My visit to the orphanage –
I recently spent a few hours at Naxal Orphanage –
My time in Nepal was focused on a trek in the stunning Annapurna sub-range of the Himalayas and then followed by a week enjoying all the non-mountainous tourist activities available in Nepal. We really saw the best of what is a beautiful, warm, friendly and unique country.
The trek I had done was a challenge for which I had fundraised. The charity that I fundraised for is an Irish Children’s charity, so it was fitting for me to see some work with children while I was there. I would have loved more time, but the half day visit was all we could really manage.
Visiting the orphanage in Naxal at the end of my time in Nepal was exactly the right thing to do for me – it allowed me to connect quickly with the reality of the country that I had spent two weeks adoring
I went with a specific purpose that Sallie had given me, but it is impossible not to see miles beyond the single purpose when you are in a place like the OCCED orphanage.
The children that we met on entering the courtyard seemed happy, clean and well dressed, with a simple command of English despite their young age. It was clear from everyone we spoke to that the children’s education was seen as an ultimate priority. To support this, outside in the courtyard there were pictures clearly done by the children, and even one little boy was busily working on his homework.
As we moved through the orphanage the story repeated itself – well dressed, clean, happy little children, positively engaged in meaningful, sensible activities. All in all, uplifting and more positive than I expected.
They are doing a lot with the small amount of resources that they have. The children were well dressed, busy/active, seemed to be happy and well fed. The site was as clean as I could have expected, and there were serious educational activities underway
– Everyone is very focused on the new build project. I admire the vision and discipline that they seem to be managing this project with.To date, they have bought the land required – this has been finalised and is important progress. They have, they told us, collected approximately 20% of the remaining required funding.
– They have plans for how to raise additional funds, but they need real support here – their plans are very “local” and I don’t believe that they can raise what they need locally.
I have confidence that they have sensible plans in place for their build and it is a strong, long term, strategic vision. They are committed to making it happen and have made very real and tangible progress by getting the land. Haribol struck me as warm, caring and trustworthy.
Having spent a little time in Kathmandu, I also think that buying rather than renting and building rather than renovating makes a lot of sense and should ultimately yield a better result but the progress is going to be slow – particularly as they are still some distance from achieving their total fundraising targets. I also like that the build will involve local people & generate income & job creation within Nepal – something which is desperately needed.
As we moved along in our tour, guided by a repeat and very knowledgeable volunteer, Anne, more and more became apparent under the surface that couldn’t help but break your heart. First – we went to the kitchen. A simple, dark, shell of a room used to cook 3 meals a day for 40 people but which only had a table top and 3 gas rings, limited equipment, no refrigerator that I could make out, no running water and an open dusty concrete floor. How anyone could possibly prepare clean, nutritious, safe food for 35 children in these conditions was beyond me.
Upstairs in the girls’ room we met L. L is a 4 month old baby (they think – there is no documentation) who was left at the door of the local hospital when only hours or days old. L has Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. Her heart condition would be operable in the UK. In Naxal, they are still exploring whether or not this is an option. If so, almost certainly it needs to be in India, but there are no funds to send her to India. Even if L makes a full recovery and lives to be a happy young girl (possible only with the operation), the orphanage in Naxal has no other children with intellectual disabilities and certainly not the developmental skills required to help her to grow up happy and well developed. Whether or not they will be able to support her long term is unknown.
In the boys room we met P. I would guess that P was about 7 years old. Certainly a cheeky and playful child. At some point, P broke bones in one of his legs. He is now wearing a heavy plaster-of-paris cast which covers one full leg, his hips and part of his second leg. His hips are splinted by a stick. He needs to wear this for weeks. He spends his days lying on the ground, on his back, watching the ceiling because there is no facilities to help him as he is so immobile. I’m not a doctor, and no expert, but I couldn’t establish that he had injuries which required such extreme casting. What I do know, however, is that no little boy would be expected to lie flat on his back watching the ceiling, for weeks, in the UK.
My emotions leaving Naxal were conflicted. On one hand, here were some kind, generous, seemingly selfless local business men and local volunteers doing what they could to make the lives of these children bearable. And from what I could see, their life was more than bearable – they were able to smile, play and have fun. Coming from Ireland, from a warm, welcoming, comfortable family, I was broken hearted in the knowledge that any child, of any age had to grow up in such a place, not knowing what it was to be tucked in and kissed good night, accepting that breakfast lunch and dinner were the same, both as each-other, and as the day before.
Yet, travel around Kathmandu for no more than an hour and you will realise that these children are maybe among the lucky ones. Everywhere in Kathmandu there is poverty and chaos. I loved the place, but despite being relatively well travelled, I couldn’t find another city in my memory that I could compare it to – utterly unique, utterly historic and colourful (from what I could tell was under the layer of dust) and poor – very very poor. The lowest castes of society live on the streets, and this is evident everywhere and this includes the children. Dirty, clearly malnourished and unhealthy children are not hard to find on the side of most roads in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal.
The good people behind Naxal have provided these children with a life of impossible comfort and the chance of a good education. How utterly uplifting yet conflictingly heartbreaking is that?