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 can’t 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.
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,