Olga’s dispatch from Kathmandu
It’s a while since I have been in touch. I arrived in Nepal at the end of November for my annual six month stay. It’s good to be back again to resume my second life and to see how our programs are going.
I returned last week from the Dang District in west Nepal, where we operate our program for indentured girls. It was a thrilling experience. For one thing, we have almost eradicated the bonding custom in the Dang District (one of five in which it is prevalent) and moved on to the adjoining district to do the same. To celebrate, a huge demonstration was organized – over 2000 girls who had been rescued from bondage marching through the main town, chanting slogans against the practice and distributing flyers to the onlookers. A certain 82 year old woman was by their side, striding along and mouthing the slogans with more enthusiasm than comprehension. At times, I had a sense of unreality – how did someone who grew up in New York and was a lawyer in San Francisco for 37 years end up in remote west Nepal, marching with thousands of formerly bonded girls against a feudal custom? Life is unpredictable, to say the least.
We visited the beautiful but very poor villages, talking to the parents of formerly bonded girls and to their daughters about their experiences. At times, it was painful, with the mothers crying when they remembered the departure of their daughters for who-knows-where to live with and work for strangers. One child had been sent away when she was six years old to labor as a baby sitter in someone’s household. She returned before the one-year period of her contract had expired, because she was so painfully homesick and cried constantly for her mother. She is now nine – a lively, pretty, curious child. It was hard to believe that she had undergone such a traumatic experience so recently. She jumped rope, played hopscotch, peered curiously into the contents of my purse, and laughed at almost anything. This extraordinary resilience of Nepali children is one of their most outstanding and appealing characteristics. Tethered to a tree trunk near us was the goat (now pregnant) we had given her parents to compensate for her lost wages.
What was most heartening was to spend time with the girls who had returned from working as servants years ago – l6, l7, l8 years old, now in school, and passionate about ending the bonding custom. I was invited to a meeting of the club they had formed for this purpose, and was very impressed with their intelligence, enthusiasm – and beauty. When they spoke about their experiences while they were contracted away, their voices quivered as they emphasized that whatever else happens in their lives, their little sisters would not suffer the same fate. It is these young women who will shape the future of their downtrodden community with their insistence on justice and education for Tharu girls.
We were accompanied by a film crew that is making a documentary about the bonding practice. We will send you a copy of the film when it is finished and notify you when it is aired on television. Thank you for your support of NYOF over the years, which has enabled us to improve the lives of thousands of impoverished Nepali children. We would be most appreciative if you can send a donation to help us to educate the thousands of girls who have recently been freed from bondage and liberate the thousands who are still indentured.
Warm regards, Olga
Our Nutritional Rehabilitation Homes for severely malnourished children continue to restore hundreds of infants and toddlers to good health each year and to educate their mothers about nutrition and good child care practices. We now have six of these facilities scattered throughout the country. The main one in Kathmandu, which serves as a training and support center for all the others, is funded largely by the generosity of the dZi Foundation in Colorado. The capable and devoted staff has perfected the art of training illiterate young mothers in good child care practices.
This year, we will add three new facilities in remote parts of Nepal, some of which were inaccessible during the years of the Maoist insurgency. This is to serve the large number of mothers who cannot come to Kathmandu with their starving children. We are also starting a pilot program of nutrition camps in isolated areas. This will involve sending teams of medical personnel and nutritionists to examine the local children, show the mothers and other relatives of the children how to prepare nourishing supplements made of locally available foodstuffs, and refer very malnourished children to the nearest NRH for rehabilitation. Then we will conduct two follow-up camps to assess the effectiveness of our approach. Such a program is much needed, since half the children younger than five years of age are malnourished, and this is a leading cause of death among this age group.
Nepal is a country of strong traditions, and these include traditions about child rearing. We have found that mothers we have trained in good child care methods at the NRH are sometimes unable to practice them when they return to their villages because the matriarch of the house – the mother-in-law – insists that traditional (and sometimes harmful) customs be followed. For this reason, our camps will also focus on educating the mother-in-laws who have such a powerful influence over the rearing of children.
Because this letter would not be complete without a few pictures of the thousands of children the NRH has restored to health, please see the links below.
To restore a malnourished child to blooming good health costs about $250, which includes an average of five weeks of hospitalization and training the mother in good child care practices to be sure that the problem does not recur.
This year NYOF will accomplish the first stage in our long term goal of completely eradicating the practice of young Nepali girls being sold into slavery by their families. We first began this program in the year 2000 when we were able to rescue 32 girls. The number of girls saved has grown to over 3,400. We would not have been able to achieve this goal without the support of our donor community. Their response to our need has been amazing!
By the end of January 2008, NYOF will have completely eliminated this practice in the Dang Valley. We will have rescued every girl that was going to be sold into bonded servitude. We are now able to move on to an adjoining valley and continue our goal of rescuing the 20,000 to 25,000 girls sold yearly into bonded servitude. NYOF wants to achieve this goal by the year 2010.
During mid-January the labor contractors descend on the villages in Nepal. They convince the families to sell their daughters (some as young as six) for approximately $40 or $50. The girls receive nothing, and are sent off to far away places. The families lose all contact. The girls work from dawn to dusk. None of these children receive an education. Many never return home. The situation is tailor made for abuse.
NYOF convinces the families to keep their daughters at home. We give the families a piglet or goat that they can raise on food scraps and sell for more money than they would have received for their daughters. NYOF sends these girls to school and pays all of their expenses. NYOF enlarges the classrooms, instructs the teachers, pays for all supplies, uniforms, books, and even provides kerosene lamps so the girls may study at night as there is no electricity.
NYOF will not be able to achieve its long term goal without our continued donor support. It only costs $100 to rescue a girl from bonded servitude. We hope you will join us in this worthwhile effort.