Katie and her team finally arrive at their school site in Koshi Tappu; the jungle lowlands of Nepal on the Indian border. In episode 1, they trudged through two barricades and roadblocks as the country was in a nationwide strike. Now in the conclusion, they meet with villagers to check up on the school project, deliver educational material, and work with the village advisers to create a future action plan.
Five-minute movie asking the viewers of Give TV to help a Nepalese child that has been abandoned by his father.
Aunil is being supported by his Grandfather and Uncle, but they are running out of money to continue helping him. Nepalese children in these situations are often sent to the orphan homes. Grandfather has been in the hospital while the Uncle has his own family to support - including recent hospital fees for his sick wife and daughter.
The family buffalo has also just died, which resulted in ten-month's loss of income. The family is in risk of losing everything.
While driving to her school site in Nepal, Katie encounters a Banda (strike). Assassination attempts on political leaders occurred this morning. The leaders might not survive. Unaware of the reasons for protest, Katie faces several mob barricades, and pleas with the locals to let her pass.
The problem with orphan homes in Nepal is that they all have children with living parents. Volunteerism is the biggest money-making scheme in Nepal.
Right, so let's get down to the nit-and-gritty. There are two pressing issues why children are being placed into orphan homes.
We are aware of the situation surrounding widowed and abandoned mothers. However, child trafficking is a whole new can of worms.
Following two leads, I contacted two organizations that are involved. But just like the Embassy, they too cannot get involved on a personal level. It would jeopardize their current projects going on in the country.
The situation is much deeper than any of us could imagine. People in power convince small villages to trust them with their children. The families pay 20,000 Rs (US$233) to send their child to a private boarding school in Kathmandu. However, once the trafficker and the child reach Kathmandu, the girls are sold to India for prostitution while the boys are taken to Orphan Homes. The orphan home directors on 'in' on this operation. They gladly accept the child (even though they fully have knowledge of their living parents). They accept the children because they can make money off the volunteers who come to Nepal. They over-charge the Westerner money to volunteer claiming this is for rent, food, and utilities. This amount is sometimes double or triple the actual cost to run one of these homes.
In other cases, the boys (particularly around the age of 12) are also sold to India, but in this case it's for their organs.
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Barricade on the way to village.
We arrived in Bhagalpur late last Monday night, nearly past midnight. It took much longer to get there than any of us had imagined. 16 hours to be exact, about six more than what was projected.We had the usual mishaps along the way! And by usual, I mean in the Nepalese sense. Possibly for any other country, what we encountered would be quite unusual.
Assassinations, Strikes and Roadblocks:
Shortly after our departure, a Banda was called in response to an assignation attempt on three leaders of the Maoists Party. If you recall, the Maoists were responsible for the overthrow of the King in 2006. They rebelled for the decade prior seeking political and social change. The Maoists were the peasants who saw a change in leadership ideal for their voice as commoners. Through propaganda (some believe), the rest of society was convinced of the need for this revolution.
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POKHARA, NEPAL -- I arrived in Nepal last Friday and have been busy getting the ball rolling so we can begin the construction of the school.
Since we began Phase I of the school project last Summer, we have successfully raised enough money over this past year to start Phase II! It was a community effort that brought in the bulk of the funding through our Musicians for Nepal Benefit held on April 5th in Breckenridge Colorado.
Six bands and solo acts performed live music well into the night. Breckenridge Distillery donated cases of bourbon and vodka, 100s of business owners around the county donated raffle and silent auction prizes including Breckenridge Outfitters while Napper Tandy's donated the door cover and a portion of alcohol sales. We were more than grateful to have a match of US$5,000 from the owners of Grand Lodge on Peak 7, located in Breckenridge.
Because of the generosity of the Breckenridge community, and several additional private donations from individuals all over the U.S. and world, we were able to successfully raise enough money to finish the school project that was started last summer!
Budget meetings with Dipak
I am currently working on the project from Pokhara because of the accessibility to ATMs, internet connection, and most importantly... my translator! I will travel down to the village in 1-2 weeks time. It's about a 18-23 hour journey by bus from Kathmandu, so I am letting the workers get a head-start on the school before I venture into the jungle!
It has been near-to-impossible to organize anything from America. To begin with, communication in Nepal is arduous. Dipak, my Nepalese translator and friend (who's family village we are helping) is very difficult to understand over the mobile. It's a lot of "Hugh? What? Say again!" then the call will drop. Not fun.
I had dreams of getting the project started before I came, then arriving with the school nearly completed. This would allow me more time to organize the purchases of enrichment material and work on curriculum development. But alas, doing business in Nepal can not be done over the phone. The country is simply just not setup for this.
School Budget Reform:
Sitting in a traditional 'donut shop' reworking my budget.
Since I arrived last Friday, Dipak has been communicating my questions to the Village Development Committee (VDC) of Tappu over the phone. They gave me a make-shift budget for the school project last October and then again in March. I needed the final and revised version. This is generally how our 'phone meetings' go; I ask Dipak to call my project manager Sitra Ram in Tappu to ask for the revised budget. He then goes around to each person's home in the village who reside on the development committee (12 in total). Sitra Ram is the only person with a mobile, so once he walks to each persons' home, this takes up to a full-day. They meet and discuss the budget.
The following morning, Sitra Ram phones Dipak with the news. Of course, I have a dozen questions and adjustment requests. Dipak owns a restaurant, so we can only meet when it's not busy. It takes a full-day until Dipak can phone Sitra Ram back. Now, Sitra Ram has my new questions and concerns and again goes around to everyone's home in the village. He can give me an answer the next day.
And so this process continues until finally, after one week, we are able to create a reasonable construction proposal for the school that I approve of.
The budget is considerably more than they told me in March. I saw this coming (because I know how business is run in Nepal), so I over-shot the fundraising goals at the Musicians for Nepal Benefit. There are several reasons why this has occurred.
Nepalese Economy and Inflation:
Audience while trying to work!
The Nepalese government is very corrupt and disorganized. Cost-of-living for the Nepalese person has nearly doubled in the last six months, while wages have stayed the same. This includes things like rice, eggs, petrol, milk, livestock... but most importantly, construction material! While material has doubled, it isn't hurting my budget too much because the value of the dollar has risen (last summer it was trading at US$1=70 rupees and now it's at 85 rupees). This inflation is more-so severely hurting the livelihoods of the Nepalese. This is why it is now more important than ever that we continue to help them.
I believe the locals are now starting to see that having a Monarch was a good idea. Many people that I have spoken with hope for the return of a King, though it is not very probable. When the Maoists overthrew the King in 2006, they had hopes of creating a democratic or parliamentary government but in truth, it really has turned into a Communist society. The government has yet been able to create a constitution -- something they have been working on since '06. They sell Nepal's power supply to India and China to serve the increasing needs of those populations. However, the cost for them is only two rupees per kilowatt while the Nepalese are forced to pay 10 rupees per kilowatt.
And we mustn't forget all the revenue that tourism generates for the country. Where is that going? How is that being spent? You can ask any Nepalese person and they are unable to give an answer. The economy and living standards for most people are not good here. I have seen for myself that the government is getting worse off since I was here last summer. This can be evident by the dwindling currency value.
The Next Step for the School:
The next hiccup will now occur with getting my money from my Global Orphan Prevention bank account into my hands here in Nepal. Bank fees, bank fees, and more crappy bank fees! In addition, the Nepalese banks only allow for $500 to be pulled out per day. It will take three days until I can collect enough money to give the VDC a deposit for the building
The good news; construction starts back up again on Monday!
Last summer, we gave the VDC a small grant to begin Phase I, which consisted of a foundation and pavilion. Phase II will be constructing walls, framing, roofing, plumbing, and buying enrichment material!
School enrollment has increased from 75 children to now over 100 since last Summer. At the moment, they only have two teachers. I am trying to see if there is room in the budget to hire on two more. I believe this is more than necessary.
I am currently accepting donations for this. The money we raised in Colorado and from out-of-state private donors this year was primarily for the building, enrichment material, and two teachers' salaries providing we had anything left over.
If anyone out there would like to sponsor a teacher's annual salary, we could really use this. The annual salary is US$850 per teacher (depending on the exchange rate at that moment). You can just do it once for this year, or make it a yearly contribution with your tax refunds.
Please email me at email@example.com if this is something you'd like to get directly involved in. Alternatively, you can donate the full amount to our PayPal, with a note saying what it is to be used for. A photo and bio of the teacher you are sponsoring will be sent to you! If needed, a tax write-off form will also be included.
I suppose a blog update is in order here. I know some of you have patiently been waiting to hear about our village trip. I've needed the last week or so to collect my thoughts, as our journey to the Koshi Tappu region of Nepal was one of the more stressful things I've done in my life. Which is why, I've spent the past week traveling through Nepal. Long bus journeys and a stop in Lumbini - the birthplace of the Buddha - has done wonders for my psyche.
The much needed reflection and meditation has allowed me to organize my thoughts and come to realize the scope of the project at large.So what exactly happened at the village? I'm not going to sugar coat this - it was unreal and I was thrown completely out of my element (to be put plainly). As many of you know, the Nepalese Orphan Fund's mission is to fix the problem before it occurs. To prevent children from becoming orphans by giving the mother or father a source of income generation, so they are not inclined to "give" the child away to an orphanage.
Right, so this is why I thought I was traveling to this remote area of Nepal. To help a village become self-sustaining by donating a few cows or goats. This was not the case. Somewhere, my plan was lost in translation between my Nepalese connection and the connection of the village.
When we arrived in the small jungle village of Udaypur, located in the southeast corner of Nepal on the Indian border, the people were very excited to see us. We had just traveled two long and difficult days by local bus to help them, and they were very thankful. No one had really helped them before.... someone at some point had built them water pumps, but that was about it. The road was next to impassible, and when the monsoons rolled in, the falling apart and corroding bus couldn't even venture to the village to pick anyone up. It was a two hour walk to the nearest location where a taxi could gather us upon our return home.
Traveling with our Nepalese friends.
I can say that I am going to only skim the surface of our time spent at the village. There is so much wonderful and amazing things that went on behind-the-scenes. The moments at night dancing away to the drums the villagers would play, while a female elder dressing in her sarri sings the most beautiful tune in her high-pitched Nepali-language. The words, I know not, but I do know it makes me happy and proud, and wholesome again.
The moments in the heat and exhaustion, walking through the rice planations... crossing the fields on a raised dirt border. And an unpleasant bate with E.Coli that left me bed-ridden for two days, leaving Flo and Dipak in charge of organizing the project. All these things, my friends, will have to wait for another time. For now, you will have to suffice and hear the "Cliff Notes" verison of this tale.
We left Kathmandu in the evening, and drove all through the night to Bhaglapur, arriving in the early hours just after sunrise. The bus took a shy 14 hours, and really was quite exciting -- despite the excessive high speeds, while continually passing other buses in the dark along the twisting and narrow mountain switchbacks. Not knowing how far the cliff dropped on our side below the wheel.
Walking through rice plantations.
There in Bhaglapur, we waited a few more hours in the heat and humididy for a micobus to scoop us up and take us additional hour to the village of Udaypur in the middle of the jungle and amongst the plethora of rice plantations.
The villagers welcomed us with flowers and a ceremonial red mark on the forehead. We had a nice tasting dinner, in which I woke the following morning to E.Coli. Hello morning! Nothing is more enjoyable in life than being plagued with a stomach bug in 100 degree heat, in the middle of no where, with no toilets or running water. Oh yeah, did I mention you must include the lack of toilet paper? Ah yes, the traveling life.
Little did we know, the school and the village community had planned a ceremony in our honor that day. Our entourage made the 40-minute journey by foot to the school while I was shuttled on the village's only motorbike. I waited patiently for the other people in my party on the grass at a nearby house keeled over in stomach pain, not really knowing my left foot from my right.
Flo, Dipak, and several Nepalese people who helped Flo and I organize the project eventually caught up with me, and we continued the rest of the way to the school by foot. From this point, the motorbike could no longer get through the muddy path, so walking was the only option.
Dipak, Flo and I hadn't realized that the entire community was waiting for us at the school. I had thought we would just be examining the property to determine what needed to be done. I was in no condition to do much of anything, let alone participate in a ceremony. Fainting under the jungle sun five minutes prior was really my last draw. Going in-and-out of coherency during the entire walk to the school, I questioned my decision in coming to the village and I immediately wanted to go back to the comforts of Kathmandu. Upon standing back up, I saw the 100 or so people and the school from a distance.
Oh my god -- "quick, full power," I excalimed as the little Nepalese lady fanned my face and put my hair into a pony tail. I was completely shocked at what I saw in the distance. I can not believe I'm walking into a ceremony right now, I thought, and I can't even stand on my own. I splashed some water on my face, did a little jump to shake it off and on we went.... with a person helping me on each elbow.
Meetings with the development committee.
So many emotions were going through my head. I felt like I was hallucinating from a combonation of the heat, the illness, and the fact that I was in the strangest place and participating in a ceremony so forgien to me. I was so happy, but also disappointed that one of the most special and important moments in my life had to be overshadowed by the E.Coli. But I guess I can relive the moment through the photos, because my mind was never really present.... to me, it was all just a daze.
They adorned us with flower necklaces, and each child came to the stage to hand us a present. Many speeches were given, in Nepalese, so I'm still not really sure what was said, except they were happy to see us. I tried to stay collected as long as possible, but eventually had to run off the stage to vomit into the bush from the illness. Of course, it was all a bit comical, as all the children came running over to gather around me, and the village women were rubbing my back. Definitely an embarrassing moment, so I got back up, did a little wave, smiled, and said "I'm okay! Let's please continue."
After another two days of rest, and after taking a strong antibiotic that we had brought with us from Kathmandu, I was finally strong enough to start eating again, and continue with business. Flo, Dipak, myself, and two men who helped us organize the project got to work with discussions and planning. The Village Development Committee was already established, and they had organized a committee of 15 villagers to manage the project. My fund would spearhead the implementation and provide the money.
Like I mentioned earlier, I thought I was coming to the village to buy a few cows, so you can imagine my surprise when they asked for a school. My ideas were obviously lost in translation when we started planning the project the weeks before. First off, I only had one English-Nepalese translator, and that was Dipak. Internet and phone connection is really bad in Nepal, so the whole trip to the village was an adventure from the very beginning. We went with a "we'll wait and see" attitude. Not really knowing what to expect. I can convey one idea, and think that what I'm saying is being translated properly. But really, one can only hope.
To build a school, they Village Development Committee needs $4000. I only had $1000 to give from my budget. After that, my fund is depleted. It's finished. What were they thinking? I am not god, I can't just arrive and build them a school, I thought. This was a very stressful moment for me. I had traveled all this way, and they threw us a ceremony. It was occurring to me, that this was going to be a failed mission. There were many people in involved at this point, and I kept thinking that I was going to have to let a lot of good people's hopes down. I was not looking forward to breaking the bad news.
Then, just like fate always does -- a serendipitous moment occured. There was a secret donor amongst our group. He, to remain nameless, donated a good chuck of money to begin the project.
The school is already in place, they just don't have a building.... or desks, or books for that matter. They have pupils and a few teachers.... and some notepads with pencils. Not really conducive to any type of learning.
We asked the committee to determine what was needed most, as building an entire school was not in our funds at this moment.
They need desks and chairs for the children to do their school work on. However, without a solid foundation for the pavilion, we knew immediately that these purchases would be a waste of money. As soon as the monsoons started, the desks and chairs would become destroyed. We determined it was more important to build a concrete floor to start. Then as the funds trickle in, we can continue with the walls... then the desks and chairs last.
Phase 1 of the school.
So many things have been progressing here in Nepal with the Orphan Fund. I keep receiving more and more donations, which leads me to believe that we are on to something. Something good and wholesome, and important. The confidence my family, friends, and donors are giving me on a daily basis has only furthered my decision to continue my work here in Nepal.I attended a "4th of July" event at the American Embassy over the weekend to do a little networking and see where I can take this fund.
After speaking extensively with a diplomat, I have decided to begin the long and tedious process of registering our fund as a legit NGO. The first step is to write a business plan, then register as a 501(c)(3), and finally to apply for grants. This will take the entire month, but I have the time and the skills to make it happen. These are all reasons why I extended my trip one additional month.
Jesse hammering away....
At the Orphan Home:
We have been busy finishing up projects at Annapurna Self-Sustaining Orphan Home. Jesse wanted to complete the arduous and tedious work before leaving Nepal. Time was running out, so we recruited our two French friends and one Russian lady to help with the remaining construction. Our vision was to construct a bamboo shed over the washing machine.
Jesse started the project with the Austrian-born CERN physicist and the two Jewish boys from Boulder who we had recruited in the beginning of June. However the idea got scrapped after they left for a pre-planned trip to Thailand. Jesse lost motivation, because really -- I wasn't too sure how she expected me to actually help.
Tibo fixing the washing machine while the kids watch with awe.
Me with a hammer is like Jesse with a baby -- completely and utterly out of our elements. We both like to look at these things from afar, but when we have to hold one... well lets just say things go terribly astray. I figured it was in my best interest (and hers) to recruit more tourists to assist. That is how the two Frenchmen and one Russian woman came into our lives. I doubt she wanted my help anyway -- I just kinda pushed the nails around and took pictures of her looking pissed.
Shopping with Sarada
Meanwhile, I went shopping!! Ah now here is something I'm actually good at. We had received donations to purchase clothing for the children. Friends back home had tried to ship boxes only to find it cost $500. Really I'm not sure how China does it.
So instead, we used some of the donations to buy clothing. Trousers, underwear, bras, and shoes were bought last week. While this week, I finished up the purchase of material to make bed sheets and dresses for the girls.
We grab our four bags of material and hop onto her scooter to head home.
I have a bag in each hand while Sarada weaves in and out of traffic, around cows who sleep in the middle of the busy road, and past people who cross the street while only looking one direction. Horns are blaring, the wind is rushing through my hair, the lush Himalayan foothills adorn the horizon, and I'm thinking to myself... Gosh, I love my job.
Back at the home, I excitedly dish out the new presents for the kids. I pull all the girls to one side, because I have something special for them. New headbands and bows for their hair. Girly items that these ladies don't have. Items that Western girls take for granted are so very important for these little ones. It's like Christmas Day. Everyone is happy and they all look so beautiful. I love them dearly.
Construction tools in Nepal!
Oh construction in a 3rd world country, how we love you so! You see, construction in Nepal is one of the most difficult tasks in perhaps the world.
Even the simplest job of hammering a nail into a piece of wood takes an hour. The wood in Nepal is like concrete and nails are like plastic! Saws are rusty and falling apart -- just take a look at our tools. Plus combining that with 95 degree heat and hand mixing all of our cement makes for an impossible and grumpy day.
Tibo at the hardware store!
Truthfully, we didn't even know what the hell we were doing. In Western terminology, we definitely "winged it." I saw it done on TV once, but really --
how hard could it be; I thought. Its a shed for Pete's Sake. Four posts cemented into the ground, and a tin roof. Viola!
Again, it was back to playing with the baby and drinking my chai while I let Jesse take the reins.
Many trips to the local hardware store consisted of speaking in Nepali - English Ebonics. Lots of hand motions and pointing as the the language barrier made communication egregious. The wood we were using to construct the shed completely broke not one but three drill bits in half! So it was back to the hardware store for God knows how many times.
What should have taken two people an afternoon to complete in a Western country took five people three days to finish here in Nepal! Talk about frustration. But needless-to-say, we built that damn shed and feel all the better for doing so.
Our work even inspired the teenage boys at the orphan home to fix a few more repairs around the property.
Future Projects: Jesse has now left Nepal. I was sad to see her go, but I know I can get a lot done by staying. So this Friday, we are off to a village in the Everest Region to help an at-risk village. I don't really know what to expect, accept that they don't even have a school for the children. Please keep checking back for updates!
Jesse, trek to village
We've made some progress with the orphan fund. As I mentioned in the last blog, we have joined forces with a local NGO to make it possible. There are no government welfare programs of any kind here in Nepal, so help is 100% reliant on charities and donors. This is why there are so many street kids -- they have no where to go, or anyone willing to help. Or perhaps there are good-natured locals that want to offer assistance, but financially this is not possible.
Our entourage. Jesse, a social worker, villager, & Katie
After many meetings with the director, we concluded that a family at one of the villages outside of Pokhara desperately needed our help. We made the adventure by first traveling via bus for 2 hours, then trekking 2 hours by foot up into the hills. The trek was long, but amusing as the villagers would emerge from their little shacks to stare in wonderment. Some would giggle, others would blush. But all couldn't keep their eyes off us.
On our journey, we were joined by two female case workers who made the trek in flip flops. Very commendable! Even on my Himalayan trek early in the month, it wouldn't be uncommon to see men carrying large drums or even refrigerators on their backs, all the while barefoot.
Upon our arrival, we found that the father had died, leaving behind 6 children all under the age of 13, and one mother with a Learning Disability. Because of her disability, she is unable to earn money for her family due to her lack of understanding how to.
Together we decided to buy them 4 goats, we will built them 1 shed, and are purchasing a 6 month's supply of food for the goats until they can become self-sustaining. This will cost $500.
The mother already knows how to farm and care for animals. She currently cares for 2 buffalo, but is unpaid. The agreement is, if she works for free for 1.5 years, the owner of the buffalo will donate a calf. However, there is no guarantee that the buffalo will produce a calf. If this is the case, the mother receives no compensation for her labor. This is why it is important that we make her self-sustaining. The profits from these animals will allow the family to pay for their own education and buy their own uniforms.
Brainstorming ideas as to how to help with Bibek.
So now, you ask... what does this have to do with the orphan fund? In reality, 62% percent of orphans in 3rd world countries still have parents that are alive. Just ask Madonna. This is a huge problem on a global scale. The parents, who are poor, end of sending them away. Hope for Himalayan Kids set out to shut down unnecessary orphanages and place the children back into the care of their families.
If we can keep 6 children in a nearby village from sharing this same fate, then I believe this is how we should spend some of the donations. I want to take my fund in the direction of sustainability. I won't be around forever, and neither will NGO's... so perhaps starting at the root of the problem will be the solution we've all been looking for to end the epidemic of unwanted children.
**Update: Shortly, after this expedition... I met with the director in his office and we signed all the paperwork for this upcoming project. Their organization is required to obtain confirmation of donations from the government. They were very happy that we decided to support their cause, and the project will start early next week with the construction of a goat shed.
We have been busy busy busy these past weeks. After my return from my Himalayan trek, I got back to work investigating area orphan homes in Pokhara. As our fund was originally designed for helping multiple homes in the area, I wanted to look around the area and see who else needed our help.
After speaking with several tourists around town, we found there to be many dishonest homes in Nepal. They rely on a relatively new phenomenon called "Voluntourism." This is where they recruit overseas volunteers to help at their orphanages, but ask them to pay a fee of around US$150-300 per week. They claim that these fees help pay the utility bills, will buy food for the children, and will help with rent.
I wanted to learn more about these common practices, so I busted out my detective kit and got to work. I recruited a French-Canadian man who was staying at my guesthouse to accompany me, and told him we were to visit five different homes in the area pretending to be prospective volunteers. It helped that he had a moped, and cut my investigation time down by half. It was actually quite fun!
Because I've been working with Sarada at the Annapurna Self-Sustaining Orphan Home, I had a basis for how orphan homes should be run. The Canadian and I first went to an elusive "bad" home we had heard rumors about from ex-volunteers.
We found through our investigation that the amount of money that the volunteers pay to work at the home doesn't match up to how much it costs to run a home. Either way, more investigation is needed.
And so, this is how I stumbled upon a local NGO who are dedicated to child protection through a process known internationally as "deinstitutionalisation". Their target group is orphaned, abandoned and at-risk Nepalese children and basically, they shut down these homes, and place the children in a foster-home setting. The organization teaches the children how to become adults, they give them skills, and opportunity past age 16, when most orphan children are thrown to the streets and expected to adjust to society. To date, through their deinstitutionalisation program, they have helped more than 80 vulnerable Nepalese children.
We hope to work with this NGO and together determine what kind of self-sustainability can be accomplished for the families they support. Whether it's cows for milking (remember it's illegal to kill a cow in Nepal), a buffalo for eating, or chickens for eggs... this will something we can determine upon our initial visit.
Meanwhile, we didn't forget about the children at Annapurna Orphan Home. I had asked my friends and family back home to ship a box of clothes. This was a priory, as the children has holes in their shoes, holes in their trousers, and clothing so old, I thought they were originally black.
We found, to our disbelief, that shipping would cost $500 via UPS!! We scratched that idea, and some donors gave money instead to be used at the market for these purchases. At the moment, Annapurna Orphan Home is only 25% self-sustained and they do need donations to supplement the other costs of running a home.
Some things we have bought: