Papa’s Updates

Papa’s House News and Updates

November 2018

It is time for me to begin the “Update.” This happens when the inspiration appears, or deadline looms large. In the former case, I am sometimes delightfully pulled along in a subconscious flow, tapping away, and trying not to disturb the fragile relationship between the current, and my own thoughts, I try to be still and simply write. When this works, the ambient sounds of my neighborhood, kids playing in the streets, half-deflated soccer balls being kicked across the gravel road, vendors on bicycles with booming baritones shouting out their wares to people inside their homes, the shrieking whistle of trash collectors, will all fade away. In the latter case, feeling the pressure of a deadline to write, I am assaulted by it all.

There is a lot to share in this update. I am touched by the evolution of our children and organization and will be writing about that and more. But first I am writing this under the eclipse of Hope’s surgery which will take place in Greensville, SC, the other side of the planet from me, at 6:45 pm my time, just 4 hours and thirty minutes hence.

Her operation was postponed from September, when I was present for her, due to Hurricane Florence that swept in that week. It is hard not to be with her now, but she is with her mom Anita, who has raised the bar on good mothering to a lofty extent, and her loving step-father Sam. Hope will be fine.

Hope is one of the most impressive children, scratch that, humans I know. She has never questioned her missing feet, nor has she ever complained. When she falls, she quickly offers “I’m okay” for my sake, I believe, and carries on with a smile. Though unspoken by Hope, nor showing in her face, I believe that usually present in her thoughts is her desire to walk, run, and stay in pace with the others. Anita sent me a video shortly after they moved to North Carolina. Hope had received a push scooter a week earlier and spent hours each day getting the hang of it while going up and down the wide sidewalks of their community with her mom, or grandmother at her side. Meanwhile Hope met some of the kids in the neighborhood who all had scooters as well and would ride them in small packs. The video Anita sent showed this pack coming down the sidewalk, literally downhill, a gentle but steady decline. All the kids with their colorful helmets were gliding along without a care, and then I spotted Hope in the middle, the most demanding of positions in a pack, and there she was with equal grace and calm.  As they passed where Anita was filming, Hope looked up and smiled and in that smile I saw her quiet victory. It was her moment, undiscerned by all others, but I could see and feel in her smile her pulsing with joy at a threshold crossed, and as the camera swung to catch the retreating pack I cheered from my desk 8000 miles away and felt flush with the grateful exultation one can only feel as a parent’s witness to their child’s moment of inner bliss, their triumph of accomplishment. The potency of such moments leaves one spent, mortality over-ridden by the spirit alone. These are the sweet flashes in time that remind one of how utterly great life can be.

Hope has adapted well to her new environment, a culture with its own rules that she eagerly accepts. She made neighborhood friends that go to her school, some in her class. To the bus stop each morning go the mothers, chatting while their sons and daughters walk side by side, backpacks in place, busy with conversation likely around “What’s in your lunch box today?” When the bus comes, Hope makes the first step up with her compensating arm muscles in a swift move that belies the quick calculations she performs necessary to rise in step with the others. She waves out the window and is gone into her own separate world until 3:30 brings her round again. The walk home, as in the walk to school, brings her to independence, this brings her back to family — the two worlds that children navigate as they begin to explore their way in the world.

Anita overheard Hope’s new friend one day, in the innocent inquisitiveness of small children, ask Hope what happened to her feet. This is a question Hope has never asked us, though we were prepared for it, and as thus we have never provided an answer to. “I had an accident,” Anita heard her reply, simply stated as one might say, “We had pizza last night.” Her friend said “Oh,” and they resumed their banter. A stated fact given, curiosity filled, and life goes on.

Most likely when you are reading this, Hope will be back in school. Sam and Anita have purchased a wheelchair for Hope and made arrangements for the handicapped bus to come and pick her up. Hope has allowed herself one week only to be absent from school, this she reassured her friends when they hugged her goodbye on Friday.


*****

Later this same day, Hope came through the operation in good form.


Hope before walking into the OR

Hope in the recovery room

At this Shriners Hospital the child must say goodbye to the parents outside the operating rooms. Hope took it all in stride according to Anita, and followed the process without complaint. The medical staff had high praise for Hope when they came to inform Anita and Sam that the operation was over. Back in her room Hope gives one thumbs up — she scores most everything that is going on in her day by the number of thumbs up or down.

Anita did not take time to remove her jacket in her excitement to see Hope when she came back to her room. And, still waiting for Hope was a Halloween party. Shriners Hospitals are amazing places, very worthy of support.

And last, after Hope and I shared a video call, she slept, the long anticipated (by her parents) day was done, and all was well.

*****

Ishwor and his classmates have just completed their two years of “college.” Now they will begin University. Ishwor had taken the challenging science stream for the past two years, sacrificing free time to achieve entrance to a medical science path in the university system. He sat for the exam, along with over a thousand other students and achieved the rank of 24th overall. He will soon enter Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Sciences to earn his four-year bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory Technology. The competition for entrance to the limited seats available is great obviously, and thus scholarships are only for the first 16 places. The top eleven win coveted seats at the Government University, the next five are granted some scholarship money from the better private schools, and the others unceremoniously vie for the best they can find.


Ishwor, a fine athlete, scholar, and gentleman

*****

Also in this same class Sabina, another science student, decided to complement her studies by learning German at the Embassy here. She wishes to study nursing and wisely feels her best career move at this stage would be to do so in Germany. Sabina began her language studies a few months ago in addition to the mind-numbing coursework she had. She will qualify to sit for the visa exam in another three months, and upon passing it will be eligible for work in Germany, and then after one year’s residency she would be allowed to attend nursing school there.


Sabina in black jacket at last February’s Valentine’s Day celebration

*****

Dhiraj is settling in nicely in Australia. He wrote the following letter last week:

Dear Papa

How are you? I want you to know that I miss you guys so much and there is not even a single day I don't miss u guys and of course you papa.

Life is moving on with a lot of interesting and new things every day.  I feel really blessed to have Laurie and Stan in my life and they have hearts of gold.

I work 10 hours a day and 5-6 days a week. I have made around AUD$2500 till today in a month. I work for a Chicken shop where we sell a lot of chicken and salads. It is owned by one of Stan’s friends who is a South African. There are 4 Nepali boys working there with me. They are paid $14 an hour and he used to pay me around $13 per hour when he was training me. Now I am trained and work hard and he pays me $16 an hour. I have created a small family for myself with Laurie and Stan and all their family members and friends. Lots of their Family invite me for dinner and breakfast, everyone wants to see me and talk to me about my life in Nepal and changes, so it feels like home Papa. I am loving it here and excited about my university soon starting on 12th of November. I feel I am so blessed Papa. First to get you in my life. I would not have able to do this in my life and secondly all the people I have known because of you Papa. Thanks, Papa for all those strict rules in the hostel with Sam and all the house managers. Whatever I am doing is your achievement Papa.

Thanks for life Papa.

Thank you for everything Papa

Please bless me, Papa,

I Love you

I miss you

A big hug and with tears on my eyes

Love you Always

Dhiraj

Dee(That's what everyone calls me at work)

And a small bit of my reply:

Dear Dhiraj

I am very proud of you, but Australia is not the proving ground for it, I have been proud of you from long ago. Australia simply provides further evidence of why.

This Dashain you were here in spirit, remembered well, and you will never be forgotten. But you were 1 among many children not in attendance when everyone younger than me (I could have simply said everyone) sat cross legged on the mats and prepared to receive my blessing. What an absolute honor that act is in my eyes. One more of the many benefits of age, and my life among you all.


Dhiraj taking a Sydney arrival selfie

With Papa in 2009

*****

Nama is an athlete with natural talent, but he has become superb due to his commitment to the sport of basketball. At Skylark he commanded the courts and gained the awareness of college programs. He received a full scholarship at Morgan College, noted more for its basketball program then its academics, which are still better than the average.

Nama has also just completed his college classes and is looking at University. This past year he did pretty well academically while playing for Morgan, as well as on the National level on the Nepal Army team. The National level of play is most impressive, and they compete throughout the year both in-country and internationally.

In addition to his on-court prowess is his off-court kindness and eagerness to help anyone in need. If ever he sees me toiling outside he will come and try to relieve me of the tools and take over. He is a quiet leader, by example, in all that he does.

*****

This is a recent painting by Bimal. I admired it profusely, so he gave it to me. I instead had it framed and it hangs in the Chelsea Center where many eyes get the pleasure. We have as a Saturday art teacher a man with flawless technical abilities; he teaches at the Art College and paints when he has time, often commissioned. He has been teaching Bimal and others for over a year now and Bimal, a very gifted young man who loves to paint, has had his own technical level increased remarkably. What I love about his new style is how he imbues his paintings with the emotions of the people inhabiting the canvas. Bimal has a sensitive artist soul with the deft touch of a great craftsman.

*****

Anisha had been working as a waitress for several months in the late afternoons and early evenings while attending college. She works and studies hard. NOH has been supporting the babies at the quasi-government orphanage for quite some time. We thought the time had come for us to have one of our own there each day to make sure the babies received individual attention and our thoughts turned to Anisha, and when asked if she would like to do it she jumped at the opportunity. She has been there for several months now and a world of difference has resulted by it in the energy level and number of smiles the babies share. And we are feeling a lot more serene in our involvement in trying to make the best of the situation for them.


The bottom two photos show Anisha with Sarika, the little one that I wrote about in an earlier update. She is now getting the attention and touch all babies deserve…but which before Anisha were not coming her way…and now she is blossoming because of it.

*****

Our daughter Mary came to us from as far west in Nepal as the country goes. A mountain village without electricity, nor the sound even of petrol-powered mechanics. A peaceful place, but one that demands an abiding relationship with nature to survive in. I wrote a story about Mary and how she happened to come to us almost 9 years ago, leaving behind her father and little sister who was only 3 at the time. Mary often thought about her sister and over the past few months her thoughts were shared with us and we decided to try and find her. Clues were few, but tangible. The family had lost direct contact with her sister 6 years ago when a family friend said he could get her into a school in Kathmandu. They allowed him to bring her and then lost touch with their friend, and as the seasons came and went, time soon covered her tracks, and memory. But with a little effort we found that her sister was in an orphanage on the other side of Kathmandu. We called them and found the man whose family started the orphanage 35 years ago rather surprised when I let him know about Laxmi, Mary’s sister. I took Mary to meet her little sister the next day, and then a couple of weeks later we picked up Laxmi and brought her to stay with Mary for part of our Dashain. Coincidentally, this search provided collateral information that Mary’s father is a kidney patient here at the government hospital; he has severe renal failure in both kidneys and is on dialysis. His situation is unfortunate as he hasn’t any money for ongoing treatment. But now Mary and Laxmi have had the opportunity to meet with him and their aunt, after so many years. The universe presents opportunity, but not always solution.


Mary and Laxmi reunited. Sisters, but in Laxmi’s mind she never knew

*****

Late in the summer we turned our attention to tightening the bonds between the 250 women who attend free classes each day at our Chelsea Center and the children of NOH. Ted Seymour, a member of the NOH Board, spent a month here observing all of our programs and this idea was part of his suggestions. So, to this end we began the “Auntie Program.”

One of the quaint practices in Nepal has all children calling older women “Auntie” and older men “Uncle.” All adults refer to older males as “Dhaai” and older woman as “Didi”, brother and sister, and “Bhaai” for a younger male and “Bahini” for a younger female. Thus everyone is your brother or your sister. It is quaint, but it serves a greater purpose to strengthen the bonds of respect and behavior among all people, and it helps to keep insensitivities at bay.

We decided to ask the Aunties if they would host a child for a normal family dinner. The response was excellent initially, but as we added some rules such as picking up the child and bringing them home again, and being absolutely on time both ways, the numbers thinned. The final count was 38 Aunties were excited to do this with the rules in place. The Aunties were advised to allow the child to participate in the dinner preparations and to strive to make them feel like family as opposed to a guest. The two rules need to leap huge cultural impediments. Time is a loose concept among the Nepalis, and “Guest is God” is a notion applied to anyone entering your house, thus serving the guest with the utmost of care and respect is a cultural imperative. But they did well on both counts and the kids and aunties had fun, which was the largest end-point. All things take time to make perfect, but we are optimistic that this is a program with great possibilities. The debriefing after was full of positive responses and setting a date for the next dinner received an enthusiastic affirmation.

Another aspect of the culture is to not demonstrably show affection, hugging is rare, and yet, to my delighted eyes, when we called out the names of the “couples” many Aunties gave their child a welcome hug. Just amazing, and I was moved to see this, as hugging is something that I know our children enjoy.



The Aunties and their daughters and sons for the evening

*****

As most of you know, October is the time when Dashain and Tihar are experienced in Nepal and India. These are 30-plus day festivals in honor of gods, families, and a small sampling of animals, the cow taking the seat of highest honor. There are two days of particular reverence and tradition, one in Dashain and the other in Tihar.

On “Dashain” families gather and after bathing but before eating, a Puja is given. The elder of the family will lead off applying “tika” to the foreheads of the assembled family who kneel or sit cross-legged in wait. While applying the tika, made from color and rice, it is incumbent to offer a blessing, then place a specially grown straw called “Jamula” behind the ear or tucked into the hair, and finally you place some small bills and coins into the recipient’s hands. It is a tradition easy for me to like. It takes the Western world’s seasonally spoken “Peace be with you” up a few notches.

After the patriarch completes all, then the matriarch and others who wish to do so, such as uncles and elder brothers or sisters are free to follow suit.

If tikas took the shape of countries, Rajan had the U.S. Mary, good natured as Sarita mocked a selfie.

Aakriti’s World, gentle, intriguing

Mina developing into her new name “Naina”

Urmila, brilliant, kind, yearning

Kailashi, Sumitra, Sarita, alive and energized

Ashok, garland by Prashanna

Sapana, Gita, and Sarita, three special, real sisters

*****

“PAPA’S HOUSE PIES”

A love of pie baking and sharing spawned the idea that we should sell them. Pie is a new taste in Nepal; I am not aware of anything closely resembling traditional pies here, though bakeries are in a renaissance period in Kathmandu.

So, we shaped this to be a business that will grow and as it does, employ more of our science stream college and university students to give a few hours a week each, as they can afford. Their time in the bakery we feel will be a necessary mental release from study, clearing their thoughts and allow them to return fresh and sharp to the books.

We will put all the profit from this business into a special fund to provide support (rent and food) for the university level kids to be able to focus on their demanding studies. Science students attend school from 10 a.m. until 5-6 p.m. six days a week, leaving no time for earning. By participating in the pie business, they are “earning” their support with just a few hours a week according to their own schedule.

Marketing has occupied a lot of time this past month, as well as preparing the bakery, and developing new pies according to seasonally available produce. We hope to open after Tihar. Our first target will be the US Embassy where they have already posted our advertisement on their bulletin board, a local restaurant where embassy staff take their lunch, local coffee shops, and we hope a local grocer where the embassy staff shops. Closer to home we will have Pie Fridays at the Chelsea Center and encourage the “Aunties” to buy our pies, tarts, muffins, and cookies to take home to family.

As through our years of the Chelsea Center changing the educational landscape of our adult community, we hope to change the dietary taste, and bring some occasional treats into the homes of Dhapasi. Beta testing has shown this will happen; it is a great cause and a wonderful taste.


Former cow shed that we remodeled after purchasing the property and before building the Chelsea Center. It went from cow shed to college boys home one year, to office space, and now the “first” home of “Papa’s House Bakery.”

Asha has a career interest in baking. We sent her to a six-month course at a fine resort to open the pathway for her. They did not do pies, but her familiarity in the kitchen, her availability during the day, her having cooked with me for years at our Friday night dinners, and her excitement have made starting this business easy. She will eventually manage what will one day be another of our children’s enterprises.

*****

Thanksgiving of 2013 was one that will never be forgotten. We had Hope with us, and NOH seemed to find its center around her. A time of deeply felt family unity from which all individuals prospered. Present that year was Kathy Procanik, one of Hope’s godmothers. Before leaving her hotel to come to Thanksgiving dinner she invited a young man she had met, and a few others who had no plans for the day, to come with her. The young man is Jonathan Paluga. I wrote about him last year, and he deserves to be written about every year.

Moved by the way we celebrated Thanksgiving, by the children and their love for one another, their caring, and their spirit, he sent a donation and a beautiful letter describing what the day had meant to him soon after he returned home.

The next year he returned with his partner Kym. A month before coming he sent another donation which he hoped would pay for the Thanksgiving dinner, which made it a Thanksgiving Feast!

Each year since, Jonathan has increased his commitment to our children’s Thanksgiving in an amount that broadly exceeds the cost of a Feast and is then applied to the educational enhancement opportunities we encourage among our children.

To me, Jonathan exemplifies the spirit of Thanksgiving whose meaning I yearly impress upon our children in a sermon they politely endure before they eat.

What Jonathan does makes possible a day that is eagerly looked forward to, as deeply to the children as Christmas, and Dashain. It is my favorite family event, as closely resembling an American Thanksgiving family dinner as we can muster with the challenges of Nepal always lurking. The gift is for us, but I have to imagine that when Jonathan and Kym sit down with their own family for Thanksgiving, that they are holding hands under the table and smiling as the blessing is given, knowing what a blessing they have bestowed upon us across the planet.

Kym with Hope and me in 2014 Jonathan and Kym at Bouda

*****

SANCTUARY FOR KIDS

Mother, actress, director, and philanthropist, Amanda Tapping lives to give hope and opportunity to all people. Amanda has united legions of fans to have the courage to listen to their hearts and act accordingly, to find their voice, to learn they are not alone, that they can change the world and themselves through reaching out their hands to others.

How is it that a highly successful celebrity can be so honest, down to earth, available, and use her position to motivate others to find their spirit and make it come alive, with as much attention as she gives to her craft? Both are full time occupations sometimes done well by two different individuals, never both done by one.

One of my favorite photos. This is Jill Bodie who along with Amanda and Jill’s husband, Damian Kindler, founded Sanctuary for Kids in 2008. Jill is a mother, a wife, a teacher and life coach with extraordinary passion for making a difference for children left behind by societies too busy to care.

This is Sylvia Patterson, the Director of (S4K). I have not met Sylvia but through e-mails. She is the orchestra leader whose consummate skill in business guides the foundation and weaves it into the lives of far-flung organizations such as ours, while handling the myriad logistics that have enabled S4K to unite Amanda’s fan base and turn it into highly successful yearly conventions that benefit attendees and beneficiaries alike.

I had an introductory e-mail to Amanda in early 2009. One of our volunteers, a gifted young Irishman, was building the S4K website at the time. He was moved by NOH and quietly lobbied Amanda, Jill, and Damian to consider making us one of their first grant recipients.

Through this, Amanda, Jill, and I exchanged several e-mails and soon thereafter plans were made for them to come to Nepal along with one of Jill’s daughters, Hannah. I was at that time unaware of Amanda’s fame as I had been off the grid for quite a few years here, and even previously in America I did not watch television or read about entertainment. Then one day I mentioned to another volunteer that Amanda Tapping was coming for a visit and this volunteer was incredulous, remarking, “How in the world do YOU know Amanda Tapping?!” This mid-thirty aged man pursuing his PhD in Education proclaimed gushingly, “I am so in love with her,” and proceeded to fill me with nervousness over meeting Amanda.

When Amanda, Jill, and Hannah arrived I found in Amanda a beautiful and radiant woman as kind and easy as a girl next door that one had grown up with and who made you feel that nothing was special about them but their enduring friendship to you for life. As Amanda and Jill would sit in late afternoon conversations with me, their fame disappeared, I felt more in the company of two people who were special because they had chosen to live their lives in service to others, both highly intelligent and motivated, and with a great sense of humor. They asked insightful questions and would be moved to silence and tears to hear about the lives of our children before coming to us.

Once, four years ago I had an e-mail from a friend who was also a big fan of Amanda’s. She said to go to You Tube and watch an interview Amanda had done in London before a large audience.

Midway in the interview Amanda was open to questions from the audience. One question was along the lines of “What was the last thing that inspired you?” a rather generic question. Amanda sat quiet for a moment, then said “Hope.” She then proceeded to tell the story of our daughter and she did so through tears. This broadened into a response that included factually accurate stories of not just Hope but many of our children. The audience was breathless, the on-stage interviewer speechless. This is Amanda Tapping, an amazing human being who clearly listens and takes it all to heart.

Two years ago, Anita and I were in Boston where Hope was getting surgery at Shriners. Jill wrote to me and said she was in Massachusetts getting her daughter settled in college. She wrote that she would love to come and help us out with babysitting, errand running, or in any way we might need help during this time. Again, as illustration of kindness to all, Jill, very successful, known to many celebrities, very busy, was willing to drop what she was doing and lend a hand to simple people she knew mostly by our shared values and the long-time support of S4K for our work.

The day came for goodbye, Saraswati’s face said it all. Amanda and Jill had reached the heart of all our children, every one of them, by their motherhood, comfort, listening, and embracing.

Amanda leaving each child aware that if they believe in themselves and work hard they will be everything they wish to become.

Jill letting the kids know what a mother feels like. And Hannah mesmerizing the children by her beauty, calm, and intelligence.

I write about S4K now as earlier this year Amanda, Jill, and Sylvia let us know that S4K will cease to exist after December of this year. They have served so many over the last ten years. From S4K we have received countless number of volunteers, individuals who have been devoted fans and participants in S4K from its inception, fine people who have remained friends and supporters. Through S4K came a wonderful Director of Volunteer Nepal, another who has for 7 years been coming and in one long stretch served as a house manager and helped manage our Chelsea Education Center; they remain close friends to us today.

The financial support of S4K has been incredible. Year after year, it has enabled education, housing costs, medical interventions--all to make the children’s lives more individual and less part of a large group, special moments, security, happiness, comfort, and a validation for our work and future proposals.

To me, what this relationship has meant is all the above and more. Through these three successful women I have been made to feel deeply appreciated, to feel special, that my quiet life is more important than I see for myself. They have been friends to me, cheering me on, and letting me know they not only have my back, but my heart as well.

Thank you, Sanctuary for Kids, for your many splendid gifts.

Love,

Michael

*****

From 2010

Our children do not talk so much about life, they just live it; they do not talk about giving a gift to a friend, they just do it; they don’t think about carrying the school bag of another who isn’t feeling well, they simply take it; there is no pretense, no calculations they simply choose to engage everything straight from the heart.

We have choices in life and each and every one of us has so much power. If you choose to live a positive optimistic life, to help others, to love your family and friends, to think “how can I make a difference in someone’s life everyday” then you will make that difference; not only in their lives but in the quality of your own. It does not take a special person or a rich person; it just takes a caring person.

Those of you who have been in Nepal with us know how precious and unnaturally kind and compassionate our children are. I have learned so much about the meaning of life and how to better live it from our children. I have learned about being patient and appreciating the moment. I have learned not to hold anger at those who have brought harm to us, learned in fact to try and understand, to empathize in an effort to discover the motive of these lonely people. I have learned how to laugh at myself, how to love and feel loved. These children are little prophets one and all who make it easy to believe that one’s own life can bring remarkable change in a world that is abundantly lopsided in its equality.

 

August 2018

Volunteer Nepal was fortunate to host a group of student volunteers and their chaperones from NYC at the beginning of July. Adam Aronovitz and Alissa Bilfield were volunteers with us many years ago and have returned a few times since in different capacities. This time it was with Adam’s NGO Global Routes Org. This group was under Alissa’s leadership in conjunction with Ruth Rabiott and her NGO HEAF. Taking a break from volunteering, they planned a great July 4th afternoon celebration for all our children, our Chelsea teachers and Volunteer staff.



Bottom left: Ruth Rabiott and one of her chaperones, a recent Davidson College grad, who is entering Columbia University this fall. Middle right photo: Chanda, a PhD holder and fellow chaperone with her new friend Chiya. These two hit it off and have become pen pals.

*****

On the educational front we had a first for NOH. Khusbu was ranked number one at Skylark for the “Boost-up” exam given to the children in preparation for their school leaving exam which will take place in March. This is a huge achievement. Other children performed very well in their regular first term exam as seen below.

Mrs. Pandey, our Director of NOH, Manisha ranked 3rd, Samita ranked 1st Mankumari ranked 3rd, Pushpa ranked 1st, Khusbu in rear, Sarita ranked 2nd, (missing is Kajul who ranked 3rd), all in their separate classes for their first term exam and flanked by Prashanna, whose incredible effort as the Director of the Chelsea Center deserves much of the credit.

*****

The first week of July was spectacular, a very busy and poignant one culminating in the ceremony in which we honored the union of Sam, Anita, and Hope. Family and old friends came from four countries to honor them.

From the left: Vinod (Anita’s brother), Sam, Alecia (Vinod’s wife), Anita and Hope, Ted, Papa, Parks (Justin and Laura’s son), Jake, Laura, Justin (Laura’s husband), Blanca and her partner Victor. Missing from the photo is Sunita, Anita’s twin who flew in from her job in Kuwait. All of these folks began volunteering with us 10 years or more ago and have remained good friends ever since.

*****

The Ceremony: July 7th

Our daughter Asha doing the make-up, hair was done by our daughter Naumaya, and garland by our daughter Sarita. In the photo on the right, Anita, Sam and Hope meeting all our children and staff who had come to walk them to the Skylark School where the ceremony was held.

Anu, class 10 Bimala holding the daughter of our daughter Srijhana, and Samjhana
Alicia, Sushmita, and Kailashi Our daughter Sangita and her daughter Sankriti
The exchanging of rings Ranjana
Purnima, Srijhana, Chiya, and Saraswati Santoshi, Akkriti, and Ranjana
Kanchi and Hope walking to the ceremony Entering the tent to a standing ovation scared Hope
Ram singing Paul Stookey’s “Wedding Song” Anita surrounded by her family
Laura and Justin Selina and friends dancing
Bhumika as Sam in a beautifully performed play about how Sam and Anita fell in love (with a little help from the children) Alicia, as Anita, in a scene that brought tears to everyone

Sangita, Pramila, and Lalita, I brought them from our home in the western region when they were 10, they remained roommates and best friends until Sangita’s marriage three years ago, this was only our second time together since. And on right, the actors along with Sam and Anita.

Gita Our good friend Lou and Sumitra
Our daughter Meena looking radiant

Victor and Spanish film star Blanca, who spent a week working with the children on their play. She has been a constant friend for ten years now.

Cutting of the cake Sushma

It is quite hard to summarize the day’s gathering and the strongly felt emotions exhibited by all those who came in honor of Anita and Sam, over three hundred strong. Tears of happiness and those of a separation nearing, deep laughter slipping into wet-eyed quietness, a day bringing us all to ponder our own lives, our own milestones, and our preparedness for tomorrow. Godspeed Anita, Hope, and Sam.

*****

As I write this update I am pleased to report that Anita, Hope, and Sam have settled into their new lives. They are living presently with Vinod and Alecia, and Anita’s parents in a beautiful Hindi community where all the residents are young brilliant people brought there by the many firms in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. A lot of the residents have brought their aging parents and they carry on the wonderful traditions of Hindi family life, and community. Hope quickly made friends with three neighbor girls her age and they spend evenings riding their push scooters on the safe sidewalks while parents meet and chat, celebrating the good things of life, like friendship and family, every day.

*****

On July 25th we did our annual “Puja” for the new college students at 5:30am on their first day of school. This is year eight and unique in that it did not rain as it has in all seven previous years. An auspicious sign for these seven.


Hari, Sumitra, Ramita, Aliza, Anisha, Bimala, and Rupa. (college uniforms yet to arrive, but college t-shirts provided, Sumitra feared getting hers stained so did not wear it.


Hari and Sumitra, rescued from the same orphanage in 2007


Aliza and Anisha both rescued in 2007 from having been sold into indentured servitude


Bimala and Ramita, also both rescued in 2007


Rupa, as well rescued in 2007

All these children have worked very hard to achieve what they have earned. Each of them have part or full time jobs which they attend to six days a week, as well as college six days. They are responsible, loving, and sincere young adults, in possession of what it takes to lead a happy, purposeful, and productive life.

*****

On Saturday August 11th we will say goodbye to Dhiraj. With commendable fortitude he has taken on the challenge of attending school in Australia. Dhiraj took extra classes to round out his already impressive resume, talked daily about going, imagining himself there, filed paperwork accurately and timely, took on applying for loans, seeking acceptance at a well-reputed small college in Sydney with a good IT program, sought and received recommendation letters directed to the college, laid out his plan for the next few years to us in how he would manage this, and sought the guidance of a consultant for college admissions, finding a very good one who was as impressed with Dhiraj as we have always been and went to bat for him. Piece by piece over the last year things fell into place, he received loans, was accepted at the college of his choice, and had only to receive his visa as the last hurdle, and on Tuesday of this week, while on a borrowed scooter he received a call from his consultant who advised him to pull the scooter over and turn it off for a moment, and when he did the consultant gave him the good news. A year’s worth of devotion to a dream was rewarded.

Rescued from the same orphanage with Hari Charming Anita at seven at Papa’s House
Early days at Skylark Dhiraj has always believed in himself
Dhiraj at his farewell Puja Our Director Sunita Pandey giving Dhiraj a Tika

*****

NOH has 54 children currently in college (grades 11-12 or plus 2) or university. In April of 2019 fourteen more will join them. As mentioned earlier this is our eighth year of sending children to college and thus many of the original group are now in their careers. Looking back over time at these young men and women who came to us while very young is incredibly touching. Many individuals who had first hand experience with the NOH family became such kind supporters, offering what they could and when they could. And then there is Toni Thomson, the extraordinary film maker who made the documentary on NOH, What It Takes to Be Extraordinary, which continues to generate new supporters, and through her “Possible Worlds Foundation,” provides yearly support. Amanda Tapping and Jill Bodie who started “Sanctuary for Kids” in Vancouver and made us one of their first beneficiary’s 11 years ago, have been an extraordinary support over the years allowing us to bring more children in desperate need, into the family. Laura and Justin Nimick, (shown above in a couple of wedding photos) who began “Life’s Handy Work” to help support our educational program, after Laura volunteered with us ten years ago. There has been a handful of unsung heroes, incredibly kind donors who have always sought anonymity, but have year after year given with such warmth and grace to help our children succeed, to all of you the NOH family salutes and carries your kindness and care in our hearts.

NOH started Volunteer Nepal in 2005. The program connects volunteers with talent and passion to poor villages across Nepal in great need. It has been a very robust program that consistently makes big differences in the lives of individuals, families, and communities that in many cases had not experienced westerners before. Through Volunteer Nepal’s volunteers we have been able to financially support education programs in many areas, as well as bringing qualified teachers to them. We have been able to run medical camps for remote areas, and after the earthquake of 2015 Volunteer Nepal staff was at some of our placements devastated by the quake within 2-3 days bringing blankets, food, tents, cash, to the people there. Long before others arrived Volunteer Nepal brought a lifeline. Some of these places were very difficult to reach, but we did, and we returned many times to restock what was needed.

Volunteer Nepal fees make all that possible, and also goes a long way towards the operational cost of NOH and its many outreach programs that are designed to provide meaningful assistance for children in need in Nepal.

From the beginning it was our goal to one day be able to do all we do in a self-dependent way, and Volunteer Nepal was part of that concept. We are still years away from reaching that goal, and with the number of children we have in college and more than that still behind them we will continue to need the support of the broadening family of NOH. Our children are the living embodiment of the mythological Phoenix, rising from the ashes of their early childhood traumas to become the exceptional young men and women, generous in spirit, they have become.

And below, some photos of the future great men and women of NOH.


Enduring Brother’s Day in 2017, I laugh so much with this photo





Thank you, all my best,
​Papa

May 2018

Congratulations, Hillary!

On May 8, Hillary Bernhardt left us to return to school for her master’s degree at Yale School of Management. Hillary served magnificently for close to 18 months as the Director of our Chelsea Education and Community Center.

A goodbye ceremony was attended at noon by well over 200 of the woman students of the CECC, which included speeches in her honor and dance performances. For the celebration after school, Hillary had hung photos of every child as parting gifts, and all our children and staff showed their love and appreciation right up until her taxi’s arrival. Then in a fitting gesture, all the Chelsea teachers caravanned to the airport and ushered her to the door where security forced their final farewell. Hillary has accepted a position on the NOH Board of Directors, so her ideas shall continue specifically benefiting the CECC as well as NOH as a whole..

Carola Drosdeck Visits Dhapasi

Carola Drosdeck, Vice President of NOH, left Dhapasi after a six week stay. Carola is adored by all and accomplished many things in every department while here. In a goodbye ceremony held at the Chelsea Center and drawing a standing room only crowd, Prashanna, our new Director of the Chelsea Center, gave tribute to her energy, inspiration, and laughter brought to all, and the dozens of adopted administrative changes she suggested.

Papa's Visit to the Baby Orphanage

On Saturday, May 5, Sam and I visited the baby orphanage where NOH provides all the food, many of the supplies, and incentive pay for the staff to provide the best care possible to the babies. Presently they number around 24, more may have come since. The babies range in age from a few days to around two years, when they move to the toddler building.

My very favorite baby is 8-month-old Sarika. She is host to a number of medical issues. She is very tiny, rarely makes a sound, but never fails to offer an old soul smile and look searchingly into the eyes of anyone holding her. I always feel as if I have received the blessing of a Saint when I hold her. And maybe I have.

Happy Birthday, Hope Angel!

Hope Angel celebrated her 5th birthday on April 30th. She brings so much joy to everyone’s life. Hope, like many of our children, possesses unique and beautiful qualities that all thoughtful people recognize and yearn for. These are natural in them, uncultivated, and offer good reason for those introspective among us to continue our contemplation of the soul’s evolution. Meanwhile, I simply thank what ever brought her to me, out of the swirling winds and tides of cosmic events.

Help Expand Our Support

NOH continually helps those in need. However, it is never a question of simply providing money; along with that comes our understanding and involvement in the situation, to work with the person or people and move towards the solution as a team. I wish to share two new situations, one instigated by us, and the other in response to a request for help.

The first is a truly remarkable situation, an illustration of the immense power of love. It is a very rare example of goodness and determination, one which continues to unfold and thus limits my telling until I further plumb its depths.

This takes place in a small home in a remote mountain village, where school is an arduous two-hour walk, where jungles teem with predators, and where poverty never eases. Here, a father exudes virtues that humble the best among us.

The father is a math teacher. He has five daughters and a wife who has, for as long as the lives of the two youngest of the daughters know, suffered from depression, severe sleep apnea, as well as thyroid and blood pressure problems. Medicine, instead of a book or photo, covers her bedside table.

The father has raised his daughters, cared for his wife, and been a consistently compassionate and inspiring teacher, on a dismal salary for the past 24 years. He teaches in the government school, tutors after school for a little extra income, and spends his evenings gently urging his five daughters to read well-chosen books, to exercise their minds, to dream, and to make sure they never have to marry young, like most of the village girls do. Their house is a sanctuary, a gentle place imbued with scholarly thoughts. The girls have been made to believe that they will enjoy great success one day, to believe in themselves, and to see the future as rewarding as their imaginations allow.

They sustain themselves as much on knowledge as they do on food. There is little ever to eat; they save meager amounts of money only to have a new medical emergency, or to have the earthquake of 2015 destroy their tiny house. And each time, the father’s determination and positive attitude brushes them all off, helps them to stand tall, and keep going.

I have spent time with the five girls; any words I might search for to describe them would be insufficient. Alina (13), Yamuna (17), Namuna (18), Kriti (21), and Shruti (23), are rare gems.


Kriti, Namuna, Yamuna, Alina, and Shruti

Presently they live together in Kathmandu in a single room. They must depend upon themselves. Shruti has managed to get her bachelor’s in electrical engineering, she would like to study for her Master’s, however the system they use to help each other doesn’t allow for that right now. The older girls work to allow the others to attend school. Alina attends all the time, but once she is ready for college then she too will be part of the rotation. Eventually, they all will have completed their degrees. Meanwhile, they also help attend to the expensive care of their mother, and each of the girls has had, at one time or another, a medical issue of their own, some resulting in surgeries to pay for and recover from. The spirit and humor of these five girls, the love they feel for each other, for their parents, and for life itself, is intoxicating.

We have a plan to help them. A physician gave a dire prognosis to their mother. For years, her severe sleep apnea has been contributing to her overall decline in health. A prescribed machine to help her breathe and sleep at night costs the equivalent of their father’s total salary for five months. We bought the machine, and the mother now sleeps through the night and has energy during the day. Her disposition has remarkably improved.

Next, we will have her examined by both a good internist and a psychiatrist at an excellent hospital with internationally trained staff. Then, after helping the mother be in the best health possible and allieviating the daughters and their father of this anxiety, we would like to find a way to simultaneously support the education of the girls.

Each of them possess a sharp, creative, inquisitive mind that will likely contribute to their chosen careers one day. Shruti has taken a teaching position at her college, where she teaches electrical systems design, but unfortunately, the job does not pay much. Kriti also works full time now, and Namuna works part time as she is still in school.

I will try to go to their village with them sometime soon to meet their father and mother. Their father is the antithesis of how most men here conduct themselves. His belief in his daughters, his love and loyalty to his wife, as well as his daughters' remarkable minds and spirits is a story that must be told. I am convinced that we can eliminate many of the burdens weighing upon this family, weight that would have broken most people. They have never asked for help, we were informed about them and took the initiative to learn more. 
 

*******

The second situation involves a 12-year-old boy names Ustav. Last year, when flying a kite, Ustav was electrocuted. He lost his right arm above the elbow as well as nine toes. He spent 90 days in the hospital. NOH helped with his medical expenses. His parents are poor sustenance farmers who live in a village, Ustav lives near Dhapasi with his aunt. We help him to attend Skylark School.

I have observed Ustav’s demeanor for quite a while. He is always smiling. He is gentle and kind, quiet, but well liked. He loves art and has been learning to do everything with his left hand. I asked if he would like a prosthetic arm and he was speechless, searching my eyes and smiling, not sure what to say. I then researched the Jaipur Clinic in India which has garnered worldwide attention for the work they do. I wrote about Ustav and received a pleasant letter back, one full of compassion, from the “Founder and Chief Patron” a Mr. D.R.Mehta. He advised that work in affiliation with Stanford, and other Universities' Bio-Engineering departments, is in development of a functional arm for above elbow amputees, but it is perhaps a year away from being ready for recipients.

However, he said they would be able to outfit Ustav with a very real looking, nonfunctional arm and I conveyed this to Ustav. He had his heart set on being able to hold a pencil and better help himself, but his smile never diminished, and he said he would love to have this. So we are eagerly waiting for word back from the Jaipur Clinic with an appointment date.


Ustav at Skylark, taken on May 15th

 

*******

If anyone wishes to donate to either of these causes, please click here and indicate which cause in the comment section of the PayPal form. Or if you are donating by check, please write in the memo space.

NOH uses a long ago established fund, first created by donations for Hope Angel, to support many of our outreach projects. Any surplus money from any specific cause goes to “Hope’s Fund" on which our outreach programs' daily operation depends.

There will be updates on both of these initiatives on a regular basis. Please have a look at the second issue of the children’s magazine below for some delightful and informative reading.

Thank you very much! 

All my best,
Michael Hess (Papa)

Papa's House Magazine Issue #2 Is Out!

Twenty-threechildren and young adults at Papa's House contributed to our second issue of the Papa's House Magazine, which features stories they pitched, researched, edited, and wrote themselves. Many of them interviewed staff members, volunteers and others working at various placement organizations. They also took photos to accompany their articles. We hope you enjoy their labor of love!

Please click here or on the image below to start reading.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this new format. Please share your feedback on our Facebook page here. 

Introducing the Papa's House News Magazine

Dear All,

Earlier this month I discussed with a number of our children the idea of creating an online and printed News Magazine. This met with enthusiasm and I now submit to you the children’s efforts. They are the reporters, and journalists. I have been very light in my editing in order to preserve their individual voices. The layout is random with photos added from my stock in most cases and with help from Sam with the great basketball ones. This issue and future issues will be posted on the Magazine page of our site.

We hope that The Papa’s House News Magazine will do a better job of informing our supporters and perhaps having them better get to know the individuals they have cared for. 

I, personally, am so impressed by the children’s efforts, and very excited to get the second edition started. Based upon the children’s illustrated commitment, and ideas, we will greatly broaden their reporting and journalism. Already we have a number of interviews lined up that are sure to please.

I have ended this magazine with one story in my continued series of our children. Each of our children has a unique story to tell about their lives prior to coming to NOH. In today’s edition I present “Mary’s Story.”

Thank you and enjoy.

Papa

Click the cover to read the magazine

 

January 2018

I seem to smile a lot, to myself or in response to someone calling my name. These are rather benign smiles quietly reflecting my happiness. But lately I have made a conscious effort to smile and meet the eyes of those passing by, and not a single one failed to quickly smile in return, smiles that light up the eyes, and make their step a bit jauntier. What I have gathered is that a smile is a sure way in which we can all change our environment, our inner peace and that of those we share them with. Smiles rest the soul and stimulate the body’s healing process.

Life becomes increasingly complex, but it needn’t be; so many answers are simple, but lay under mounds of clutter. I have read, “Change your thinking and you have changed your world.”  I might suggest smiling changes both yours and the recipient’s world as well.

Friday, December 22nd

With the children in school and the help of Urmila, one of our college girls, I put up a tree on the grounds where we would celebrate Christmas. Finishing touches were completed with Hope’s help after lunch; the tree was beautiful, and imaginations stirred. When the children of Harmony House walked through the gate after school they knew Christmas was near.


Hope heavily decorating the lower third of the tree


Then when her mom came it was time to share her interpretation of how Santa might act.

     
Before heading off to the Chelsea Center for her afternoon studies, Sarita sat for a photo

Saturday, December 23rd

A few weeks back our dear friends Rupa and Santosh asked if they could have a little party for our kids after lunch on the 23rd of December. Rupa and Santosh are highly educated motivational speakers, counselors, educators, and much more.  They live their lives in service to others, having spent many years living in Kolkata rescuing Nepali girls from Indian brothels. They have been sharing their experiences, thoughts, and love with our children in 90-minute sessions after lunch every Saturday for several years now.

Along with their own children, they brought several older children and young adults remarkable in their talents and personal stories. They had asked me for a list of our children and their ages and said they wished to buy a small gift for each for Christmas, and chose very warm bedroom slippers for them all.


The guitarist played

Our kids swooned

A spirited medley of Christmas tunes

Santosh and Rupa

Rupa handing out the individually named gifts

Gita, Priya, and Sarita danced

Sunita and Kamali sang

Sita, one of several giving impromptu speeches

In addition to some accomplished musicians coming, our younger children performed a traditional dance, our older children sang, and several of our children were inspired to speak from the heart about anything they felt, all sweet sounds to the ears of our NOH family.

The afternoon embraced great entertainment and feelings of love, happiness, and belonging.

Sunday, December 24th

A regular school day here in Nepal, but the kids full of giddiness. After getting the kids to school Anita Mahato, Anita Chaudhary and Kamali Chaudhary, our incredible house managers met at the Papa’s House grounds to put sand and candles into hundreds of cups to light the grounds, and other candles placed through slits in two hundred more cups for the children to hold. They had spent much of December buying the stocking gifts and at my house wrapping and filling stockings. Hillary Bernhardt (our Chelsea Education and Community Center director) and some of our college boys were busy setting up speakers, projectors and a computer filled with Christmas music, and a Christmas film for the night’s celebration, while in the kitchen a few of our children in the Culinary Arts Academy were making hundreds of handmade chocolates for their brothers and sisters.

The kids returned home from school at 3:30, and their dinner was served at 4:30. At 5:30 everyone began to arrive and helped light the perimeter candles and then their own.

Pictures were taken by the tree in the waning moments of the setting sun.


Ranjana’s first Christmas with us

Darkness was complete by 5:45. And candles lit the way.


Asha and her sister Gita

Darkness slowly falling, anticipation rising

A cauldron of hot chocolate was brought outside and served over mini marshmallows as the children mixed, Christmas Carols played over the speakers, and photos were taken in front of the tree, when suddenly, high above it all, standing precariously on a small gable roof came a booming HOHOHO! All eyes went up to see a huge figure four stories above, stars twinkling behind him; silence fell across the ground when straining eyes made certain of what they saw: it was indeed Santa Claus! At once sounds of astonishment and glee filled the grounds, small children backed wide-eyed into the comfort of their big brothers and sisters; I was holding Hope who seemed startled and uncertain by the presence of this massive Santa that appeared out of the night sky … this mythical being, could it really be him?

Santa then stepped back into total darkness, but reappeared among us all, a large red bag slung over one shoulder, and walked among the children to the chair we had set out for his rest after his expected arrival in the wee hours. He sat with a jolly chuckle and with both his white gloved hands beckoned the children near. The younger ones timidly approached, maintaining a couple of yards separation. “This is my favorite night of the year, a busy one, but I wanted to take the time to see my favorite children. Come please and sit with Santa for a moment.” The kids looked at one another, so silent everyone had become, then the bravest of them all, Kajul walked breathlessly up to the little table next to Santa. After giving her name and answering that she had tried to be good this year, she was handed a large chocolate bar from his bag, the sight of which vanquished the children’s reservation and they lined up to meet Santa, ending with Anita at the generous urging of us all.


Kajul leading the way to everyone having their own moment with Santa

We wish to thank the Consular section of the US Embassy for their kindness in helping to find Santa, who in the other 364 days of the year is Marine Corporal Robert Fitzgerald III, a really big guy, with a beautiful deep voice, and twinkling eyes. I was amused to learn that word spread quickly in early December by villagers who saw me wrestling the steering of my scooter with Robert on the back, his knees rising high from his seat, on our way to survey Papa’s House.

Robert concludes his e-mails with a Mark Twain quote which informed my first impression of him.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  – Mark Twain

This reminded me of my Thanksgiving request of the children to silently contemplate “why they exist.”

Robert has joined the family and proudly wears our new Papa’s House sweatshirt.

Thank you, Robert!

After Santa waved goodbye we sat down on the grass to watch a Christmas movie projected onto the side of the house. We snuggled close against the cold night air. Anita Chaudhary had made popcorn for everyone which she then distributed in large plastic bags while Ramesh and friends handed out their home-made chocolates, in the figures of ducks, penguins, or squares all cast in rubber molds that we had brought back from Boston. They were delicious. The film touching and funny, we did not feel the cold being together on this Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 25th

At 4:30 in the morning I met three of our older girls and we transported all the Christmas gifts to Papa’s house from my house and stacked them under the tree. We finished in an hour and while it was still dark and no curtain had been seen parting, we picked up the hundreds of plastic cups with sand and burnt candles, and made the walls and grounds evidence free of our Christmas Eve.

The House managers had taken all the stockings to their homes and hid them well on Sunday, to place them for awakening children to find.

We agreed to arrive at Papa’s House at 6:30 which seemed an agonizingly long time for me to wait. I returned early, standing on the grounds, and imagined the children’s arrival at the gate, or peering down from their windows, and I thought of the previous 12 or 13 Christmas mornings, and the people who have come and gone in our lives, and my own answer to “why do I exist” and feeling a fortunate kinship with Mark Twain’s quote, and many blessings from the Universe.

And then they came to the gate, excited eyes taking in the Christmas tree sitting deep in gifts.

Anita brought her house first, led by Hope, the children carrying gifts they had made for their Secret Santa names.

Every child received the same gift, a hooded sweatshirt, in an array of colors, very well made, thick and warm with “Papa’s House” written on the front and “Try Kindness” across the back. They each had a Christmas card attached with 1000rs ($10) inside and a letter I had written to them.

We began with the Secret Santa exchange, forming a large circle and calling out a name, that child would go to the middle and call for their Secret Santa to come and receive their gift. The circle always remains intact until the very last name is called.


Sanjeep, thinking after every name called his will be next


These smiles never fade

And then it was time to open their gifts, and read their letter.


Names were called to receive their gift

Muskan wishing to read her letter first


Asha, Kusboo, and Alecia as well


And their new sweatshirts, we live the motto

Then it was time to eat. Our Christmas dinner had been prepared by the college students in the Culinary Arts training program. It was a spectacular exhibition of what they have learned in two months’ time. Our further investment in them is paying big dividends.




                  Sandesh, Ramesh, and Ram Saran, three of the Culinary Arts Students 

Sunday, December 31st

Asha has been helping me cook dinners for the last year when I have the different groups of kids come over. She has also been the main cook at the Brother’s Café since it began. Like the others, Asha is a student in Hotel Management at Herald. She asked me before Christmas if she could attend the Culinary Arts Academy in baking. This is an intensive six-month course. She began on New Year’s Eve. All the students attending the Academy are offered well-paying jobs in top restaurants and hotels in Kathmandu, or in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Malaysia. We were told that in the next two-year period 40,000 beds will be added in Nepal by International Hotels; seems a great time for our children who have the interest to be in this course.

*****

Watching Our Children Grow

The first time that your daughter stops you on the way to her classroom, and tells you, “I want to walk alone from here,” you are not expecting this; you search her slightly serious face, a new face for her that she has put on to show you that she is “a big girl now,” she has been thinking about this for a while you can tell, and that too is a surprise. So you say ok, smile, kiss her goodbye, and watch her walk away, while your eyes well, and your heart calls out, “Turn around and see me waving goodbye to you, my precious, wonderful, young daughter.” The courage she has mustered, so little, so young, to walk away. She is walking into her space now, a place she now wishes to call her own, where rest assured, you will get an invitation, when the time is right, from her to share with you her new world.

Monday, January 1st, 2018

The New Year begins. The photo above is of Mrs. Sunita Pandey, our new Director of Nepal Orphans Home. Sunita has been with us for about seven years. She has served in several capacities — in the beginning she taught a group of children we had just taken in, they had attended little or no school, and spoke primarily their mother tongue. It was her job to teach them Nepali, then English, and through these languages all other courses taught at Skylark School to prepare them for entrance the following year. This was a formidable job, but for Sunita, educated in India and a teacher by profession, a job she embraced with passion and creativity. Some of her children from that year are our best students today. Sunita has since served as Director of Volunteer Nepal, and Director of our Outreach Programs. Whenever she leaves one post for another she does so by title only, she continues to watch over the position she has left to be sure the new Directors are properly trained, and all is going well.

So with Sanjeev Dahal’s anticipated return to America for his PhD in Social Work, we felt Sunita Pandey was the only person we could ever wish to take over. In the past year she has managed most of the operations for NOH and is more than ready.

Sunita is a wife and mother of two, very hard working, dedicated, and loyal. She knows our children very well, and everyone in the community. She has compassion as well as a savvy instinct for people not being completely straight with her. She is calm, easy going, forgiving, and has a great sense of humor. NOH is very lucky to have Sunita at the helm, and I have every reason to believe she will outlast my 13 years as Director. 

On January 1st, 2017 I was supposed to retire, but that did not quite work out. However, this January 1st I am retired. I have faith in Mrs. Pandey and our excellent staff to carry on. While I remain in Nepal, it will be as Papa only to the children. There are most assuredly regrets for programs I was unable to accomplish, especially in educating the remote areas through a teacher training program, and closer to home, to take over and completely manage the care of abandoned babies that are presently at another facility and improperly cared for. This program was set back a year and has only now just begun, but it will evolve under Mrs. Pandey’s capable guidance.

In my dedication to my NOH children I will attempt to write the stories of each, for they all have remarkable stories to tell. These children have taught me the most important lessons that a long and inquisitive life could hope to learn. I have been blessed.

Nepal Orphans Home is many things to many people, but it is one thing to all people, a lifeline extended by a warm smile, a friend in need, without politics, without judgment, simply compassion.

Thanks given to our widespread donor base consisting of good people working for a living and giving what they can afford, and sometimes really cant afford, we manage to be the person an abandoned baby sees and feels holding her, feeding her, smiling down at her; the family with a medical calamity without cash in a country without insurance and on a pay for cure basis; the remote village that drought has claimed the last of their food and has a runner enter their village and say that there is a truck load of rice and other staples waiting for them where the road ends and to come and get it.

NOH is the provider of an education for 260 women in our own village, free of cost, paid handsomely in return by their smiles, confidence, laughter, and the overall wellbeing of our village.

NOH is the buyer of chemo and pain meds for terminally ill children whose families cannot afford it, but more importantly we are the smiling presence in the ward granting last wishes and creating a celebratory environment for one birthday or another.

NOH is the daily hot and nutritious lunch given to children in an untouchables village if they attend the school that we built taught by teachers whose salaries we help support.

NOH was the first face that many of our remote friends saw coming to their rescue days after the earthquake.

NOH is the loving embrace and good cheer welcoming children to our family where we refresh daily for them our support of their dreams, this given to so many children who for numerous reasons have found themselves without anyone.

NOH is the organization who provided shelter to hundreds of Kamlari (indentured servants) once rescued, and then brought those who wished to come to our Kathmandu homes to pursue their regained childhood in a loving and secure environment, to be a part of a family where every member supports the goals of each other and together we achieve them.

NOH is this and so much more administered by a Board of professionals dedicated to helping those in need with their expertise, compassion and often their bank account.

It will not be easy to lay down my tools and walk away from this.

And finally, in finishing this update I will share my Christmas letter to the children.

TO ALL MY CHILDREN THIS 2017 CHRISTMAS, AND AS WELL TO OUR STAFF

TO SAY THAT YOU HAVE GIVEN ME THE JOY IN MY LIFE IS NOT ENOUGH. TO SAY THAT YOU ARE THE PURPOSE IN MY LIFE FALLS SHORT OF THE TRUTH. TO SAY THAT I THINK ABOUT EACH ONE OF YOU OFTEN, AND WONDER IF I HAVE REACHED YOUR HEART AND MIND, IF I HAVE REALLY MADE A DIFFERENCE, DOES NOT BEGIN TO STATE THE FACTS.  TO SAY THAT PREPARING YOU FOR A LIFE IN WHICH YOU WILL GO CONFIDENTLY AND ABLY, AND HAVE LEARNED HOW TO FIND PLEASURE, AND TO NOT SUFFER FEAR OR UNCERTAINTY, HAS BEEN MY GREATEST CHALLENGE AND WORRY BETRAYS MY DESIRE TO LET YOU KNOW HOW COMPLETELY ENTWINED YOUR BEING IS IN MINE. PLEASE, WITH THESE WORDS, REMEMBER ME.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

PAPA

My very deep gratitude to all those who have supported my time, my dreams, my purpose, to help others in their time of need, and please rest assured NOH continues the course.

My very best to you all,

Michael Hess

December 3, 2017

2017 has been a good year at NOH. All the children, from our youngest Hope Angel at four years and eight months, to those now hitting twenty-five and older, have had personal breakthrough moments, epiphanies of both mind and soul, catalyzed by situations good or challenging, as they continue to develop character and skills ahead of their ages. Profound moments of realization for the individual and joyful moments for the rest of us to share with them.

Five of our boys won scholarships to a college noted for its basketball program.  Bimal has turned his year’s worth of Saturday morning art instruction by a kind College of Fine Arts instructor, into some captivating and technically advanced paintings in his own style, which he has been selling to very appreciative viewers.


The Artist, Bimal, in a thoughtful moment.

Urmila won a full scholarship and placed first out of hundreds taking an admission test to Kantipur Dental College; four of our nine advanced Taekwondo students tested and won their Black Belts; the others have not yet tested due to time conflicts but will soon.


Sujan, Ram Saran, Sumitra, and Lalita

In less obvious fronts we have witnessed the graceful transition of those leaving their teen years and displaying the best of adultness in how they balance college, work, friends, group living, independence and inter-dependence, maintaining their individuality, and growing even more confident in themselves and their choices for a future.

And then we have lots of children not yet teens who are in the early throngs of maturing, laying claim to an identity they now recognize and nurture.

My camera is always ready and one morning at school I asked these six to stop after they came in the gate so I could take their picture; what was not posed was how they walked away afterwards in such a show of camaraderie.

There are few rewards as fulfilling as sharing the evolution of your children from bundles of energy living in the moment, whose attention span is as brief as a butterfly, to young adults full of quiet conviction and a desire to return to you their thanks for always being there for them.

*****

It has been five weeks since the NOH Business Incubator program helped Ashok and Dhiraj open the “Brothers’ Café” on the grounds of Skylark School. With a student body of over 500 non-NOH students, half of which have the means to buy a good lunch, and over thirty teachers wishing for a variety to choose from for their mid-day meal, we felt this to be a perfectly positioned location for the Brothers to begin their dream.

The boys have done well; they have assembled a staff consisting mostly of our college students who are available after 10am to help. They are working hard in cultivating a following and developing additional opportunities to serve groups remaining on the school grounds after the regular school day has ended. We have every reason to believe that they will be successful in overcoming the natural impediments any business incurs, and we are impressed by the lack of tension and the jovial environment they have created.


Day one at Brothers’ Café, making Momos


A full house at lunchtime

Sharing a laugh with Anita Mahato

Ashok, on the left, finished three years of college, has taught the adult women at our Chelsea Center for two years, and is a member of the Papa’s House Board of Directors. He recently received a scholarship at Thames College to study IT and has begun a three-year program.

Dhiraj, on the right, has always excelled academically and has helped to develop some of the computer programs taught at the Chelsea Center. He has finished two years of college in Science and is taking a year off to contemplate his future while getting his TOFEL certificate, and exploring opportunities in Medicine, or IT.

The boys are part of the twelve children we rescued from an abusive orphanage ten years ago, and they are incredibly good kids. They have received this money as a zero-interest two-year loan payable monthly. The repayment allows the fund to help other students with their own business plans.

The NOH Business Incubator Initiative received a very generous contribution from Gary and Stonie Jefferies who have been donors for several years from their Australian home. They teach ballroom dancing and a few years back completed construction of their dream facility. Once a year they hold a gala event with NOH being the beneficiary of it. Their past support has been with our Kanti Children’s Hospital program for the terminally ill and for the soon to be launched care of the baby facility at another orphanage.  Gary and Stonnie are the brother and sister-in-law of Deb and Alan Norton who spent a year in Nepal--Alan working for the Australian Embassy and Deb reviving and managing our NOH Book Clubs.  They are also very generous donors for our educational programs.

In addition, Kathleen Hayes has been a wonderful supporter with encouragement, business planning, and donations, her latest for the Incubator Program. Kathleen was a member of our “Yoga for Freedom” yoga trek 11 years ago in which each participant’s fees allowed us to support a girl formerly in indentured servitude and bring her into the family. Over twenty girls as a result were brought to Dhapasi and Kathleen has been helping us ever since.

*****

While mentioning the support for the Business Incubator Program I would like to mention a few more programs that have received the support needed to either launch them or expand in a considerable way the program itself. I believe that all our donors know the depth of appreciation NOH has for their support, I find as meaningful the donor who can give $5 as those who manage to raise or simply donate much larger amounts, and my letters to you all are sincere attempts at ensuring your understanding of the benefit the donation has to our work in Nepal. We make sure that our Nepalese staff receives a salary that is generous by community standards, but further they feel like family and have benefits in education, health care, compassionate understanding of personal situations and more. We feel that our staff is with us because they share the common desire to help others and to put that before more tangible goals in life. This is part of what makes our work so enjoyable.  We all wish for the best for others, and from this we reap benefits that feed the heart, and keep us happy.

We have in the past month had the pleasure of donor visits, donors who have come here, seen firsthand the work we do, considered the programs we are running, and made choices as to what would be meaningful for them to support.

I would like to mention them here as a further recognition in how they have actively become a part of NOH.

Cath and Rick Maddox have spent time with us twice and have held very successful fundraisers on three occasions; they exemplify the type of donor mentioned above. Recently they held a fundraiser in their Saudi Aramco home where Rick, a very accomplished and passionate jazz musician plays for the guests and Cath, an extraordinary chef, prepares a meal never forgotten. Their interest in supporting us is twofold:  our funding of a facility that houses abandoned babies found in Kathmandu and our work helping the terminally ill at the children’s hospital, the latter ongoing for four years, the former to begin in January. The support of Cath and Rick and their visits make so much happen.


Rick and Cath visit Dhapasi in November


The Donation Table and The Groaning Board


Rick and a mesmerizing young talent from Turkey who sings the blues

Last week we said goodbye to our friends Eswar and Sugantha Sundar and their beautiful son Sri. Both husband and wife are Medical Doctors and Professors of Medicine in Boston.

While here they spent time at the Kanti Children’s Oncology Program and are considering how they might be able to help from Boston. According to Eswar, most of these children have blood cancers and are dying from them, yet most leukemias should not be fatal. Eswar and Sugantha also went to the baby orphanage and left very hopeful that we will soon be able to help there. They identified one little girl who should be seen by a Pediatric Cardiologist and Neurologist, and we arranged that the following day. The Sundars also very generously contributed to these two programs. While here they spent a lot of time talking with the kids and provided both older children and our Chelsea women courses in basic Life Support, practicing on a reactive dummy named Annie. Sugantha also saved the menu on Thanksgiving by cooking a delicious squash, Indian style, for our 170-strong family and guests.


Sri, Anita, Sugantha, and Eswar

And while speaking of Thanksgiving, one of our most enjoyable celebrations of the year, Laurie Levine was here as she has been for years. Laurie has been in the family for about seven years now, and has served on the NOH board of advisors. Laurie had a very successful fundraiser before coming which she donated towards the enrollment of eight of our college children into an onsite Hotel Management program. Laurie brought with her two wonderful friends, Michael and Veronica who provided a lot of fun, humor, as well as hard work in many aspects of the children’s lives. On Thanksgiving, Laurie, Veronica and Michael cut up 24 pies and cakes, 70 loaves of banana bread, set up all the tables and benches, helped in the kitchen, and kept everyone busy and laughing while waiting for dinner.


Laurie at her fundraiser in Sydney


Yoga with Laurie and Veronica

Michael quizzically looking at his meal


Sugantha on the right serving

NOH wishes to recognize and thank Jonathan Paluga who lives in San Francisco. Jonathan visited us on Thanksgiving Day in 2014 in the company of Hope’s Godmother Kathy Procanik. When he returned home he surprised us with a donation to cover the cost of the Thanksgiving menu. He has kept that up, always surpassing the actual cost. Last year we ordered thirty apple pies and 80 small loaves of banana bread to ensure a tasty and happily remembered meal, and Jon was there again. This year, at Jon’s urging, we spared no expense and once again had an incredible vegetarian Thanksgiving that was enthusiastically eaten, with leftovers for the children’s evening meal as well.

The balance of Jon’s largess has gone to provide something special to some of the poorer people in our village that we help. Thank you, Jon!


Jon Paluga

*****

Recently one of the top resorts in Nepal developed an onsite training program for college students taking Hotel Management. The new Director of this program, Madan Khanal is a friend of our NOH Board Member Tamara Chant who urged us to consider this. We did and were very impressed by the offering. The program works around the student’s college schedule and provides them 5 hours per day of real life experience in their resort. The students choose their area of interest, from Food and Beverage production to Serving, Front Desk, Concierge, and Management.

In the latter months of the course they place the students in top restaurants and hotels in Kathmandu to get further experience beyond that of the Academy’s hotel. Upon graduation they assist with securing jobs both in Kathmandu and currently in the Middle East, but with South East Asian countries in the works.

I accompanied our eight children on their first day and was moved by the photos I was able to capture as they put on their uniforms and awaited the arrival of the resort’s General Manager to welcome them.


The Park Village Resort


Pramila, Lalita, Anu Maya, Sandesh, and Ramesh, the first to emerge in uniform


Anu Maya full of nervous happiness at this threshold to a new world


Lalita helping Bishnu with his bow tie


After a welcoming by the General Manager the kids are led to the hotel to begin training


Madan Khanal flanked by our first group of students in his program

*****

A little over five years ago Linda Mackey of Scotland spent many months with NOH in our Volunteer Nepal program. She connected with one of our young daughters, Saraswati and they remained in touch ever since.

This past fall Linda returned as she had promised she would and spent the Dashain holiday with us, helping in numerous ways, bonding with many of the children who have come since she had left and renewing bonds with many of the older children who she knew before, chief among them Saraswati, who reveled in Linda’s return.

Linda was here to participate in the many “pujas” that mark the Dashain calendar, including “Bhai Tika” where Ram was applying her Tika.

Also in attendance for Bhai Tika, as he has been every year for the past 5 anyway, was Arjun Chaudhary, younger brother to Sarita and Sapana, and elder brother to Gita.


Sapana, Gita, Arjun, and Sarita

*****

I wish to keep this update a little short. In January we will have a look back over the year’s events shaping the children and NOH in general.

I leave you with another short story about the life of one of our girls before she came into our home.

We are deep into our preparations for Christmas, there are several surprises in store for the kids that should make it one of the most memorable yet.

My deepest gratitude to all those who support us financially, spiritually, actively, and sharing with others about us. These kids, and the hundreds of people whose lives we help make easier and more understandable, and the happiness of our staff, have you to thank for our wonderful lives.

Merry Christmas!

Papa

*****

The Little Girl on the Bus

“Who is that little girl, with the big, round, brown eyes, so clear and hopeful looking, sitting in the 8th row?” I asked one of the girls near me as I called out names of the girls I knew should be on the bus. There was a woman in the 4th row clutching goods wrapped in a shawl, avoiding my eyes, sitting next to two small kids, obediently quiet; they were seeking a ride to Bhutwal, three hours distant.  “Perhaps she is with her,” the girl replied. I satisfied myself with this, and signaled for the door to close and we began our twelve-hour mountain precipice journey back to Kathmandu.

When we reached Bhutwal we all got off the bus to stretch for a minute. The girls walked about, excited, happy with the adventure they were experiencing, seeing sights not seen before, and anticipating their new life in Kathmandu only another 9 hours away.

The woman moved off from our congregation, a thin, evaporating presence wrapped in a red woolen shawl, her two children beside and behind her glancing back. They disappeared into the chaos of the bus park crowd. I looked for the little girl but did not see her.

“Jani, Jani, Jani” yelled the young conductor as the driver started the engine which sounded remarkably fit for such a dilapidated, rattling old bus. The girls glided up the steps and filled the seats; after two minutes when no more came the conductor slid the bi-fold door shut and secured it with a metal pin.

As we were leaving the bus park I walked down the aisle to be sure all were on board; at the back of the bus was a small girl covered in a shawl, her head leaned against the shoulder of an older one, her eyes closed as in sleep. The older one looked at me and shook her head softly when she saw I was about to question the little one. I nodded and walked to my seat; when I glanced back before sitting I saw the little one look up at the older one, her large brown eyes sparkling, they smiled at each other, an innocent, refreshing, excited, and certain smile of success.

That was almost seven years ago, her name is Ashmita.

Ashmita remembers being wrapped against her mother’s back in a shawl while her mother worked in a field with many other women. They lived in India, her mother, young and beautiful.

A year before this they were in Nepal, her father was far away at work and her mother, her three-year-old brother and she at home. Two men came, the mother knew one of them; they said they had brought them some food, and asked if they might enter. Poor as they were the mother accepted. They put a drug into her mother’s drink and transported her and the children across the border to India where the mother was sold to an Indian man who allowed her to care for her babies while she was to be one of his wives and workers.

When Ashmita was three, her mother, she, and her five-year-old brother escaped back to Nepal. There they learned that Ashmita’s father had died in a monsoon flood shortly after their disappearance while he was searching for them.

The mother took them to her parents’ house. The three stayed with them, along with an uncle, for the better part of a year, then suddenly, and without explanation the mother and her brother returned to India, to her husband.

For the next three years Ashmita lived with her grandparents and uncle, she attended public school, and she remembers being happy, but when asking about her mother she never received any answer.

One day when Ashmita was seven her mother appeared, but without her brother. She was taken from the grandparents’ house to live with an aunt that she did not know. Her mother stayed with her for three days and then returned to India.

When she turned eight she learned that her brother lived on the streets. He had come to the aunt’s house and stolen a bicycle, was caught, and then disappeared. Ashmita’s aunt then took her to Lawajuni, a home for rescued Kamlari (indentured servants) begun by Nepal Orphans Home.

Ashmita lived happily at Lawajuni for a couple of months, attended the government school with the rest of the girls and began to depend upon herself. The two homes at Lawajuni were very crowded; around 70 girls lived in what was designed for fifty. Ashmita learned that “Papa” the founder of Nepal Orphans Home was coming in a few days to take a bus load of girls to live in the homes of NOH in Kathmandu. The list of girls had been established long before and she was not on it, though she longed to go. After hearing the other girls talk about the opportunities in Kathmandu she knew this was what she wanted. So she asked a couple of older girls to help her and they devised this shaky plan, and that is how Ashmita became “The Little Girl on the Bus.”



Ashmita now. She wins awards for academic performance each term. She walks with me at 4:30 every morning without fail; she is sweet, kind, and determined. She has two dreams she recently told me: one is to live forever with us, and the other is to find her mother, just to see her. The latter dream we tried to make happen this last Dashain, when a woman who might be her mother had been tracked down to a remote village quite far away, near India. Arrangements were made for Ashmita to travel with people we know and trust, to see if this is true. Sadly, it wasn’t. Ashmita returned to Dhapasi with the same effervescent smile as always; I told her that I was sorry that she did not find her mother. “That’s okay,” she said, smiling. “It wasn’t my first dream, and I know that dream will come true.”

September 2017


Left to right and youngest to oldest, Yeshodha, Rojina, Lila, and Sushila

Late one Saturday afternoon in the early fall of 2006, four sisters arrived. They wore their only clothes, ill-fitting government school dresses and matching jerseys. They had been given a blessing when they left their mountain home early that morning, the red remnants marking their foreheads as memory of their mother’s last touch.

They descended down a narrow winding path, the smallest, Yeshodha, riding on her mother’s back to a one-shop village where a worn-out bus would take them to Kathmandu, 6 hours away.

The mountain, and the little village an hour’s walk below, were the only environment they had ever known. In 2006 the Maoists brought terror to remote villages; they would close schools, conscript older students and teachers, and impose themselves upon families for food and shelter. If you were caught sheltering them you were in trouble; if you refused you were in trouble. These were trying times.

Kathmandu remained a relatively safe-haven and NOH was known by some to offer a home to children at risk, including children whose brothers or fathers had been kidnapped, or whose homes were occupied by Maoist soldiers leaving little space, food, or safety for the children.

The moment I saw the girls my smile lit up and it has never failed to whenever we meet in the 11 years since. Getting them settled in their new room I took the photo above. My mind is filled with the first moments of meeting our children, the look in their eyes as they take in your own with shy fleeting glances, wondering what this new life would render to them.

A year later I brought the girls back to see their mother and baby brother. They lived alone in their two-story mud and post home, livestock down and people up. I was struck by the incredible beauty of the mountain, its remoteness, with foliage so thick that you would be surprised to find homes scattered here and there. We spent the night, and the girls, by candlelight, told me stories of leopards, snakes, and Maoists that freely roamed the area--fortunately, not that night or the next morning when we were led down the mountain by their mother, barefoot, with the baby wrapped against her back with her multi-purpose dress.

Today, Yeshodha is a college freshman (class 11 in Nepal), living in our transition house. Rojina is in class fourteen; she is an exceptional student who has skipped a few classes, and teaches our Beauty Parlor class at the Chelsea Center. Sushila also in class 14 is a clerk in the local “super market” where I sometimes shop and get to chat with her when I do. Their Aunt Kalpana has been with us since 2006 and has been the Volunteer House cook for many years.

And that brings us to Lila. She too has done well in school. The three older girls, all working, support their mother in a couple of small rooms a few miles away. 

I had a letter a month ago from Lila. She began with “thank you for my life.” The letter then offered a short stroll through the memories she most cherished and the things she learned growing up with us that became her guiding principles.

She ended the letter with “Papa, I am married now, I love my husband very much. We married quietly, without my family knowing as I was afraid that they would oppose it. We will be fine Papa, I hope you are not angry. I hope I have your blessing. My husband will pay for my college now. Thank you Papa, your daughter Lila.”

Lila and her husband’s official union in his village.
May they work towards and receive the many blessings that life has to offer.
Her mother and sisters all learned a couple of days after the wedding and have blessed her.
She never was at risk of losing mine.

******

As most of you know, towards the end of July our son Bishnu was in a terrible accident between his scooter and a tanker truck, which was in the wrong. Bishnu suffered severe head injuries and the initial prognosis was not good at all. But with time, good medical care, the love of his family here, and the enormous support of our readers, Bishnu recovered and was released to further convalesce at home. He moved back into our college home to be looked after by his 9 brothers and 10 sisters living in different flats there. The other kids had already begun college, but with different schedules were able to always have someone with him.

Bishnu has done very well. He has some residual problems, but the neurologist feels confident that given enough time he will be back to normal. The first thing that returned to him was his warm smile.

Bishnu feels that he has been given a new lease on life; this has triggered in him reflection on how fragile things can be and to better appreciate everyone and everything, taking nothing for granted.

The donor support has enabled NOH to not only insure all medical costs were paid, but also to set up a fixed deposit bank account for Bishnu’s future. Thank you all very much.


Bishnu on his first day of college, almost one month after the others and five weeks after his accident.

******

Between the end of high school and the beginning of college, a span of roughly four months, we encourage the children to find part time work and begin preparations for college. There were 20 graduates this year, 10 boys and 10 girls. After settling into the transition house, all quickly found local work in a variety of fields while learning to be more independent.

One of our children, Urmila, decided to take a “bridge” course in science, while working pretty much full time. The students who finished at the top of the class would be assured entrance into Kanti Dental School’s undergrad studies program. The competition is tough and the odds long with many more wishing entrance into Dental and Nursing college than there are seats available. With admittance to Kanti she would be guaranteed a seat in the Dental School in two years’ time.


Urmila and I in 2006

Urmila and I July 2017

Urmila was worried about the exam, before as well as after. Herald College, where most all the other children will be attending, would begin before these results were known, so I encouraged her to enroll just to be safe. A little over a week after Herald College began, Urmila received notice that she not only passed the exam but came in FIRST overall and was offered a 100% scholarship to Kanti for the first year. If she performs well she will be in the running for a continuation of the scholarship for ensuing years. Urmila, whom I often call Dimples because of her cavernous dimpled smile, has always been focused on achievement in everything she does. We are very proud of her.

******

Out of 30 children who take Taekwondo for an hour every morning this group above was chosen to represent NOH in this past spring’s competition. Those with medals came in first or second. Their coach, center, is a First Dan and top Nepali Competitor who, along with her brother, now studying in Japan, have guided the children for many years.

In August, seven of our children were allowed to test for their black belts in a day-long examination both physical and philosophical, with all being awarded the Black Belt.

Unfortunately, the belts themselves have not yet been forthcoming so the long-awaited ceremony remains on hold at this time, but we will have photos and profiles in the next update. 


Tilak and Sumitra studying

Chiya imagining her Khatas


The new batch in a photo from last year, now yellow belts with a green stripe.

******

Yesterday we were entertained by two Spanish clowns traveling the world looking to share their profession and bring smiles and teach expression to children who may best appreciate it.

They reached us from Myanmar and plan next an extended stay traveling the length of India.

Mayra and Jaume Villarroya gave us a few very engaging hours and brought out the clown in many of our more subdued children. We thank them very much and encourage anyone to learn more at www.clownsciencedreams.wordpress.com.


Sandip and Pretty acting out a silent skit

Mankumari and Anita dissolved in laughter

Jaume offering some theatrical tips

Sarita and Naumaya getting coached on their skit

Jaume and Mayra did a thirty-minute performance, without words, about a painfully shy artist and his muse. The children were spell bound and tickled both.

Himal, their sound technician, and Suman, who, sitting too near the front, became part of the play.

And finally, the dawn of a dream’s reality.

******

In July, Hope was having increasing issues with her left leg and Shriners Children’s Hospital in Boston suggested we come on back. Hope is now enjoying the most comfort and agility she has ever had. Our deepest appreciation to Shriners Children’s Hospital, her surgeon, Dr. Maurice Albright, her care specialist Bernadette Hannigan, and Brock McConkey who made a work of art for Hope with her new prosthetics.

 
Brock and Hope at the Springfield Shriners Prosthetics Department

Family in Maine, Boston, Connecticut, Allendale VA, and North Carolina took us in between medical appointments and provided Hope experiences from a Boston Red Sox game to Children’s Museums, swimming in the ocean, many walks in the Jamaica Plains Arboretum, and lots of very memorable family moments.

Hope was able to meet my four grandchildren, both my sons, as well as my 93-year-old step-mother. My brother Bob again shared his Jamaica Plains home, and Hope spent two weeks in North Carolina with Anita, her brother Vinod, sister-in-law Alecia, and with special guest appearances by Lou Poynton and Sam. At the end of that we all spent a week with my brother Peter and sister-in-law Boo, in their Davidson home before returning to Boston and final appointments.

We cannot begin to properly thank the friends and family who made such special efforts to help us again and let Hope know she has lots of family in the US.

Additionally, I wish to thank those who have contributed over the years to “Hope’s Fund” which is drawn upon for these trips to Shriners, while still being used to support most of our Outreach Programs in Nepal.

Thank you all so very much.

 
                    Arboretum walks with Mom and watching the river flow with Papa


A lake dip with her lifeguard Tika

Reading with my granddaughter Samantha

Body surfing in the Atlantic

Loving her new feet 


Meeting my other grandchildren, Nora, Ian, and little Paxtyn

******

Each of our children are remarkable young people, and each one has had a unique life before we found one another. I thought that they would appreciate having me write their story with which they might share one day with others who will enter their lives, such as husbands, children and grandchildren. I also thought you might appreciate knowing a little more about our children. So, with their okay, I hope to include one story with each update.

The child whose story I am prepared to write and I, sit together where we will not be disturbed, sip milkshakes, and casually go back in their lives. I listen and take notes as their memories flow.

Usually we meet a second time as one previous memory will later bring forth another, and to better establish timelines. In Nepal, birthdays or other ways to mark time do not exist, so time, that which was before our being together, rather than being stacked tends to be more viewed as in a kaleidoscope.

So, let me begin with the life of Srijana.

******

Srijana opened the wooden shutters of her small clay house and let the warm sun sponge up the dampness. It was only Wednesday; father would not come before Friday night. The night’s rain muddied the ground outside; she could hear the bellow of the water buffalo; she had best get busy with her work.

She took the pail from a hook by the door and walked outside, still in her nightdress, over to the lean-to where the buffalo was tied. The beast turned his head as she approached, snot and mucus clinging to his nose and chomping mouth, and made a deep scolding sound while Srijana placed the bucket under the udder and began to pull with all the strength a six-year-old could muster.

Barely 25 kilos herself, she carried the bucket of milk with both hands between her knees, its sloppy weight rocking her side to side. She heaved it up with a groan and poured it into the metal container which she then carried on her hip to the land owner’s house.

She stopped at the water pump after this and pumped some water onto her legs, scrubbed the mud off with her hands and pumped a little more to rinse them clean. Then she went inside and slipped on her ragged light blue public-school shirt and stepped inside the too large dark blue pleated skirt, pulling it up and fastening it at her hip. A quick brush of her hair, she grabbed her torn school bag and walked out the door, turning to put on her rubber sandals while pulling the old wooden door shut.

She liked walking to school along the narrow muddy path between the rice fields, then up to the pitched road for ten minutes to where the small school buzzed with unsupervised children waiting for the Principal and teachers to come.

The school was small and consisted of mostly boys, as all the girls in this part of the country are sold at the age of seven as domestic servants for money enough to buy about 60 kilos of rice. This happens during the Maghi festival which comes in January, the coldest month of winter.  Srijana was the youngest of 5 girls and would herself be sold in a year’s time, but for now she was happy to be able to learn to read and write before her school education ended. 

Srijana’s father was a laborer in the city, about three hours by bus along the pitched road up and over the mountains. Her father would come late on Friday night and Srijana would have rice cooked and waiting for him. He loved his daughter so much and both would sit on the earthen floor with his plate of rice and dhal between them and share, their busy fingers pinching together bites, often bumping each other’s hand. He would jokingly nudge hers aside, while sliding the ball of rice across the dhal and up and into their mouths. They ate quickly and silently, pouring water into their mouths from a single jug, smiling the whole time into the other’s eyes, in the shadowy orange the fire mixed with night made.

Friday nights were the best for Srijana, sharing rice from her father’s plate, her father brushing his teeth at the pump while she scrubbed the cooking pots with sand to clean them. They would finish at the same time, wash their feet in the pump and go inside to lie on their rope beds covered with a straw filled thin cloth. Srijana would watch her father fall quickly into sleep; feeling peaceful and safe, she would soon be asleep too. 

Srijana would wake to the roosters crowing and occasional bellow from the water buffalo. She would go out to milk her while throwing some feed around to quiet the rooster and chickens so her father could sleep a little more.

Her father would come stretching and yawning out of the little hut, scratching his belly and smiling lopsidedly at his daughter, asking if she had been good at her chores that week, and did she get to school on time every day. When she had poured the fresh milk into the metal hip container, her father would put his hand on her shoulder and they would walk to the landowner’s house to deliver the milk. There her father would ask the Ma’am, a heavy woman looking impatient, if his daughter had done well this past week. The Ma’am, her thin lips pressed tight said, “Some days the container is not so full. I think milk is slopping out the top. Your daughter needs to be careful.” Srijana would look at the ground in silence, her neck and cheeks flushing red, this was not true; she would feel her father’s gentle hand squeeze her shoulder softly, and he would say, “Yes, Ma’am. I am sure that this week you will have no complaints,” and they would turn to continue on their rounds. 

Next they would walk to the school and meet the principal who would be sweeping out the bamboo and clay room of straw that had parted from the roofs thatching. “Namaste Dai” the principal would say, bowing with his hands together to her father who returned the same. “Good morning, Srijana.” he continued.  “Good morning, Sir.” Srijana would bow, her hands clasped prayer like below her face. “Has my daughter been a good student this week Dai?” the father would ask. “Dai, I could only wish all the students were like your daughter. She is serious and curious and anything I explain to her she locks into her mind. She could one day be the ma’am here. I am going to miss her after next Maghi,” The principal spoke with eyes sadly twinkling.

From the school they would walk, father’s hand on her shoulder, to a little tea shop and have a cup of chiya. This was their time together. Saturday evening her father would get on a bus for the city so he could work early in the morning. 

And so it was that life went on. There were no thoughts of happiness or sadness, it was just life and as such Srijana lived. She loved school, she loved the day each week alone with her father, but she missed knowing her 4 sisters. It wasn’t like she knew them and they had gone away. Only one did she know a little bit. Asha was sold when Srijana was 4 or 5 and she was bought by someone not far away so she might see her once a year in winter during the Maghi festival when the girls were sold and would be taken away by bus. Srijana enjoyed the festival because her caste would make it party-like, and corn and sweet potatoes would be cooked for all the children to eat. She did not grasp the weight of separation of small girls from their families into a life suddenly alone, deprived of any social interaction, working at a home or highway restaurant from early morning to late at night. Seasons turned to years as small girls became young women, still alone.

Srijana had a mother, but her existence was more like a shadow in her life than a full-bodied mother present and reliable. She worked outside the house, and lived to the best of her understanding of responsibility, which fell a little short of being a mother to her daughters.

******

One Friday her father did not come home. Srijana waited. She had the rice ready and waited, and waited. She fell asleep on the floor when hours later a neighbor came and said, “There has been an accident and your father is dead. Go to your sister’s home and tell her.” With that he left. Srijana was startled and light headed, she couldn’t grasp what was happening, she just started running, and walking, and running again, through the moonlit night, across rice fields silver in the light until hours later she reached the house where Asha was kept. She pounded on the door, she called out her name and when Asha opened the door, and saw her little sister, she flushed with emotions that were new to her— love, happiness, hope.

Little Srijana, seeing Asha, felt the tears come, and was quickly embraced by Asha who knew something was wrong. “You must come home now. Father has died.” The family that “owned” Asha begrudgingly allowed her to go with a promise she would return quickly.

As Asha would discover their father was indeed dead. She had made a system over the years to get word to her sisters and put that into play. The next day they arrived. The sisters were together again and little Srijana watched and listened to everything they said. After three days the body arrived and was set upon a funeral pyre. Her sisters all left the next morning. Bimala, the second oldest who had been “Kamlari” for over 8 years, knelt before Srijana and promised her they would all return and live together one day, no matter what. “Just remember us and trust me,” and with that she rose and quickly walked away.

A difficult year passed without her father and little to eat. Her mother worked hard and brought food for her when she could. The Maghi festival was a few months away and Srijana was concerned that this year she would be sold.

The one year “Puja” to mark the death of her father was also coming soon.

One day when Srijana returned home from school she saw the door open to the small house. She tiptoed over and peeked in, only to find Bimala, Asha, and Gita sitting on the floor by the fire. She smelled rice cooking and saw Bimala open the pot and stir the rice through the vapors. 

She went inside slowly. Seeing her, all three sisters laughed, and called her near. “We have come for the Puja,” Bimala said, “tomorrow,” and Srijana’s sudden joy evaporated knowing they would leave the day after. But she would be wrong.

Death and the anniversary puja of a death are the only possible reasons for owners to allow their “servants” to leave, and most often both events happened without the child ever learning that they had. Bimala had spent the year working hard, staying silent, and smiling a lot, but in her thoughts, she was thinking only of the day she would find a way to leave and collect her sisters.

As the anniversary of her father’s death neared she asked her “family” if she could leave for two days to attend and with her hard work all year, and smiling demeanor they allowed it. “But you must return the following day,” the ma’am said, her finger wagging.

Bimala left early in the morning and went to her sister Gita’s owners and begged them to allow her to attend the puja. They were disinclined to allow it, but Bimala would not leave without her and eventually they let her go. Gita, thanking them beyond need, promised a quick return.

Along the way to Asha’s house Bimala shared with Gita that she heard from other Kamlari that an American man had opened two homes for Kamlari girls who could be rescued. She said, “We will get Asha and Srijana and go there and beg to be taken in.” Gita could not believe such a thing could be true.  She had been six years a servant, quiet for so long she could now barely speak to anyone, but she walked along, frightened not to return to her “family,” yet frightened to return. She knew if she was even late in returning she would suffer a lengthy beating.

They reached Asha’s house as the sun began to set. The ma’am came out and asked why they had come. “It is the one year puja of our father’s death,” said Bimala, “and who is going to do all the work if I let your sister leave? She can pay her respects from here.” Then Asha walked around from behind the house where she had been cleaning the cow shed. She saw her sisters and ran to them. The ma’am said to her, “Say hello quick and get back to work. Hurry up.”

Bimala protested, “Ma’am, she must come. It is just for one day. She will return the next in time to cook rice for the family.” But the ma’am was not in the mood to listen. “Get back to work,” she told Asha.  And with that she turned to go inside. Asha went around the corner of the house in silence, and then turned to her sisters and motioned them to begin to walk away, Bimala shook her head no, but Asha insisted with a big grin, so Bimala and Gita began walking down the narrow dirt road from where they had come. When the house was faint in the distance behind them, they heard Asha yell, “Run quick!” They turned to see Asha drawing near, smiling mischievously. 

Three skinny young girls in tattered dresses running wildly to reclaim their lives. They resembled autumn leaves skittering forward on the dirt road by a firm wind lifting and pushing them into a future whose only certainty was they would be together NO MATTER WHAT.

And that is the story of how the youngest four of the five KC sisters came to NOH. Srijana has always been in the top three of her class every term of her school career. Each of these girls is kind, sweet, and caring.

Below are recent photos and the photos I took when they reached our remote home 9 + years ago.


Bimala


Asha


Gita


​Srijana

And that is the update for September 2017.

Thank you,
Papa

Update on Bishnu

Sixteen days after such a horrific accident, Bishnu had surgery to repair his skull. The surgeon's report after the three hour operation was that everything worked as hoped.

Eight days after the accident, he was brought to consciousness in order to be operated on the 9th day, the ophthalmologist having suggested his eye would be removed during the operation. The operation was then postponed for three days. During this time Bishnu was awake and complaining of hunger, while still on a liquid diet. He had some vision in his right eye and the ophthalmologist was optimistic he could regain full vision. The 12th day came and again the operation was postponed; they gave Bishnu some rice and eggs.

On the evening of the 16th day they began the operation at 6pm and finished at9pm. Bishnu woke the morning of the 17th day, hungry. Later that day with the support of his brothers, he got out of bed and took a few steps. On Sunday, the 6th of August he walked some more with his brothers' help and ate better. After the surgeon saw him, he reported that he should get released in a few days. Bishnu is one tough kid with a future full of wonder and fulfillment waiting in the wings. It has been suggested that he might begin college in another three weeks, roughly one month after his 9 brothers and ten sisters began. He will return home to their care and ours, and I am betting he will halve the estimated time separating himself from walking to school with the others and settling into his seat to begin his journey.

During the long night of his accident I really feared that we might lose him. Many people wrote to say they alone or with groups were praying for him; this, combined with Bishnu's will, gives him a new lease on life. 

Thank you all for the support and love you have shown him.

Papa

Prayers for Bishnu


Bishnu

This morning, July 23rd, we celebrated the first day of college for our freshman children.

Unlike every year for the past six, the skies were clear, and unlike every year, not all 20 of the college-bound children were present.

On Thursday night I received a phone call, I was told there had been an accident and to come to the Teaching Hospital. I called Saroj, my first Nepali son, and met him 5 minutes later. We reached the Teaching Hospital around 10 minutes after and entered the emergency room. The guard asked if we were there for the accident victims and when we said yes he told us the hospital could not help them and had sent the ambulance on to the new Trauma Center in the government’s Bir Hospital. We arrived there just as the ambulance did and were at the back doors when they opened. One of our boys, Ram was okay; the other, Bishnu had received a massive head trauma.

We entered the Trauma Center helping with the gurney and got it into position, and then helped the nurses, with a doctor present, slide a board under Bishnu. At the Teaching Hospital a doctor had examined Bishnu in the ambulance, intubated him, and sent the ambulance on. The trauma doctor was a young woman as were the nurses. After Saroj and I lifted the board onto the bed, one of the women doctors asked me to squeeze the bag to keep air flowing into Bishnu. Saroj and Ram were being questioned by the police. Ram was pretty disoriented; he had been thrown from the bike and came to only when the police arrived. He could not remember much, but the accident involved a tanker truck suddenly turning in front of them and they had no time to stop.

Bishnu has multiple injuries, but the most severe is a fractured skull; his head was split open from the inside corner of his right eye, up above the temple and back to mid head. Bone fragments had chipped away from the skull. We went for a CT scan, me still squeezing the breathing bag.  The scan lasted 20 minutes, then to X-Ray, another 15 minutes and back to where we began. A short while later we went into the OR where they explained that the head wound would be cleaned and temporarily sewn. Saroj and I took turns on the bag during the hour this took.

Finally at 4am we brought him to ICU and the staff there ventilated him and attached all necessary monitors and Saroj and I were instructed out.

In Nepal you must pay in advance of medical needs. I had brought a fair amount of money when I left for the hospital, but while we waited outside the ICU, a nurse came out with a list of supplies they needed, a bill thus far from downstairs, and an amount they wanted in advance for the bed and medical staff. I left Saroj with the money I had, and took Ram home. Along the way Saroj called and said we would need more money. I dropped Ram off and went for more money and returned to the hospital. Saroj had been busy collecting the supplies and medicines. I told him that I would go and get one of our staff to relieve him; I returned at 5:30 with one of our house managers. At 7am I brought Saroj home. I told him to get some sleep and I began my regular routine. Saroj could not sleep and took his scooter back to the hospital.

Our Mrs. Pandey, the Director of Outreach Programs was at the hospital by 10am and stayed until evening, along with Saroj and house manager, Anita Chaudhary.

Our boys have kept a 24-hour vigil at the hospital in shifts; one person must be present outside the ICU to run and get supplies as needed. Saroj has been there most of the time as well. He is an amazing young man who in this crisis has shown impressive calm and managerial abilities.

Today we decided to go ahead with the morning blessing for the college kids. Bishnu was one of five of our boys who received a scholarship to play basketball at Morgan College; these five boys have been playing together since we built our first half court about eight years ago.

The morning ritual begins before sunrise as the kids must be in college at 6am and they walk there. All our children give each one a tika and wish them luck. It was a very somber occasion with everyone thinking only of their missing brother Bishnu, an ever-smiling and very friendly young man whose energy and speed on the courts is remarkable.

Those with the red tika are about to enter college, 18 present here

As of this afternoon, Bishnu remains in induced unconsciousness.  He has been unconscious since the accident. The swelling in his brain has been relieved. A surgeon has been scheduled to work on his skull, and an ophthalmologist has informed us that he will need to remove his right eye.

The forecast thus far stated is that he may need many months of rehabilitation; if they know of the extent of brain damage it hasn’t been shared yet with us.

Bishnu is a very strong young man; there were two times Thursday night when I thought we were about to lose him, and the expression, work, and mutterings by the doctor hurrying back to his bedside suggested this to be true, but he fought back. Now we wait.

The children of NOH all practice different religions and philosophies, but each has in their own way and with their own belief system called upon their higher powers to help. I think the power of prayer by these children will help, and we ask anyone reading this to perhaps take a moment for Bishnu and to join the kids in their prayers.

We will keep updates coming.

Thank you,
Papa

July 2017

Our children are simply the best.

We had a call one day earlier this summer from the village of two sisters who live with us. Their grandmother had suddenly died; she was their only family and has loved and cared for them every Dashain holiday since they have been with us. The caller said that they would be burning the body the next morning. It was then 4pm, their village a 12-hour drive by bus. The next bus left at 5pm and the bus park is 20 minutes away. I told Anita Mahato, their manager, that it did not seem possible; our older boys who help take volunteers to their placements were all on assignments. Anita then called one of our college boys who was at work. She told Ram the situation and he said I will be there in 15 minutes. Anita called our taxi driver friend and he said the same. Ram asked his boss to forgive him, but said my family needs me, and ran up to Anita’s house, no change of clothes or toothbrush with him. The girls threw some clothes into a back pack and were ready when both Ram and the taxi arrived at the gate. They made it to the bus at last boarding and settled in for a 12-hour ride through the mountains in a bald tired, bolt-loosening vibrating old bus. 

They arrived on time the next morning so that the girls could say goodbye.

Anita 

                            

Pushpa

Ram

                                                              ********

The other day some managers and older children sat together at lunch. I brought up having just heard from one of our older daughters who was now back in her village, married and with a child. I asked, somewhat rhetorically, “How many of our girls are now married and with children?” and we began listing them. It did not take long for us to have 27 names on the list. These were all the girls who had decided the village life was what they preferred, most but not all are married, those who are not live with a sister or brother and most likely will soon be. Of the married ones, most now have one child. We are lucky in their keeping in touch with us and occasionally we get a visit as well. 

The last to visit is Binita with her little girl Ritu. Hope fell in love with Ritu and bestowed upon her a bounty from her own younger days, now long gone by. They stayed with us for a week in which every one of the girls in Binita’s previous house took turns holding, playing, and marveling at her little girl. It was a great week to have Binita with us and in many ways educational for the girls to see, that despite the fun, a baby is a 100% commitment and on their terms, not yours.

     

                 Binita and Ritu helped make me see the extended value of NOH.

                                                               **********


                          These are the nine illustrators of Ann Mayer’s newest book 

ANN M. MAYER 

Ann Mayer asked our children to illustrate her second book on endemic and endangered wildlife in Nepal. Ann has become a great friend to NOH and our children. We thank her deeply for her generosity in the development of our children’s awareness of the fragility of Nepal’s Flora and Fauna. 

Ann Mayer is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a major in zoology.  After obtaining a Master’s in Education from Harvard University, she taught in the primary grades for 21 years, mostly in upstate New York.

In her retirement, she has combined a lifelong interest in poetry and a fascination with animals to write poems for children. This is her second book of poems about wildlife in Nepal.

To read a more detailed account of her writing experiences and download a free copy of her first poetry book, please visit:

                      http://www.bioscienceresource.org/about-us/our-staff/

 

                        Manisha enjoying reviewing the book and her illustrations within

                                                                   *******

Flower Clown (alias Ron Fowler), who commutes from Cleveland, Ohio, to Bhaktipur, Nepal, on a yearly basis, returned to NOH to give an encore performance before he left Nepal. This guy put on a literally eye-popping show with his magic and balloon making art.

  
 

                Hari trying to figure out how he did that while Sujan is simply in disbelief 

                                                                  *********

Hope turned four years old on April 30th and we were fortunate to have in attendance the people who brought us together 4 years ago.  Regrettably partially hidden from one photo is my dear friend Elsie James who has given so much to the women and children of Nepal for over twenty years as the in-country Director of Medical Mercies of Canada. 


 
                     A beautiful cake made in the bakery of our friend Suren
 

Sureka and Kathy of Medical Mercies Canada

Hope Angel 

       

Elsie James in the glasses

 A little overwhelmed

         
                                                             ************                            

Our graduating class of twenty have had a great three months off. Ten boys and ten girls all finding temporary jobs and working hard. College will start soon. Every year we do an early morning send off for them, each child and all the managers offering blessings and a tika before they walk together for their first day of school. That day should have been here by now, the kids are registered and measured for new uniforms, but the government hasn’t yet decided which day school should start, so we wait. I had hoped to include photos of our college-bound crew, but I have put off this update long enough. Last Saturday some of the Papa’s House board members decided to come and honor them and so below please see the children assembled, those with the red tika are college bound, the other four are on the board or staff members. 
 

                                                               **********

We try to bring excitement into the family life and one of our traditional ways is to occasionally color and number hard boiled eggs that correspond with prizes along the lines of a meal out with one of the managers or at one of the other houses (Hope won a dinner at the college boys house and they made a really big evening for her), shopping trips with a friend and manager, lunch alone with the staff member of their choosing, in all we had 25 prizes, some rather simple, but all memorable. This particular time Carola Drosdeck, the Vice President of NOH and fill-in House Manager for the Sanctuary House while Kamali was away getting married, boiled, colored and numbered 130 eggs with the help of an enthusiastic crowd of Sanctuary House girls.
             

                                    Waiting for the next number to be called

                                                          ***********

Friday Morning July 7th 
  

Sanjeep

Gita

Every morning at 6am there is a basketball lesson taught by Sam when he is here, or Nama, one of our children, when he isn’t. Nama is a sought after college basketball player presently trying out for the national team. Nama and four other boys have played basketball together all the time they have been growing up with us, and several colleges tried to recruit them as a group to come and play. Finally they choose Morgan College which had years ago recruited Cila, our top girl player.
  

Today was a group of 11 and up kids; each day rotates to include all those who wish to play. My favorite group to watch are the under 11 children who can’t, despite a herculean effort, throw the ball as high as the hoop.


    
These are photos of Anita’s House, my last stop in hair braiding. This year 10 of our 20 boys moved to the college house which left 10 mostly small boys in their home. So Anita and Hope, her best friends Kai and Pretty, and two class ten girls from Anita’s old house moved in so Anita, in Sam’s 6 months away, could manage it. Our Sanctuary House, where Anita began her managing career around 9 years ago has been shuttered. It was a beautiful house, but the well had dried up and we were buying tankers of water several times a week. Papa’s House had room for the 14 other girls from Sanctuary House and so we combined them. It was difficult to divide the house, almost all the girls had been together from the beginning, but they embraced this first change in 9 years and are enjoying getting to know their new homes.

  

On Sunday the school celebrates “Teachers Day” where the children have developed a program to honor them. Hope wished to get things started by giving all the teachers in the kindergarten a “Dairy Milk” chocolate bar. Notice the woman in the red kurta, how she touches her right arm with her left hand while receiving her chocolate, this is the proper way to receive anything in Nepal, but sadly a habit that is nearing extinction. 

  

Hope adores all of her teachers very much, so much that during the day she will request that she go and visit them randomly during class time, a request that for sake of Hope’s convincing personality is always granted. 

  

Volunteers who come in the mornings to greet the children discussing their times here

Kids milling about before the assembly

Ranjita delivering a speech

 

The view Ranjita has when she raises her eyes, over 600 students plus teachers. And that is this morning.

                                                                      **********

The following is a collaboration between Sumi and me, coming from recent questions I have asked during our hair braiding time. 

A Day in the Life of Sumi

The fluorescent light flickers on with a little ping, ping, ping, nothing is said. It is four in the morning; my roommates stir slightly then embrace their pillows tighter as they do every morning thinking somehow they will reclaim sleep. Sleep is never so sweet as to when it is denied. I don’t think, I just rise up quickly, I know the routine.

I am the first to the toilet, I wash my face and brush my teeth, leaving the toilet pulling my hair tight, I tie it into a pony tail. I go into the hall where the other girls walk like zombies to one bathroom or another, some smiling as they do when it is raining and they are slipping on the rain ponchos that make us all look childish. Few words are spoken, vowel sounds their communications.

I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, I learned a long time ago that if you do the right thing on your own then people do not tell you what to do.  I learned a long time ago what people expect from me or others. Sometimes I think that they don’t see me as an individual unique being, they just see objects that they need to corral so that they can feel they are doing their job. I make it easy for them; I know what I expect from myself and it is far more than the managers, or teachers, or house captains  expect from any of us.

I tie my black and red belt tightly and neatly in front of my worn Taekwondo uniform and go down for tea, skip the puffs, and walk alone to Papa’s House for practice. Every other morning for six years I have done this; I never miss one, unless it’s raining and then no one comes. The others are good too, but over the years some have given up. The winters are challenging; it is very cold and all you wish to do is huddle, but the Guru arrives and we must take off our jackets, shoes, and bow. Then it begins, the cold ground or concrete brings complaints from the others, but I like it. I feel alive, I feel something is testing me, something I don’t know but which is always present in my life and again I can show that I will pass this test also, with a smile.

When I go through the gate at Papa’s House for Taekwondo I see Papa talking with some children; they have already finished their walk and exercise. Papa walks every morning; he used to run. When I was younger Papa ran everyday with the older boys, long runs to a temple 4 kilometers away. They would race and they had to stop at the Temple and put color on their foreheads to prove they ran the distance. Sometimes they ran together, sometimes in opposite directions as it was a large circle they ran in. Papa would be back on the grounds rested when the boys would come staggering in, bent over to catch their breath. But the years went by, the boys legs became long and strong and then it would be Papa staggering in, bent over trying to catch his breath while the boys sat rested, smiling at each other when Papa would look up and smile at them for what they had become.

Papa is every day following his routine, no matter how sick he might be some days; he always is where we expect him to be. I am the same.

Every morning Papa braids my hair; he does this for a lot of girls. He always asks a lot of questions that are supposed to make us think; sometimes he simply asks, “How are you?” and it is more than “How are you?” It is, “I want you to share with me, what is going on in your heart and mind.” These are the places I keep pretty much to myself, but when Papa asks I feel drawn to tell, like if a mother might ask. I laugh at this thought, Papa is my mother, he cares for me in a way I imagine a mother should care for her daughter, but he shouldn’t be my mother, my mother should be my mother but she isn’t. Papa is also my father watching me perform Taekwondo or winning the competition at school that decides the best athlete of the year, which is me; I know that he is there, watching, but I do not win for him, I suppose it is to show my mother, if she were to exist in my life, that I turned out great without her, was that her wish for me? Did she feel like she would hold me back if she kept me, did she give me away because she loved me or because I was in her way? Maybe I win because that is who I am; if you lead then no one tells you how to follow.

Everything is good here, the other children, the staff, the facilities and opportunities, the Chelsea Center has everything for us in terms of enriching our education and on Saturdays we can use it as we wish, I have become someone that some admire for my accomplishments, but my emotions are still anchored, no matter how wonderful a moment might be, the bubble burst before it gets too high. I have this haunting in my heart of my missing mother, never sharing my moment. I am not so different than all the other children for this reason, though it isn’t a subject we ever discuss I think we all wonder “Why me?”

I am in class ten now; this year there are only 7 of us from Papa’s House. It is early in the year, but in our exams I was first. After class ten you take an exam that determines your fitness for college. It is a matter of pride for students and parents to say that they have passed this exam. In the whole country on average 37% have been passing, but last year they changed the grading system to allow everyone to pass because they said, too many students were taking their own lives if they failed. There is no competition in that.

So after Taekwondo we have our breakfast and then begin to prepare for school, Papa will go house to house braiding hair; some girls in each house only want him, but many of them stay in their rooms and do each other’s hair. 

At nine we walk to school and meet Papa at the gate, he shakes our hands, calls us by name and tells us to have a good day. If our collar is up on one side he fixes it, like a mother would.

School is a little boring, but I try hard to focus. Sometimes I find my focus is so strong that when the bell rings I rise and begin to walk to the next classroom while in my mind the remainder of a math problem or the vision of a poor family in remote areas with dysentery that we study in social slowly evaporates as I settle into the hard wooden bench of the next class.

Sometimes I look out the window and see Papa walking across the school yard to Hope’s classroom and minutes later he carries her in his arms, smiling at her and asking, I imagine, to tell him about her morning. Then another bell and everyone races to the café for their lunch; it is named “Hope’s Café”. I wait until the crowd thins and then I take my lunch at the counter, walk around the corner and stand with my friends and eat. 

Our days are busy; Papa meets us after school and when our lines are made he again shakes our hands as we walk to our homes. When I was small Papa used to give every child a hug and kiss the top of their head when we arrived at school, but we had not so many children then and now we are big and maybe he could not reach the top of our heads. Still, I miss it.

After we reach home we change into our regular clothes and have tea and biscuits and then walk to the Chelsea Center. We spend two hours there where good teachers help us with our homework or teach us computer and some learn the type of skill that one day they might use for work. I don’t know what I want to do with my life; I really don’t have any idea. But I try to do everything better than others so that I will be ready.

At six we go home and wash up for our evening meal, we all eat together and the girls are smiling and happy. After we eat we talk and slowly go about getting ready to do homework back in the dining room on the same benches. All the children help each other with homework or for any reason, this is how it has always been; I don’t know how it works in small families.

When I was six I lived in a village very far away with my aunt. My mother had come to Kathmandu to find work; I had been a long time with my aunt. One day I was told, “You are going to go to Kathmandu to sit with your mother” and I was very excited. When I reached Kathmandu, my mother took me to her room and told me that it was not possible for me to stay with her; she worked for some rich people who would not allow it. These people found a small home with eleven other children in it and paid the owner $100 to take me in. I did not see my mother again.

The owner of the home was not nice; in the evenings he drank alcohol with one of the two didis. They were unfriendly to us; they would sometimes beat us and lock us in our room. We all shared the same room. The other didi was a crippled woman who loved us very much and she did her best to feed and protect us. I was there for only about 2 months. One day Papa came and saw how we lived and he managed to have the owner leave. He asked Vinod, who worked with him, to stay with us and then Papa found a new house to move us into where Vinod became our manager. Eleven of the 12 of us are still together, some of the older ones in college, a couple  have finished college and work for Papa, but we are still together.  

This month I will test for my black belt in Taekwondo. I have to break a brick as part of the test. Yesterday Papa was telling me, “Your body can handle this; it has the strength to do it without any problem, but it is in your mind that you will succeed. If you imagine yourself smashing through the brick it will be done; if you have any doubt in you, if you hesitate you will only hurt your hand. Believe in yourself Sumi, I believe in you, I know you will do this.” I know that I will do it; I believe in me, but more, I believe in Papa.

I am a little scared about growing up and being on my own; my only grain of comfort is that I know Papa will always be there for me if I collapse.

Thank you,

Sumi

Thank you,

Papa

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