Hello from chilly Kathmandu. Christmas is not observed in Nepal, so it will be an ordinary work day for most, but we “bedeshis” (foreigners) do celebrate together. We also have a non-religious Christmas Eve at J and K House, our children’s homes. Father Christmas comes in full regalia, with stockings for the small children. You cannot imagine their excitement at the small gifts – a piece of candy, a hair band, a handkerchief, a colorful pencil – you’d think we were giving them the latest in video games. It’s great fun – popcorn, hot chocolate, happy kids. And their gift to us is a super dance and drama performance.
But the rewards of my life in Nepal are not confined to Christmas. Each day, I wake up knowing that today, I will help a child in a major way.
The other day, someone from our office showed me an essay written by one of the girls we saved from bonded servitude in the western district of Dang. Her name is Puspa Chaudhary, and she was contracted away by her parents for $14 for a year of labor. After she was liberated by NYOF and our local partner FNC and enrolled in school at our expense, she joined the youth club in her village to campaign against the pernicious custom of indenturing young girls as servants. Here is what she says:
“I was born to a very poor family. My parents are landless and have to work in the field of the landlord. When I was ten years old, the landlord told my parents that they had to send me at his house (to work) otherwise, he would not allow them to work in his field. Seeing no other alternative, my parents sent me to work. My yearly incentive was l000Rs (about $14). Going to the forest, collecting firewood, grazing the animals, cooking and cleaning were my daily routine. In spite of hard work, I had to listen to their filthy scolding and frowning faces. Till a year I endured everything silently.
“At Maghe (festival time) when they released me to go home I was determined that I would not work as Kamlari (bonded servant) again. After Maghi many brokers approached and my parents decided to send me to work once again. I begged, cried, and requested several times not to send me to work. Nobody listened to me. I was sent to work once again. This time I was bit optimistic that I would get a better home than the previous one. Unfortunately, this house was more miserable. I had to work hard doing all the household chores. In addition I had to bear a master who was like a thunderstorm. He was very strict and always spoke harshly. I was so afraid of him that I had nightmare several times. Cursing my destiny, I spent two years.
“When I came home, I came to know NYOF/FNC through my friends. After constant coaxing, I succeed to convince my parents. I enroll in NYOF/FNC’s program and got admitted to class five. Today I am studying in class seven. I am an active member of child club. With my friends we are spreading message against this ill practice.”
So not only will Puspa not have to bear with a ‘thunderstorm” of a boss again, she is getting an education. Such are the rewards of life here.
This may not be your traditional Christmas story, but it made my day. And I hope yours, too. A happy holiday to all of you -
We have rescued 800 girls in our target area and have arranged with another NGO to rescue 800 more. Currently, our project is planning to rescue the remaining 100 girls in our target area. Since we have just about defeated the bonding practice in our target area, we are moving in January to another area where the practice exists. This is truly a success story for us.
Last week, we paid a visit to this project (the cease fire called by the Maoists made this possible), and I was so proud to see how much we have accomplished there. We met hundreds of young girls formerly bonded looking smart in their school uniforms (including the youngest kid we encountered, a 6 year old who is now in third grade), and went to the new classrooms we built there to accomodate all the girls we had brought home from their labors. We also visited a new aspect of the project, a vocational training program to teach sewing to the girls who are older and want to drop out of school after several years. They have a ready made market for their product - the school uniforms we buy each year for the hundreds of girls who have returned home.