Wednesday, 29 August 2007
Tuesday, 28 August 2007
Monday, 27 August 2007
Sunday, 26 August 2007
Cases in point are our current two volunteers, dance choreographer Sue Way and playwright Nick Discombe, over from the UK. I went to see them yesterday at work at our Kathmandu refuge and they were so focussed on the task in hand that it was a joy to observe. Sue is pictured right bringing the best out of the refuge children - children who are normally very shy being invited to give their name, express what they like and perform a little star turn. The children's faces in the picture show their captivation and appreciation.
Friday, 24 August 2007
Yesterday I heard that Chandra Prasad Pun, 20, (right) from the centre has been chosen as one of 14 people to represent Nepal in the forthcoming 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games being held in Shanghai, China from 2-11 October 2007. Chandra has been selected for the 200 metre race and the relay event in China having won many medals and trophies in his preferred 200m and Shot Put at National Level events in Kathmandu over the last couple of years. Chandra now comes to the daycare centre every day, where he has learnt some English and how to make some money by making candles and envelopes. Other children also learn to sew whilst physiotherapy and speech therapy are also available for those that would benefit from them. Initially Chandra accessed these services through the home visit programme which we fund. This has been such fabulous news for us as the funder and I wish him every success at the the Games.
Thursday, 23 August 2007
One of the advantages of volunteers such as these is that it stimulates creativity, something that seems to be lacking in a rote-learning, copycat culture such as this one. Just this evening I read a review in the paper of a guy called Shankar Lamichane - "one of Nepal's greatest ever essayists". After a few paragraphs describing his unique and original style it said that his critics had accused him of plagiarism and he had admitted it....
Wednesday, 22 August 2007
Monday, 20 August 2007
Often circuses retain performers' paltry pay (maybe a few dollars a month) until the completion of their (illegal) contracts - this stops them running away and the parents from trying to retrieve their daughters prematurely. As a final insult The Raj Mahal has held onto the pay owed to the releasees for their last six years of service - presumably because of some kind of breach of contract. So this really has been slave labour for those miserable souls. We'll be fighting a legal battle to get that reimbursed to the girls in full.
Phateh Khan, the circus owner, has won this round but he won't win the bout.
Sunday, 19 August 2007
Tuesday, 14 August 2007
I could see her tense up at the mention of the circus owner's name, Phateh Khan (see previous post of that title). When she left the circus there were 25 girls there, all but four of whom were Nepali. She confirmed for me that just about all of them would want to return home really badly. As I had expected though, a few will have become involved with the circus staff sexually and after that happens there is no future for them back in Nepal. They will not wish to come with us. I will be leaving on Thursday morning for India, and the team will enter the circus on Friday.
This afternoon I fitted a mosaic logo at a friend's shop, "Elephant House", on Durba Marg. It's a really fascinating little place that sells very unsusual and classy items for Kathmandu. On the way home I mused over the posters on the hoarding boards that are advertising current Nepali movies that seem to glorify the recently-ended "People's War" from the Maoist perspective. It is never appropriate to glamourise war and so soon after the deaths of at least twelve thousand people on both sides this seems doubly obscene.
Friday, 10 August 2007
Thursday, 9 August 2007
Wednesday, 8 August 2007
We try to be different, otherwise everyone within the organisation is wasting their time and might has well be at home enjoying some comfort. For example we're just about to publish a children's story book about the dangers of the circus (written by Bev) that will go to all the poorest schools in the trafficking-prone area. Yesterday we decided at a meeting with our local partner organisation to set up a special school to benefit the children of the neglected and resentful Madhesi population in Bhairahawa on the Terai (see previous post - "Trouble on the Terai"). Both of these initiatives will deliver tangible benefits in the real world.
Today I received my final update from Lynne Rawlings and the volunteers in Hetauda:
"Life in the Refuge has slipped into a comfortable routine – I'm usually awoken around 5am with a 'swish swish' as one of the girls sweeps outside the open window. The children are all up early and there's lots of activity and a continual chattering to be heard for the next few hours. It sounds a very happy house.
Two girls come to our room around 8.15am and laying a raffia mat on the floor, serve breakfast on trays – black tea now, we just couldn't take the traditional sweet Nepalese tea made from milk, and hard boiled eggs, chunks of cucumber and sweet bread and butter.
Lunch is prepared by a couple of the girls, they take turns and share all the duties around the house – I've not seen any one of them appear unwilling to do anything! It is hard for us to help here as even taking the food trays back to the kitchen is greeted with cries of 'No Sister, no" and they are taken out of our hands before we've got halfway there!
Monday was the last day of the mosaic class but everyone was there at 10am Tuesday to finish off their work. We organised for the house and office staff to come to the studio and one by one the girls stood in front of everyone, held up their mosaic and said 'This is my mosaic' in English. For the girl who made no eye contact at all on the first day and didn't have any English, this was a huge step. They were all so proud of what they have achieved and rightly so, for in the week, their amazing concentration and precise work has paid off. We have got some stunning mosaics which we are sure Philip will think are good enough to sell in Kathmandu.
In the afternoon we went on another field visit with Shailaja and saw the ongoing problems EBMT is dealing with out here, as they worked out how to help one girl who had returned to her father's house after a beating from her baby's father. She was a circus returnee and is 22 years old.
After dinner the girls treated us to drama – their interpretation of what happens to a girl being sold into the circus. There was plenty of humour and what a delight to see the girls intently watching and laughing at the performance of what was such a painful part of their young lives. Much of the therapy comes through the arts and we certainly saw some of its success last night.
I knew EBT was a good organisation before I came here, but having witnessed first hand the work it is doing I now know it is an excellent one.
It will be with heavy hearts that we say our goodbyes today, but I hope that the girls have gained by having us here – they will certainly never know just how much they and their fellow Nepalese have taught us.
Ek din hah mi lai phar ha na man lag cha (We hope we can return some day)."
Tuesday, 7 August 2007
Yesterday I received an e mail update from Lynne Rawlings, the Trust's volunteer in Hetauda:
"Namaste! Each day between 9 and 11 girls assemble in a large upstairs room at the Refuge. They don't need any encouragement to put out the mats and start work on their mosaics. A few girls have tried a couple of days with us, but they prefer to sew and can now be found each day contentedly working away at black Singer sewing machines. Most of the girls sew their own clothes and every day we are greeted by a wonderful rainbow of colours in their trousers, tunics and long scarves. Three girls had check up appointments at the hospital and dressed in their brightest and most beautiful clothes for the occasion.
The mosaic class is from 10am to 4pm with half an hour for lunch at 2pm. I'm writing this after we have just eaten roast potatoes, hard boiled egg, roti (bread) and black tea. Throughout the sweltering heat and humidity of the day, the girls remain focussed on their work. They are keen to learn, have amazing concentration and in the few days we have worked with them, the standard of work has improved – considerably in some cases! Preeya and Maya move around the girls, encouraging, demonstrating their skills and operating quite a strict quality control – we've seen many tiles removed that didn't reach their high standards!! But the girls don't seem to mind, they just want to get it right and seem equally keen to show us their finished product. They all demonstrate an amazing patience – not just in the working of the mosaic, but whilst they wait for us to draw out their patterns or wait while the 'teachers' check and amend their designs. Not once has anyone shown the slightest hint of impatience.
With each day the girls seem more comfortable with us being here – even the most shy now smiles and says 'Namaste'. Eye contact with one or two was not happening at first, but now all of them look at us and acknowledge our presence. Singing happens whilst they work and at the end of the session on the third day, we were treated to an impromptu display of tumbling, balancing and juggling. The girls were being children, they evidently wanted to show us what they are good at and good at it they were. But it was difficult to watch knowing where they had learnt the skills!
Some girls are not doing mosaics, they spend much time in their rooms studying, but like the mosaic girls they are keen and eager to show us their work. They are keen to learn, eager to accept any help we can give them and want to speak English with us. There's lots of laughter as we try to understand each other and sometimes get the sense of the conversation completely wrong!!
Last night we were invited to eat with the girls – an honour to be asked to do this in Nepal. The mosaic studio was transformed into a dining room and the girls sat on mats on the floor, whilst a table and four chairs was very carefully positioned under the ceiling fan for us. Dinner was prepared by some of the girls and was rice, two types of fish, dahl, poppadoms, cauliflower, beans and grated cabbage, carrot and radish. Delicious! As a treat we'd bought bottles of Fanta for the girls. Clearing up is difficult to help with – any attempt by us to clear plates is quickly followed by cries of 'No Sister' (the term that they call female visitors to the house, men they call brother) and several helping hands take the plates away.
One evening the four of us went into the street outside the Refuge to get a rickshaw into town. We were going to have dinner and a beer at the local hotel – it gives us a couple of hours chilling time when we can reflect on the day. But this evening there wasn't a rickshaw in sight. There is a small family shop opposite the Refuge and the lady was soon coming over to our rescue. She shouted to her husband who appeared in his vest on the roof, but quickly came down to us in the street, buttoning up his shirt. A brief conversation between the two of them and he was leading us down the street to a place where there were several rickshaws parked. Minutes later and we were on our way – once again being a focus of attention as we rode in convoy along the main street in Hetauda.
The hospitality and kindness of the Nepalese people is sometimes overwhelming."
Lynne has promised me another update before they leave Hetauda in a couple of days' time. It will all have been very worthwhile as their top one or two mosaic students will transfer to my studio in Kathmandu. The remainder can repeat the Hetauda course (with different volunteers) until they are selected or try different opportunities.
Last evening by candlelight I derived a great deal of entertainment from dipping for the first time into a recently published local expatriate cookbook that has very strong echoes from the start of the last century. It is hard to imagine anyone taking this kind of stuff seriously but I expect there are some diehard thrifty memsahebs out there in Kathmandu for whom this is compulsory reading. Here goes with some selected extracts:
[From the introduction]
"Working with your cook to ensure understanding of the recipes, you will experience delicious, delightful and tasty dishes."
"Servants - persons employed in your home should appear healthy. They should have evidence of or get a chest X-ray for tuberculosis when they start working for you. The chest X-ray whould be repeated during respiratory illnesses that cause them to lose weight or in two years' time."
"Freeze leftover egg whites in ice cube tray, one per cube; when frozen pop out and store in plastic bag until needed."
"Nuts will keep longer if refrigerated in tightly covered containers."
"Muffin tins can double as ice cube trays. Jumbo cubes are attractive floating in punches and last longer."
"When measuring molasses or honey, coat the measuring cup first with margarine or butter for easy pouring."
"A local stone grinder may be used instead of a blender [why????]. Choose one of uniform color, 20 cm wide. Before using soak with 1-2 tablespoons salt water for 7-10 days."
And so it goes on. Confucius eat your heart out. I must add that the book was not a purchase but presented to me as a gift.
Sunday, 5 August 2007
Most concerning is the little-reported ethnic cleansing that has been going on in the southern "Terai" region of the country. The south is home to the native Tharu people, to Madhesi (ethnic Indian) and to the Pahari (hill tribes) people. Many of the Pahari moved from the hills to the fertile plains in the middle of the last century after the jungles were cleared and malaria was brought under control. They came to dominate the life on the Terai, often being given confiscated Tharu land in return for political favours. And they scorned the Madhesi as an inferior people. Now it seems the tables have turned with the Madhesi demanding the political representation that has been denied them for so long. In fact many of the Madhesi political representatives have even called for secession of the Terai, home to 50% of the population, from the rest of the country. Meantime no fewer than twelve armed groups are active, targeting Pahari people and fighting (and apparently winning) a turf war against Maoist activists who had been calling the shots until the start of this year. This internal conflict has been made all the easier for the Madhesi fighters with the (increasingly frustrated) People's Army holed up in UN monitored cantonment camps across the country.
In July the largest Madhesi armed group gave Paharis one week to leave the Terai - or else. So far 900 civil servants, teachers, health workers have heeded the warning and are now seeking sanctuary in the Kathmandu valley or with families back in the hills. Those who have remained in the Terai are keeping their heads down, staying away from homes and offices.
Friday, 3 August 2007
"It was good to leave the chaos and noise of Kathmandu and head for the green and quiet of rural Hetauda. As probably the only four Westerners here, sore thumbs spring to mind. But a short rickshaw ride to the market, soon produced smiles, waves, calls of 'Namaste' and "How are you?' from the local people.
We were equally welcomed to the Refuge, where 'room service' brings tea and breakfast with beautiful smiles every morning. There's no running water after 10am and the loo flushes with a bucket and jug, but the air conditioning – a roof fan – keeps the room cool as it is hotter here that Kathmandu. The humidity is high and any clothes left out of the rucksack feel damp after a short while.
Our introduction to the children was to visit some of their homes. The first was a simple wooden structure with nothing but the ground inside. Six pairs of tiny eyes looked back into our disbelieving ones and we saw six small boys, one in just a hemp shirt, another in ragged trousers and all with nothing to do. These children do not go to school but they had a cow.
As we moved on, the truck got stuck in the mud – this is the monsoon season – on a track through the rice fields and several people quickly appeared to push. A short walk and we were looking at another wooden structure, well built and solid this time, but a single room where the lady, her husband, their children, his parents and his brothers all live. This was a good home, they work hard and grow crops, the children go to school and they have their own animals. With help from EBT they grow mushrooms.
Finally, we left the truck at the main road and climbed steeply for half an hour into the jungle. These people have only just started coming out of the jungle, but they would not be given land or work if they went down into the valley. The home was another single roomed, wooden, poorly constructed, building. There were nine children here, 7 of whom had just made the journey down that we had just made up, to wash in the river and collect water. The mother was heating maize in the corner of the hut. She rolled tobacco into a leaf and showed us how she lit it from a piece of burning timber. She smoked it and told us that it takes away the hunger when there's no food. She chatted animatedly to the staff with us. They said later she would have kept them there for hours because she will not see anyone until they return. She was offering maize to each of us, so we left. We could not refuse the maize, but how could we take it? This was all this family had – none of us had ever experienced having literally, nothing, before.
I had not realised the extent of the work that EBT does in retaining contact with these families. Regular visits and support, help them be in a position to have their children back or at least have them to visit for awhile. And it is this regular contact, plus the successful prosecutions, that have driven the agents out of the areas we visited.
Our first day of mosaic class started at 10am. 9 girls and 2 'teachers' from Philip's studio in Kathmandu, assembled on the floor of an upstairs room. Sitting crouched or cross legged, the girls are totally engrossed in cutting the tiles and fitting the shapes into their designs. Birds, butterflies, apples and trees start taking shape and we are amazed at their level of concentration as class goes on until 4pm and no one leaves!
When we're in our rooms there is a constant stream of girls appearing at the door – they won't come in without being asked but they fascinated by our fairer complexion and shorter hairstyles. Those studying English are enjoying practising it with us and the rest laugh at my attempt at Nepali, but they are patient and help me learn too."
It is easy reading this to understand how traffickers find the villagers such easy prey. Someone said to me the other day that teenage girls trafficked into the sex trade in Kathmandu receive clothes, make up and a mobile phone. If they are returned home they are sent out to collect wood in the jungle.
Thursday, 2 August 2007
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
Today I attended a meeting of donor and support agencies (like EBT) that are working against trafficking and that try to coordinate their activities. It was very disturbing to here from one attendee of how her organisation has witnessed a rise in internal trafficking in Nepal - village girls ending up in massage parlours and unofficial brothels in the capital. Two or three years ago these girls were 18 and above; now they are aged 12-13. After the meeting I volunteered for EBT to take the chair for future meetings and I hope we can be instrumental in organising a collaborative response to the problem before it's too late.
Mr Big of the Indian circus industry is a very unsavoury guy called Phateh Khan. He and his family own four or five of India's 30 major circuses. He's wealthy and he's well dug in as he is now a minister in government in India's lawless northern state of Uttar Pradesh. His circuses are the most exploitative and violent of the lot; last time we tackled one of these it was a case of resistance with guns and knives. Afterwards his beloved son Raza Khan faced charges of rape against the girls that we rescued - but of course got off Scot-free in the end. A rather grainy recent picture of Phateh with the girls that he and his family have been exploiting and abusing can be seen above.
Next week we'll be visiting another of his circuses in a bid to free over 20 girls from bondage. I will try to keep you posted, but wish us luck.