Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Namaste Kathmandu!

Well, another year, another  journey. I must admit that this has been one of the more  challenging  trip, but also one of the most successful  one in terms of projects achieved. I am immensely  proud of what KIKN has helped to achieve in the 2 schools , the 2 orphanages and the 38 children we sponsor for education

KIKN has seen  it's third University  student embarking on her journey -to become a teacher  in 3 years' time. We are so excited  and proud of  Apsara's achievement  so far, fully aware of  the battles she has faced and the hardship  endured before today.

Many of our sponsored  children are  reaching the teen age. For many years, I have noticed no change in height/ size of  the children. I did wonder whether this generation will be small like their parents. However, this year has seen many of them growing much taller and rounded. A most welcoming sight. The growth spurt has obviously been happening in the last 12 months. They are becoming  good looking young men and young ladies! So lovely to see!

The Open Day gave me the opportunity  to renew  my acquaintances  with the mums.Hopefully  they will take on board what Uma said about  their role in their children's education.  It is not enough that KIKN works to give them a life line. The  parents must play their part as well

A lot of of hard work has gone into this month long  visit, further consolidating KIKN's projects and it's profile in Kathmandu.  What is left now is the various  reports/ updates I need to produce to better  inform the trustees back at base. I can see lots of paper work ahead  on my return.

So, Namaste Kathmandu , till I see you again😊😊😊😊

Friday, 16 October 2015

2015 visit- KIKN Open Day

The time is fast approaching  when  I  will  be  saying goodbye to Uma and all the children. KIKN will hold our annual Open day this afternoon. It is our hope that as many parents  as possible  will come with their children. This is the only time when Uma and I  actually  meet most of the mums, and give them all a parcel of winter jacket, tracksuits,  underwear ,socks etc.. We then enjoy a good feast , something we all look forward to each year.

This trip has been fruitful, but challenging at times. Maybe the aging process  makes one more emotional  rather than pragmatic, an approach which has served me well over the  years. It is certainly  harder to stay  pragmatic  these days when one is faced with so much sorrow  and loss. I just feel grateful for what we have and enjoy in the west.

KIKN has achieved much, but so much more can be done ,resources  permitting.  As expected, I have received shopping lists from the schools, albeit not a long one for a change! The lists  of needs and wants will form the basis for discussion  and will guide the trustees to formulate  a project plan for 2016.

KIKN has been fortunate to have attracted several funding streams successfully since the earthquake.  These has helped us to provide more help to families than we originally planned. Onwards and Upwards for KIKN !

The Open Day

Uma and I prepared clothes parcels for 33 children plus 5 young ladies who are in year 12 (Upper 6)and university education. .The turn out was almost complete. It was my 8th year, therefore most of the mums know me well. They know we try to help  their children to  go on to have  better lives through education, and they are grateful. However some are unable to look beyond the urgent need  of putting the next meals at the table. I empathised with that. Uma and I do accept that we cannot win them all, but to support where we can until such time when they finish their secondary education

 Uma said some of the mums  have been asking when will KIKN  start the sponsorship program again. It would appear that they have been asking  since last year's Open Day , and again today. It is something that I will take back to the trustees for discussion. KIKN just about manage the 38 children now. It will largely dependent on Uma and myself in how we see ourselves  managing the sponsoring process with  additional children.

As part of Child protection procedure, I am duty bound to read all the letters the children have written to their sponsors and vice versa. Many of them wanted to say thank you for the £100 KIKN have given them following the earthquake- a very wise counsel from Uma at the time  even though it went against the grain. KIKN has never handed cash to individual families until then. It was always in kind, purchased by Uma. It was heartening to read many of the letters repeating the same theme .Our decision was the right one at the time, thanks to Uma who has  bags of insight and common sense, as always.

I came across some heart breaking pleas in some of the letters. They all come from the true orphans at the Parapokar Orphanage where KIKN started the sponsorship program last year , beginning with 5 girls and a boy. In their letters to their sponsors, they are asking their sponsors if they can be their parents/grandparents substitute? They even drew  pictures of a  father and a mother with them as the daughter in the middle. I need to think how to handle letters like that before I forward them to their sponsors. Sponsors do what they do  out of generosity and a desire to help. It may be off putting for some to receive letters like that , totally unexpected and alien scenario to find themselves in.

This is the first time I have come across this type of requests from our sponsored children .The general theme  tended to be asking the sponsors to come to Nepal to visit them espousing the beauty of Nepal, and to meet them at long last. May be I am reading too much into these. Maybe they are just muses of teenage fantasies, and nothing more than that.... or could they have been put up by the staff in the Orphanage ? Or could it merely reflects the desperate desire of these poor children to have an identity, some thing/ some one they can call their own?  Is KIKN up to the job of fulfilling that angle if that is the case ? I  really don't know.....I need to think...........

Reflecting on the challenges  of working in Nepal........ There is  always something new and unexpected that I can learn from; there are some things that I have to accept regardless of how I feel about them (against my values), but  most of all, respect the decision they have made for themselves no matter what. The one thing I have learnt from working with them is that they are immensely resilient and are survivors . And I have huge respect  for the unsung heroes in all  the mums and dads I have come across over the years.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Uma's Children

Having stayed  at the orphanage  for the past 7 consecutive years, I have watched the children growing up  that little bit more each year, with the biggest  growth spurt seen in the last 2 years. I lamented at the passing years, but also take pleasure  in seeing the children  growing and developing confidently into  young adults. The 3 older ones are as tall if not taller than me now.

They are all so different in their imdividual ways. Uma has done well with the children.  They are polite,  helpful  and  quietly confident.  They believe in themselves.  The older ones are developing a clear idea of what they want to be when they grow up. I suppose I brain wash them  each time when I am here into thinking 'You can be anything you want to be.  You just have to prepare to work for it'. They listened and applied themselves.  And it is reflected in their school reports . It is such a pleasure  to see how well they are doing.

One of the boys, Suzan is exceptionally  bright.  He sleeps only for @5 hours each night. His bedtime reading is the  Science Encyclopedia. He is very good with building and making things.  He has built a mini generator  that works from bits of wire, blocks of wood etc.. This generator can power the television during the power cut. Any repair  around the house is undertaken by Suzan.  He sorts out the plumbing,  damaged shower heads etc. He wants to be  an aeronautical  engineer when he leaves school. And I believe he will be.Uma has asked if KIKN  can explore the feasibility of  finding potential colleges who may be interested in his academic development.  I will try to find that information  my  return to UK

The 3 older girls are growing up gracefully. One is interested in fashion. She is very bright in her study but unsure of what she wants to do eventually.. The oldest is interested to explore doing medicine which mean long period of study and personal sacrifice. The youngest of the 3 still a little way away from knowing her mind.The 2 boys are clear.  One an aeronautical  Engineer and the other a policeman.

It was really nice to cosy up to them some evenings and talked about school, London, teenage fashion,travel and  life in general. . It is not surprising  therefore, that when asked about their biological families up in the mountains, none of them is interested to go back to look them up when they grow up and working. That seems to be the unanimous view amongst the 8 of them. It reflects the extend of hurt, hidden anger and rejection they must feel by their families.It is understandable  when you think only one or two of the parents bother to visit them may be once a year or every 2 years .And it tends  to be prior to  the festivals. Lets just say the children are not impressed at all.

All things considered,  these children cope very well with Uma giving them the  love and stability they need. And it  comes with the increased opportunities to have a good life too. I guesss they are the lucky ones......

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Boys' Orphanage @ Parapokar-Durrkot

Uma and I took an early morning taxi ride to deliver a big parcel for one of our sponsored  children, Deepok. The name Deepok or Deepak means Light. It is a very popular name for a boy in Nepal.Within my limited circle of acquaintances, I know at least 4 who are named Deepak/Deepok/ Deepesh/Dipesh. I used to think how can I have so much difficulty in remembering a simple name like Deepak? thinking it was me who keep mishearing the pronounciation! Laugh. ......

During my short visit in April (just before the earthquake),  I met  some of  Uma 's volunteers  who  were  interested in KIKN’S work. They came on some home visits  with us, and saw at first hand the dire  home  conditions  the local children  were living in. Some of them then became interested in our work .Denny M was working in the boys Orphanage @ Parapokar. He went on to sponsor Deepok through KIKN. His friend Alex,  also went on to sponsor a child at Parapokar. KIKN has supporters from across the globe, but they are our first sponsors from outside of UK.  They  both live in Hamburg in Germany.

Parapokar is the oldest orphanage established in Kathmandu   by philanthropy.  It has its schools  in its own ground. The boys' quarter was first set up in its original building followed  by  the girls'  much later. They are strictly run as 2 separate entities, with a fence dividing the schools as well.Only male volunteers  are allowed to work in the boys side and similarly for the girls.

During the earthquake, the old buildings on the boys side were badly damaged. It was not habitable. So they had to move lock, stock and barrel to the outskirt of Kathmandu, a remote village called Durrkot. That included the teachers, and all the resident staff. Uma and I saw many  children, but have no idea the number involved.

KIKN sponsor 5 girls from Parapokar.  I was able to meet them and hand over their sponsors' letters/ cards/treats etc to them personally soon after my arrival.Time was marching on. With the petrol crisis, it was impossible for Parapokar staff to bring Deepok to meet me at  Uma's. Having done  the journey,  I appreciate  the difficulty  they have to fund the journey. In the event we took one of their sick boys to a hospital in Kathmandu  on our return journey .

Deepok is a small 11 year old orphan. He is soft spoken, and is self contained.He seems to be a happy child. He was dellighted to see us. It was totally unexpected. His face said it all. Denny sent a big parcel to me before I left UK. There was a football t-shirt,  always a boy's favourite  plus post cards, photos, giant artist chalks and others. It was so touching to see him standing there holding this pile of gifts that  reminded him of their times together in April. He was overwhelmed. We were too.....

Before we left, we asked him ' do you have any message you want us to tell Denny? He lifted his eyes, burning bright  and said softly ' how is he? when is he coming to see me again? '

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Children of Kathmandu 2

With the fuel ( petrol ) crisis caused by the closing of its borders, the Indian government   is playing silly games with the Nepal's economy .Being landlocked on 3 sides by India, Nepal is at the mercy of India in terms of its food, fuels and all manners of merchandise .It's no surprise that the taxis are now charging fares 3 times as much as in  the previous year.Uma and I have tried to cut down on our  taxi journeys wherever we can. We try to do one round trip  as much as we can to maximise the fare. However, some home visits needed to be done regardless.

KIKN has identified a family with 3 children living in a steel container  in the aftermath  following  the earthquake .The children attend Jana Sudhar school..The eldest, Aneta Anai is a small 14 year old in class 6. She speaks very good English. They are good students according to Raju ,the teacher who accompanied us to the home visit. Both the parents are deaf and dumb. They are casual labourers.Their daily earning , when there is work is around £4-£5 combined.

It was  a drive to the rural Kathmandu where the family lives. We saw the remaining  evidence of the destruction caused by the earthquake.  Many of the houses in central Kathmandu escaped unscathed comparatively speaking.Once we are on the outskirt, many buildings with big cracks as well those collapsed into piles of rubble are still dotted along the main thoroughfare.

On the way we were told that there are 11 members of the family who are living in this aluminium  house.There are 3 generations, including 2 uncles ,an aunt and their children.It transpired  that they have difficulty finding a house/a partment with 3 rooms. Many landlords are not keen to have such a large family to rent a room?.So they ended up there in this zinc house, built with bamboo structure inside with aluminium panels as the walls. One could see all the holes where the bamboo poles meet the aluminium  frame.They are going to be cold in winter, just like the bamboo school in Gorkha. The  difference  is they have grandparents who are in their 70s. It is going to be very hard for them

Uma and I did not like the look of the building. It is very filmsy, a gust of  strong wind could tear open the panels. It is situated on a raised and open ground. The only good thing is there is some land to grow vegetables  which they have done to be more self efficient. It is ironical  that the aluminium house is surrounded  by some real fancy building being built right next door to it

On talking to the family, I experienced for the first time the grief and sorrow of a mother who lost her young son and daughter in law during the earthquake . They were all in the house when the earthquake  struck. It happened so quickly that they did not have a chance to get out. The house just collapsed with the whole family buried in it. They had to dig themselves out. Unfortunately  her  son and daughter in law did not make it.The aunt brought out a photo and showed us the young couple. They were probably in their early 20s. The poor woman was  howling with such pain. I just didn't  know what to do or say. I touched her on her shoulder....I looked to Uma who was trying to offer some words of comfort. We both felt pretty helpless and useless  (for a change.)

The family was grateful for the grocery KIKN  bought for them. There were 30 kilos of rice, 5 kilos of flour , 6 litres of cooking oil and a crate of eggs. That should see them through for  a little while. KIKN is paying the rent for the zinc house until the budgetted money runs out. With  the rent at 12000 a month, it will keep them going  for a   year. Uma stressed that the money is only for a year,  and no more.

We left feeling somewhat overwhelmed....

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Children of Kathmandu

Uma and I met 2 of the children Luni ( Uma's daughter) sponsor . A very sad tale, it would appear  that it is very common amongst the families  from the lower socio-economic class

This little girl is 10 years old . Her brother is 5. They have been staying in a tent since the earthquake. Mother was the second wife to her first husnamd who died a few years ago. She has  since remarried and the children's stepfather is currently  in prison . She has decided that she will travel to the Middle East to seek work. She is going to leave the children in an orphanage. This little 10 year old told Uma that she wants to continue to stay in the tent and keep her brother with her, rather than going into a home.

Our hearts break for her. This amazing grown up 10 year old girl who has nothing in the world ,naively believed  that she can continue to stay in the tent alone with her younger brother. She was wiping her eyes as she was telling Uma about this. Uma asked her to tell her mother  to come and  see her. Uma might be able to find employment  for her mum to enable them to stay together as a family

While we were at Jana Sudhar School, we went into the tiffin room. There was a 7 year old girl who was helping the cook to serve  lunch to all the children present. A very sensible girl who is keen to help and  please everyone. She only sat down to have her tiffin after everyone was served. Her teacher told us that she lives with her aunt and uncle. Her parents live up in one of the  rural villages. They live off the land. She is in Kathmandu for the opportunity  to receive an education.Her aunt is considering sending her back to her parents   because they can longer support her. Uma wants to know if it is only the education cost or the whole upkeep as well that is the reason behind their decision . She may be able to get one of her children to sponsor her. We wait to see if that is a possibility

Apsarah is one of KIKN sponsored  6th formers. She is 18 years of age. She came to collect  the sponsor's letter  having just finished her final exam. She is now waiting  for her results to come through. All being well, she should  start her Diploma in Education (to be trained as a teacher ) in October. I was watching her talking to Uma,  I have never seen such sad eyes in someone so young.

She lives with her older  brother who suffers from kidney failure. He receives renal dialysis twice a week from a hospital in Kathmandu.  From Nepali's perspective, this signals the end . Her brother has not long to live.  His condion is possibly at the terminal stage.  Apsarah works as a shop assistant after she finishes her class each day to help to pay the rent and food for both of them. Her parents live off the land somewhere up in the mountains.  They help when they can. With the festival  coming, I guess there isn't much in the home to celebrate.....I gave her the money to buy clothes/outfits she likes to wear in college and to bring me the receipts  afterwards . In addition I gave her £40 (equivalent) from KIKN towards the housekeeping expenses for the festivals in a week's time

Each year when I am here,  I do find it increasingly hard to cope emotionally when confronted with children who are suffering and at  such a disadvantage. . I know I cannot save the world, not even Nepal, but it is still hard to accept that the divide is so wide!   Their faces haunt me when I am in UK, knowing how comfortable we are living in the land of plenty .....and the children in Nepal are trying to survive on a day to day.......

And all this is purely down to the accident of birth........


Thursday, 1 October 2015

Jana Sudhar Lower Secondary School

Uma and I paid our first visit to the school this morning. What an amazing  welcome! Instead of children lining the street in the sun ( as of last year ), this year they all stayed in their respective classrooms  and came forward with their bunches of flowers. A most touching gesture to say thank you  to  KIKN's donations to enable the school to have a computer lab, a new library, canteen to prepare  free meals for 180 nusery children,classroom furniture ,a water purifier and a new Science lab to come.

They were indeed, very grateful,The water purifier was built into the fabric of the school.Three of the classrooms were flattened  during the earth quake. They are waiting for the government to fund the rebuilding. UNICEF and World Vision funded the building of the bamboo classroom in the aftermath.  Unfortunately the classes were constantly invaded by the monkeys from the nearby Swambu Temples and snakes crawling out from the surrounding woods . In the end, the children had to vacate and move back to the safety of the rather overcrowded class rooms.

As I entered each classroom, I was humbled by a great swell of emotion, seeing how hungry these children are to learn. They are keen to grasp the opportunities to learn and better themselves. They understand the importance  of a good education, even at the tender age of 9/10 years.  I had to fight hard to push down a lump in my throat. The faces of the children said it all. They are  grateful for everything KIKN has done to equip their school with so many new facilities. This makes the relentless  fund raising  work in UK worthwhile.

Uma and I were honoured in the traditional way. ..With a tikka on our forehead and a red Tibetan prayer scarf