'Nepal is where I'm beginning to see my future'
Labour of love: Sarah Murphy and Prabin Baral with children from the Nice Children's Home in Nepal
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 a year working odd jobs in London, following my graduation from UCD with a degree in history, 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 the ideal way to kill two birds.
I arranged a six-month stint at an orphanage in suburban Kathmandu, and flew to Nepal in December 2011 with every intention of coming back in time for the following academic year. Little did I know how much my life would change in the meantime.
The work at the orphanage was like nothing I had 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 a friend in Kathmandu, Prabin Baral, began setting up a children’s home of his own, I decided to stay to help him out.
The first five children were sent to us by local government officials in the surrounding villages. Then people started to come to our door with orphaned or abandoned children. The Nepalese authorities are very lax about children’s homes; we have our own set of guidelines and a constitution, and have drawn up a contract for each child that says we will be their guardians until they are 18.
We have nine boys and two girls now, from three to 10 years old. Two are brother and sister; 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 big problem, but it is otherwise a very comfortable and safe home for them, and for us.
Beggars or prostitutes
The children are from lower-caste families, parents who might have been beggars or prostitutes. We have to do a lot of work to help them learn to trust us, feel comfortable in the environment they are in, and get on with the other children. Most have never been to school, 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 master’s. But my mother is a social worker with a lot of experience dealing with children, so I can seek her advice.
It costs about €500 a month to run the place for 11 children, which doesn’t seem like a lot but is tough to raise. I am becoming more attached to the children as the months go by, though, and to the place.
It is a beautiful country, and the Nepali people are lovely, but it can be tiring to be so different from 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.It is tough being so far from family and friends, but it is where I am beginning to see my future.
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.