up a stand alone breakfast club. One breakfast  costs 15 rupees a day( 11 pence approx). She will have an egg 3 x a week,plus fillers like rice, bread,noodles or rice flakes.. All this are being done in collaboration with  the school canteen

The new desks and computers are being ordered.I had to make it clear to the school that they are bought for the pupils. I would not expect the admin staff to start using the computers earmarked for the computer lab. I was quite adamant that the school must pay for their staff, and not start removing the odd one or two to the staff room. Otherwise there will be repercussions. The poor computer teacher who is fighting a losing battle on this front, was grateful for my intervention. So we shall see. Uma will pop into the school from time to time, just to supervise.things in general

I hope to update events in the following days. Maybe Uma and I need to slow down a bit. We are no spring chicken, I keep reminding ourselves :)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Our Future Goals

  It may only be 3 days since I arrived in Kathmandu, but it feels as though I have been here  for a long time. I wonder whether it is to do  with meeting the school Principal the day after my arrival? Jet lag aside, its been hectic  planning  and organising  various appointments for the different activities we hope to undertake while I am here

Uma and I shared a similar outlook in how we see and do things. We have the tendency to hit the ground running if there are things to be done. So far we have bought  under garments for the children. The tailor came this morning to take measurement of our 21 sponsored children  for track suites.We went to Thamel to buy some desk top calendars ,among other things for sale for the sponsors' tea on 17th Nov

The main areas of discussion with the Headmistress focused around the infrastructure and facilities of  Neel Barahi school in addition to the welfare and educational attainments of the sponsored children. We came to an agreement that we need to review the poor attendance of some of the children with a view to cease sponsorship. This will enable us to have new( younger children) children to benefit from the process. Uma and I will be meeting up with the parents (with the children themselves) to remind them again of our expectations and conditions for sponsorship. Fingers crossed for a smooth meeting!

The other main areas are around the purchase of 6 more computers  and desks; feasibility of setting up  a breakfast club;expanding the reference library for the Sixth formers; help with equipping a much smaller science lab; and feasibility of providing play areas for games like 5-a-side football/basketball.

Last but not least, the hobby horse of both the Nepali and the British Ambassador- a project whereby  young girls are coached and mentored through education and training to enable them to develop a strong sense of self  and confidence, to put it very simply. This is designed to start to combat child trafficking and prostitution which is a serious social problem here in Nepal.There is an organisation called ' Mighty Nepal' which is involved in rescuing and working with women who were kidnapped  and sold on often as child prostitutes
The Headmistress surprised us with  amazingly positive and open delight in all the areas we had raised.Obviously we are talking about short/medium/long term goals here . There are much work to be undertaken . The school will start to collect data on the different aspects  of the children's  profile. They will include numbers working before and after school, caring responsibilities; number living in rented accommodation ; number without breakfast before school etc. Uma and I will try and source more information from the local Municipal offices-local town hall to you and me

These areas were discussed among the trustees before I left UK. It was important to seek the views of the school before we do any further work . I am delighted and excited by the response of the Headmistress. Full steam ahead for what will be an exciting year ahead!