Like everywhere in Nepal, his community had a lot of people living in poverty and he wanted to help. He already took in a few nonpaying students, but this put a financial strain on the school. As he later told me, “When parents show up at the school to beg me and I go to see the conditions in which they live, how can I continue saying no?” If such children do not receive education, their prospects are dim.
From the point Surya and I met, we talked, planned, wrote up ideas and evaluated the costs of many projects, including one I wanted to start: a children’s transitional home for abandoned and orphaned children. We met with government officials to get insight into the many issues and problems. Surya and I conspired every day over a meal of Mo-Mos, with paper and pen always in hand tallying up the costs of human damage and suffering.
Then we took the long and exhausting trip to his school, met the children and heard many devastating stories of the obstacles that people here often face. Everything from malnutrition, lack of running water or medical care, senseless death from preventable or easily treatable diseases and the list goes on. Many children are left alone all day to play on the road or in nearby construction zones, while parents go off to work in fields or search for jobs that are quite insufficient to feed their family. Sending a child to school is a fantasy few can even contemplate. They couldn’t afford pencils, let alone shoes, books, a uniform and the meager school fees.
There are no social services in Nepal. No subsidized medical care. No disability. If you lose your legs in a bus explosion set off by clashes between the government and Maoist revolutionaries, no one will help you feed your kids. If your child gets sick, you will have to liquidate all your assets to care for them, plus someone will have your job when you return. That’s if you had a job in the first place. Jobs are usually invented here, not offered. Instead you sell, you beg, you run the strong risk of being exploited, abused, or even enslaved. Bonded labour and child sexual exploitation is more common in Nepal than anyone wants to contemplate.
So when a wealthy well-dressed man comes to your village and offers to take your child to the city for an education, you may use whatever possessions or money you have to pay him the fee he asks, in a desperate attempt to save your child from the misery of the poverty you live every day. Conversely, if a man gives you a small handful of much needed money to “employ” your child till the debt is paid off, you might even be desperate enough to trust that his intentions are to help you and your family.
What actually happens to these children? They do not go to school. At best, they become indentured servants to work for corrupt government officials or upper caste people. They are unable to ever pay off the debt, which only grows as the exploiters add fees and charges. At worst, these children are sold to brothels, never to be seen by their parents again. Desperation is a way of life here and children often get lost, abused or even killed in the scramble to find a way out of poverty.
When I first came to Nepal, I wanted to build a transitional home for children. Yet, I saw that I could immediately help existing efforts and get more children into school here and now, so I decided to begin there. Hard as it is to face, prevention is generally more effective than trying to repair the wounds that trafficked and abused children suffer. If we can stop it from ever happening by offering parents paths out of poverty, we should. In time, I would also like to help victims, but preventing victims seemed like the best place to start.
Three years later, much has been accomplished. As of this writing, there are now over 200 children attending school for free in a school of 300. Many are sponsored by people in Europe or North America. Their families benefit from a “chicken and goat program” that helps them become self-sufficient and improve their nutrition. Without a route towards self-sufficiency, there simply isn’t a future. We’re also now getting involved with micro-lending institutions to get rural people capital for a small business or farm expansion, thereby elevating them from survival to something more livable.
Three new classrooms, a small library and a computer lab have been built. Clean water has been supplied and warm winter jackets have been provided. Volunteers have come and gone. They have taught hygiene, staffed medical clinics and offered many skills to the community. A small school bus is being acquired to bring in children from remote areas and pick up those who currently walk hours to get to school. We have many other projects that the community would like to implement and with time they will become a reality.
Through all of these experiences, I have learned that sometimes to accomplish a dream you simply cannot think too much. You just have to do it and figure it out as you go along. If you keep doing what you know is right, you absolutely will figure it out. Purposefully boxing yourself into a spot that leaves you no choice but to prevail often ensures that you will. Or I suppose there is the slight possibility of miserable failure of epic proportions. Okay, just ignore that last part. It is fear that keeps us from doing anything worth doing.
If you are like me, the more you think, the more you analyze. The more you analyze, the less you actually do. All you end up doing is intellectualizing yourself out of your dreams and slowly extinguishing them with “worst case scenario analysis” and hesitation to actually get off your butt and do it. Whatever “it” is. If you can jump into the pool without getting out a thermometer and yardstick, you may just discover that you are swimming uninhibited in a warm crystal-blue sea of real living.
Joanna Bryniarska is a traveler and writer from Canada. She is the founder of Org4Peace that seeks to improve the future for children in Nepal. You can browse their website at www.org4peace.org.