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