I guess now is a good time to go into the WHY a little bit better? Or in fact at all, as I have not really yet. It was an intrigue sparked at a fairly young age – maybe 5 or 6, when an older former student from my primary school came in to talk to us about her volunteer time in Nepal. Incidentally, it was the only time that any such thing happened. I remember her photos and being some what gobsmacked. She had a nose piercing. I got in the car that afternoon and remember telling my Mom that I wanted one too. I don’t think it went down too well at the time. Nor did it when I finally did it at 17 whilst my parents where away.
After that, it rested at the back of my mind. Not a fore-running obsession, but my obsessions tend to be short lived and cast aside, so a good thing perhaps. And then when the earthquake hit in 2014, these memories spilled forward and suddenly I realised, this was something I can do, I can go and help somehow. Not long after, I began to fundraise to go and help aid with the rebuild program being run, but by the time life played out in such a way that I COULD go, the program had ceased. I was beyond frustrated and let it show in my mails when the organisation I had been dealing with suggested I put my fundraising towards another opportunity in another country. People donated to a certain cause! Not so I could flutter off and use there money for some other activity, rescuing turtles in Costa Rica or on a tour, it just seemed wholly dishonest. As if the organisation, and I by proxy had conned people out of money. So after a fairly strongly worded email or two, I was introduced to the organisation in Nepal and a plan was set in motion, to work in a school or doing maintenance. I chose to teach, which at the time seemed the lesser of two evils though I really had no idea what I was getting myself in for. I had never taught outside of yoga, and never taught kids.
On arriving, I knew a little about the organisation and the kids, but in all honestly hadn’t made complete sense of it. I thought I would be teaching in a school run by the home, and only kids from the home attended so finding myself at a local school with 150 odd kids was a bit of a shock to my non-teaching system. Beyond that though, I was unaware of the home and why it existed. I mentioned in my previous post a book about a children’s home in Nepal, which gave me some further insight into the situation in regards the civil war that went on for 10 years, and what I had gleaned thus far.
Maoists gained control over the more rural areas with greater ease, leaving the Kathmandu valley relatively safe by comparison. Children from these areas were drafted into the Maoist army and used as child soldiers (incidentally a polemic point in Nepal at the moment as many were kicked out of the army post war, sans pension. You can read more about that here.) At the same time, traffickers began to operate in these areas, promising families to take their children to safety for vast sums of money. The families were promised their children would be well cared for, given an education and would have a good future ahead of them – plus it put their children out of danger of being drafted. Of course, that was not the case, upon reaching Kathmandu the children were kept by the traffickers to bring in money by begging, sometimes sold on as child slaves, used for labour. Of course, people began to notice that the numbers of children on the streets and before long volunteer organisations began working with the government to try and get these kids into safety.
Which should sound safe and simple, BUT, and there is always a but… in many cases the families had signed over legal guardianship of the children to the traffickers, making it extremely difficult to swoop in and wrest the children away to homes where they could be cared for. That said, slowly, it happened. Homes began to open, volunteers began to arrive and slowly things began to change. In many cases the children had been terrified to ever mention their families, as their previous “carers” had beaten it out of them. In other cases, children had been given official documentation, death certificates for their families, which hints that the traffickers had some governmental connections on their side. “The Little Princes” details how two volunteers, having had a parent show up at a home one day, began to realise that these children still had families, and to seek them out – with a great success rate.
Fast forward to 2016… and back to SSCH. The home had been opened by VSN, working with the Nepali government. VSN (formerly CERV Nepal) had opened a home (Bright Future Children’s Home), previously in 2004, where initially to care for “8 children rescued from a run down and dysfunctional home for children with disabilities.” The two homes have merged in recent years, with SSCH already housing a number of Humli kids, joined by the remaining kids at BFCH. Obviously as the children age, and leave the home the numbers are lowering. However too, with the war having ended, the number of volunteers has also dwindled. SSCH is committed to seeing these kids through to grade 12, which is to give each some degree of a college education. At that point, they should be in an empowered position to make their own way – either by continuing their studies and supporting themselves financially with part-time work, as many teachers I met in the school did, or by completing their studies at this point and entering the job market, or returning home to their Humli families and support them. Some, if lucky, find financial support to take them through their final years of study, which can be arranged through VSN, which continues its work with these kids but also has expanded into providing an education centre at the former BFCH site.
All the kids that I met though all had one main desire running through them. Not all want to return to Humla to live, but all have a drive to learn as much as they can, to help make Humla a better place, through education, or being able to support their families either financially or by sharing what they have learned whilst in the home – for example women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health (there will be a later blog about this) amongst other things, to help create a better future in Humla.
And with that… back to my time in SSCH… and my adventures in teaching kids English at school, and yoga at home.
If you would like to volunteer, or donate to support the kids at SSCH and get in the Christmas giving spirit – you can do so here.