‘Nepal is where I’m beginning to see my future’
A six-month stint at an orphanage in Kathmandu has turned into a life-changing commitment, relates SARAH MURPHY
I live abroad, but I don’t consider myself an “emigrant”, a word I have always associated with people who move away because they have no choice.
After spending a year working odd jobs in London following my graduation from history in UCD, I decided to do a postgrad in social studies but needed some work experience to apply. Travel was always on my mind, so volunteering overseas seemed like the ideal way to kill two birds.
I arranged a six month stint in an orphanage in suburban Kathmandu, and flew out in December 2011 with every intention to come back in time for the following academic year. Little did I know how much my life would change in the meantime.
The work in the orphanage was like nothing I had ever done before. I helped to take care of the 15 children, assisting with homework and pitching in with the cooking and cleaning. I was submerged in a different culture and surrounded by children who were dependent on the care offered by the home.
When the placement was over I spent a month volunteering in a rehabilitation centre for addicts in Darjeeling, assisting the counsellors with group therapy sessions. It was very difficult at times, as I had no previous experience working with addicts, but the idea was to be a listening ear rather than to give advice.
A friend in Kathmandu, Prabin Baral, was in the process of setting up a children’s home of his own when I returned. I had some ideas from my time volunteering, and decided to stay to help him out. I didn’t take my return flight home.
The first five children were sent to us by local government officials in the surrounding villages. Then word began to spread about what we were doing, and people started coming to our door with orphaned or abandoned children that they could no longer look after. We took in six others, but have since limited our numbers to 11 until we can find additional funding
The authorities take a very lax approach to the running of children’s homes in Nepal, but we have our own set of guidelines and a constitution, and have drawn up a contract for each child which says we will be their guardian until they are 18.
We have nine boys and two girls now, from 3 to 10 years old. Two are brother and sister, and another two pairs are brothers. We have just moved to a lovely new house on the outskirts of Kathmandu, which has a rural feel with a lovely garden out the front. We have a boys room, a girls room, a study and play room, a bedroom for ourselves and a kitchen, and a flat roof where they can play.
The electricity only comes on for a few hours a day and running water is a major problem, but it is otherwise a very comfortable and safe home for them, and for us.
The children are from lower caste families, parents who might have been beggars or prostitutes. In many cases, they have been ostracised by society even though they are only children, and some of them have been very affected by that.
We have to do a lot of work to help them learn to trust us, feel comfortable in the environment they are in, to get on with the other children. Most of them have never been to school before so they need a lot of academic support too. They are getting more playful as time goes on which makes us feel we are succeeding.
I do wish sometimes that I was better qualified, that I had waited to get involved until after I had done the masters. But my mother is a social worker with a lot of experience dealing with children, so I can seek her advice when issues arise. I am considering taking a course over here, and I am reading a lot. I am here now and have to do the best I can with the knowledge I have.
It is a beautiful country and the Nepali people are really lovely but it can be quite tiring at times, being so different to everyone else. For the first while, the culture shock was novel and exciting, but as time goes on and I try to get on with everyday life, it can be hard.
After spending some time living here, especially doing what I am doing, my day-to-day finances have adapted to my surroundings but that divide in wealth is still perceived, making day-to-day tasks like shopping a challenge. It is hard to be accepted as just another human being, which is difficult if you plan to stay for a long time.
We are working to secure funding from regular donors we can depend on. The Nepali government don’t provide any financial support so we have to fundraise to pay for food, rent, and to cover the children’s school bills. It costs about €500 a month to run the place for 11 children, which doesn’t seem like a lot but it is tough to raise.
Getting involved in the orphanage was a huge commitment for me to make personally, as we would be doing the children more harm than good to take them in for a few years, send them to school, provide them with a home and raise their expectations only to send them back if things didn’t work out.
But the home will continue regardless of whether or not I stay in Nepal. I am becoming more attached to the children as the months go by though, and to the place. It is tough being so far away from family and friends, but it is where I am beginning to see my future.
For more information about the children’s home, or to make a donation, see nicenepal.net.
- In conversation with Ciara Kenny
‘Irish Times’ emigration debate
Twelve of Ireland’s best student debaters will argue the motion “This house would emigrate” at the final of the 53rd Irish Times Debate in Belfast tonight.
More than 260 students from 17 colleges around the country entered this year, and the 12 finalists will now compete for the opportunity to represent Ireland in a debating tour of the US.
Topics debated during the competition included “fat taxes”, feminism, reality television and Hamas, but convenor Seán O’Quigley says there was one topic he was saving for the final: emigration.
“For current students and recent graduates it seems that travelling abroad for work is again a necessity rather than a choice,” he says.
The debate takes place at Riddel Hall, Queen’s University Belfast at 7pm, and admission is free. For more coverage, including videos of the final speeches, see irishtimes.com/generationemigration.