“Do you play marbles, Grandfather Peter?”
The question came from a wide-eyed six-year-old girl as I walked across the expansive courtyard of Samata School in central Kathmandhu, capital of that fascinating country, Nepal.
She had broken away from her group of similar-aged chums, her dark eyes searching my face for an answer.
“I used to,” I said.
She put her right hand into the pocket of her shabby little jacket and brought out a small glass marble, barely half an inch in diameter.
“I have had this all my life,” she said, her dark eyes glowing with happiness. “I want you to have it.”
The offer took me by surprise. The girl was not one of the pupils in my group. Indeed I didn’t know her name or anything about her, apart from the fact that she was one of the orphans being cared for and taught by the enigmatic Uttam Sanjel and his team.
“I can’t take your marble,” I replied, failing to thank her for the offer. “It is very special to you.”
“But that’s why I want you to have it,” she insisted.
My mind was racing. This was probably her only possession. What sort of chap takes a child’s sole treasure? Tears welled up in my eyes as the broad smile began to fade from her beautiful face.
Uttam came to the rescue. His words were unusually quiet for this inspirational enthusiast.
“Please take it. Not to accept a gift is an insult in Nepal.”
By now my tears were flowing. I thought of my six grandsons and their mountains of possessions and compared their lot in life to that of the little girl.. I took the marble, my voice barely audible as I thanked her for her kindness. I asked her name.
“Sunita,” she replied, her smile restored as she ran off to rejoin her friends.
As for me, I headed for the loo where for the next five minutes I tried – unsuccessfully – to recompose myself.
Such selfless kindness from one so young.
I have said many times since my return home that Samata School, in particular its wonderful children, taught me so much about life and what is important. Their love is not conditional. Their love is genuine. I can honestly say that for anything I was able to do for any of those 3,500 children, they repaid me a thousandfold.
And the marble? It occupies the place of honour in a display cabinet. There it stays apart from the occasions I tell this story to those who are thinking about applying to be a volunteer.
Its value? Priceless. There isn’t enough money in the banks of the world that could buy it.
Thank you Sunita
This story is from Peter, who volunteered in 2008, and is planning his return in 2012!