A return to Naxal Orphanage – emails from Monica

By Nigel Pegler. Filed in project news  |  
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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

 Hard to believe we’ve been here only 3 days. Have done so much, and met so many interesting people.

Good bits first.
The hotel is Nepali run (i.e. slow!!), but I think we’re training them in what we want! Rooms lovely & bright, spotlessly clean, and the whitest sheets & towels you’ve seen anywhere. We have breakfast on the rooftop restaurant (7th floor) in sun, with blue skies and usually views across to the mountains; always over the city, with its sights, smells & sounds.

Hectic at the orphanage. The children were so thrilled to see us, which was lovely. All remembered us by name. The Didis hugged us. We are thrilled to see that they have kept the areas all so much cleaner and tidier, even though they sometimes run out of disinfectant.

Little Himal is now 2 years old, still the baby of the place, and very shy, but I’m sure he’ll get used to us soon.

It seems we will be taking 18 children trekking /camping. Mix of boys & girls from 9 to 16 years. They are so excited –  just talk about it all the time, but it’s not surprising, as they have never done anything vaguely like it. We go for 5 days from 14th October. We have met up with the man who is organising it – a super Buddhist hippy man, earring, hair down his back, but the most sincere and lovely man you can imagine. I would definitely trust him implicitly. He works from a little office which has a mini climbing wall in it, and just works with children. His plan!!! is that we carry everything with us – tents, cooking equipment, clothing, food for 5 days etc, estimated weight 13 kg per person. Considering that the 2 smallest children are 26 & 28 kg, we thought this a little unrealistic! I forgot to say, we trek about 9 – 18 kms per day!!!  The children are totally inexperienced. So Anne & I have had to get together with Chandra and make  a few changes!

We’ve spent today buying trainers for them – not easy without the children & when they don’t know their shoe size (some of them don’t know their age). Anyway,19 pairs of trainers & socks on my bedroom floor. (Children only have one pair of school socks each) and they are washed once a week on Saturday. We’ve rented sleeping bags and are negotiating rucksacks – we’re struggling to find somewhere to rent them from at a realistic price.
Met with an amazing Australian lady here on Saturday – has been coming here for years, and her daughter lives here. Has invited us to join her & other volunteers to a “round” of church services on Sunday – Hindu, then Moslem, then Catholic with the Bishop of Church of the Assumption (where the nail bomb was last year). It should be great.
She’s also suggested we go to a Leprosariumon another day, which sounds absolutely fascinating.
Getting late, so I`d better go – the nights are rather noisy, with dogs barking, then cocks crowing from 5.30, sunrise shortly after.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It’s 10.30 on Tuesday morning, and we’re doing a few admin jobs here. It’s been terribly difficult to access email and often local phones over past few days. Network busy seems to be the problem – most frustrating when you’ve been sitting waiting for 30 minutes! Anyway, seems I’m having a lucky day today.

I was woken before 6 by shouting, beating drums and bells and chanting, so decided to get up and investigate. Very interesting roaming the streets at that time. The shopkeepers are all sweeping rubbish into gutter, the dogs come & eat the food scraps, then street boys come and take away the plastic (they get about 4 pence for a large sack of plastic). Quite a few of the homes now have little “offerings’ of rice, flowers etc on the ground outside, as it’s the big festival, dashain this week, so much happiness & festivities apparently. We hope to see it all while on a trek. 

I was then able to make some good purchases – obviously at Nepali price, not Westerners price. For about 90 pence I bought 4 nit combs and 12 normal combs, which will be like gold in the orphanage! I made my way back through crowded streets, through market, fruit & veg vendors. After breakfast, we came here to the office, past the street children, and are consciences pricked again. Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kathmandu 6.30am
You’ll be pleased to know that we are all safely returned from an amazing 5-day trip, camping and trekking with 18 children, aged from 8 to 15 years. They all just loved it, in spite of Anne & my reservations about the weights on their backs (up to 14 kg!!), the walking, usually about 4 hours per day, and the fact that they had never done anything like it before. They just accepted everything, even the constant rain all day Saturday, and the subsequent wet equipment. There’s no doubt about it – they are incredibly tough and resilient, and hugely interested about everything around them.

Chandra, the fantastic Buddhist man who led the trip, was super – he is such a caring man, and nothing was too much for him. He knew exactly how to manage everything (last night, Anne & I went to his house for dinner, which he cooked himself – most succulent flavoured chicken with rice and veg. The fact that his cat was sitting on the table, just 6 inches from my plate, and frequently grabbing for my chicken made me resort to eating it with my fingers. What a wonderful experience!)}

Back to the camping. The week leading up to it was hectic. We had back packs made from a wholesalers,We hired the sleeping mats & bags, and Chandra provided tents (4 to a tent), all cooking equipment, 5 days of food, a book for each tent, which children had to study, and do presentation on, and of course, a trowel per tent (for long toilet!!). Chandra is very deeply into “leave no trace’ and conserving environment, so there was a lot of talking about this.

So it was a motley crew who left the orphanage on Thursday am. We went first to Chandra’s office, an 8 storey block from which he had dropped abseiling ropes. With assistance from Padder, a very different Irish man who works with him, and came with us, each child abseiled down the building! They loved it, even if they were terrified (I did it myself as well). We used that experience to demonstrate to them that there is nothing that they cannot do. The equipment was then divided between us all, and heavily laden we went back to bus for 2 hour drive to Nagarkot, about 1900 metres, where we set up camp on some fairly level ground with views across to the snowy white peaks. The children were divided into 6 Groups, and cooking was done in groups.

We squatted down, prepared food from scratch, and cooked on an oil stove – not so bad when you got the knack, but rather temperamental! Excellent food. Children preferred the meat on first two days – mince chicken, chicken sausages; and then the dal Bhat.  The only supplies we bought en route were some fresh vegetables, delicious, from a farmer on 3rd / 4th day. We even carried all the bread for the trip. The children were not impressed by noodles with cheese sauce, but then they are not familiar with it. Some amazing combinations – bread with peanut butter and honey & cheese for breakfast. Porridge was a new one on them, and some of the pots were just like lumps of concrete! Anne and I laughed so much.

All the boys had to help cook as well, which was a new experience, but they loved it, and were brilliant.

The 2nd day, we walked from camp minus packs round the local terrain, and through villages. Because it is the big Dashain festival we saw them dressed up, celebrating, and one fantastic commune where they had just killed 4 goats. The heads were in front of a little altar (sacrificial offering), the blood was all drained into dishes for late consumption, and the men were just removing skin / hair from the animals. The other tradition they have for this 2 week period is the “Ping” which is a swing, suspended from bamboo canes, which is about 50 feet tall. Everyone must spend at least 10 minutes on it, with feet off the ground. Of course we all had a go – it was the best swing I’ve had in my life!!
More to follow…

The days started at 6am.

We were never close to any running water. The best was a narrow pipe, often with only a dribble of water, sometimes located 10 minutes walk from camp. Half the 5 litre water cans had holes in them. From this, you can gather that hygiene was not high on the priority list! Thank God for wet wipes.  The “toilet’ was anywhere in the surrounding fields / shrubs. Most of the children didn’t have a clue what toilet paper was about, but they all became proficient at digging a hole!

The stoves were lit, and breakfast prepared in each group. I had two boys and one girl with me – all delightful. All joined in with different tasks. They always made a milky sweet cup of tea first, with lots of milk powder, which was boiled for about 5 minutes. I just brought some Nescafe! It was then a mix – porridge, sausage, halva & bread.

After clearing up dishes, tents taken down, any rubbish cleared away (it sometimes seemed we were clearing rubbish from years back). The paper & food were buried, and plastic, tins & silver carried out. In spite of this, the loads became a little lighter as the days progressed.

We usually played an educational game then, e.g. learning to trust each other / communicate better. Some of the exercises were quite scary – Health & Safety at home would never allow it! One of them, 5 pairs stood in a row facing each other, with arms extended in front and almost interlocking. The rows were at right angles to an elevated bank, maybe 2 foot higher than they were. In turn, each child was blindfolded, hands tied together, and they had to fall backwards onto the row of arms below. The “body’ was then transported to the back of the row. You should try it sometime – I admit I opted out of that one!

Scenery en route was lovely, as was village life. Amazing cloud formations, not surprising with all the rain (I almost forgot, there was a mild earth tremor one night, apparently epicentre in Tibet). The locals were very bemused by us – never seen a group of youngsters with such enormous packs. Walked along terraced rows of vegetables, potatoes etc, often on narrow muddy path, with steep drop on side. Lost a couple of children over the edge sometimes, particularly when they were off balance with the back pack, but no major injuries! Anne and I were just staggered at what the youngsters had to do  – it would be headline news in papers at home.

In the evenings, we tried to get cooking shortly after 5, as it’s already dark at 6. On a couple of nights, when the rain was bad, all the cooking was done under cover of an open ended ridge tent, where Chandra & Padder slept.

On the last day, we visited a lovely Buddhist monastery, Nouva Buddha, which was located on top of a hill, superb views. We were so fortunate that the monks were doing a prayer ceremony, and we were allowed to walk through the room during it. It was just fantastic, with the beating drums, conch shells, chanting, horns and cymbals. The children had experienced nothing like it before, and were mesmerized.
It was 11 pm before Anne and I were back here, and eaten. Absolutely exhausted, but thrilled that the whole thing had gone so well and in particular that the children had learned so much. With the exception of one very “delicate’ girl, they all wanted to “stay camping”, and beg us to take them again!  Very definitely worth while. Just like to thank everyone who has made donations towards this – really worth every penny! Thank you so much.

Back at the orphanage, Tuesday was spent scrubbing clothes, shoes, ponchos & back packs. Priorities now ( lots of them) include:

·         Spending time with the younger children. Little Himal, who I admitted last year, is about 2 years old now, very loved by everyone, but most shy. I was thrilled yesterday that he came to me, and communicated a bit.

·         Have bought some simple English reading books for them, as they have not been encouraged to read. Will get them to practice reading out loud in front of others, also try & improve their pronunciation, though some are not at all bad.

·         On a weekly basis, they’ll cook one of the main meals – we want to consolidate what they’ve learnt.

·         Maths/ algebra! They are appalling – like 3 times table is a problem for some of 12 year olds, so I’m giving a lot of individual tuition

·         Hopefully the children’s computer can be repaired (nothing done fast here, particularly at festival time), and Anne will teach them how to do a “Word” document. I brought out a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica CD’s which I’ve downloaded for them, and they love it, so that’s good.

·         De-nit all the little ones

·         Hope to take them on a long walk out of Kathmandu, one we did last year, taking in Kopun monastery, and finishing at Bouddha stupa, which I love. A major breakthrough is that the Board of Governors are now allowing us to take children out.Great progress!

That’s all for now. The children don’t want us to leave. One of the boys said he would speak to Barry, and tell him that I was staying until I was an old lady, at which time his children would look after me!!! Just lovely.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It’s early afternoon, cloudless sky, and really hot. This is the first day we’ve taken off, so are just catching up. Went to Mass today – lovely service again. Choir & acoustics are so good.
Yesterday we took 10 of the children on a lovely walk, (coach to get them out & back). Visited a very old, 1,000 years Hindu temple on banks of Bagmati. Statues of all the Hindu deities. Then walked through lovely countryside to a beautiful new monastery, then on to Kopun monastery which is a meditation centre & Buddhist training centre. Fabulous grounds, so much history, and the children loved it. An old monk, chatted with us, explained things, and said he would offer prayers for us. Very moving. So impressed that “my husband” shook hands with Dalai Llama! We then walked down to Bouddha, the second most famous stupa here. Total walk about 4 – 5 miles. Children loved it.
Chandra (camping man) is coming out to orphanage on Wednesday, to supervise the children cooking, so I’ll give the boys each about  one pound, and get them to buy as much veg (bartering) as they can for that. Should be fun for us all & good learning experience.

Spending so much time on Maths, but they are definitely improving, and with encouragement are teaching each other. Also making them practice reading a page of English from a simple book. Yes, it’s maybe mean in their holidays, but they really are benefitting. Also bought some good English children’s DVD’s.
I am sure that part of reason for boys getting up to mischief s that they don’t have anywhere to play, and run off their energy. There’s a small playing area, usually covered in drying laundry. When not, they play basket ball / football. As it’s such a small area, not surprisingly the ball occasionally goes over wall, then it’s lost for good. Even though there are several spares, they are not given one. So there are so many things we are trying to work at, both with the children, and with the management. Off to lie in the sun & read.
Love Monica

To learn more about the volunteer programme at Naxal click here

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