Wednesday, 28 November 2007
The second piece of good news is that my not-for-profit business Himalayan Mosaics was finally registered today. So we can now sell handmade mosaics all over the world. I just need to get the website done now and identify international customers. But that doesn't stop us from selling at fairs in Kathmandu this Saturday and the following Friday. I am very excited for my work to be evolving from charity into not for profit business which seems to be the only way to go that assures beneficiaries of not only an income but also of retrieving their self confidence and dignity.
For both news items the bottom line is that nothing happens quickly in Nepal. Least of all international adoption.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Sunday, 25 November 2007
This afternoon I paid a visit to our refuge just down the road to see four newly-arrived children. They are siblings of two girls who were already in our care, both circus returnees. One girl, Bipana, had been working in my mosaic studio but hadn't returned from the Dashain holiday (see earlier post on "Dashain problems"). Apparently she comes from a very poor family with very inadequate, drunken parents and she had felt compelled to stay at home to look after younger siblings. So our field staff retrieved Bipana along with the two siblings meaning that Bipana can return to the work that she loves and her two young brothers can go to a decent school. The other two children are brother and sister to Pramila. Their father has just died and the mother has been very ill, so again, in the absence of a safety net we have responded to a genuine need that will allow Pramila to continue her studies at school in Kathmandu. When I arrived at the refuge I found the children having a haircut. The girl looked worried. Given that the amateur hairdresser was refuge carer Dilu, I think her concern was probably justified.
Friday, 23 November 2007
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Today I distracted Alisha with a trip to the zoo, this being her first ever. I am not a fan of zoos at all but I do still remember clearly my first trip to the zoo and the positive impression it made upon me. Maybe this visit, and subsequent ones, will serve to imprint upon Alisha an awareness for animals at an early stage. The zoo was nowhere near as bad as I had expected it to be. OK, it was very Nepali with some animals in the wrong compounds - the buck deer (as depicted on our Christmas card mosaic) were labelled as being "barking deer". Other compounds had no guide signs at all. There was a very splendid mountain partridge (chukka), which I recognised from a previous mosaic that one of the girls had made, wandering around in another cage apparently unidentified. Some signs were in English, some in Nepali and so on...
Most shocking of all was the shrieking of the pupils in the visiting school parties that was potentially so disturbing for animals without any effort being made at teacher restraint. And in spite of the signs outside the zoo asking visitors not to tease the animals, clearly some teenagers were causing some provocation as they went along. Nepal is a very benign and easy-going place to live but this teasing seems to be endemic. It also seems to go hand in hand with stigma and what the animals have to endure at Kathmandu zoo mirrors a cruelty that in our experience disabled kids, street kids, prison kids and former circus kids have to live with in their daily lives.
Sunday, 18 November 2007
Whatever one makes of the religious significance of these, or otherwise, I think they look great and the girls have really excelled themselves in subject material that they can relate to. I am very tempted to buy these myself to celebrate the auspicious day when we complete our international adoption process with Alisha. That will be something that she too can treasure in later life and always have as a valued, and no doubt much-needed, reminder of her native land.
Saturday, 17 November 2007
Richard's UK-based Zoe Carss Education Trust now funds education projects in South Africa (Richard's wife is a South African) and in Nepal. For the last couple of years the Trust has funded our schools' capital development project in Makwanpur and adjacent districts. Funds have been spent on enhancements at under-resourced government schools in villages within those districts. But as I wrote in a previous post, I now have serious reservations about such activities, attractively tangible as they might be in a land where so much development funding seems to vanish into the ether. My misgivings are based upon the pathetic quality of the education in these schools and a fundamentally flawed rote learning system. We can't repair these deep fault lines and providing funds to such schools only seems to condone unacceptable standards. On an entirely personal front, I am no longer convinced that I wish to remember Esther (and now Zoe) through the construction of school compound walls and toilet blocks. Moreover, as charitable organisations I feel we should be at the cutting edge of social change, setting an example for others to follow.
I discussed with Richard my latest idea of setting up a special school in Kathmandu dedicated entirely to serving the victims of child trafficking. This would pull together two of our initiatives that are currently underway as pilot projects. In Bhairahawa we have been running educational bridging courses that are designed to fast track returnees (including the pictured girls) who have no previous education into school at a level appropriate to their age. This course was set up by us last May in response to the returnees' request for a proper education (rather than a half-hearted non-formal education provision) and a wish not to join school and sit in class with infants. In parallel in Kathmandu we have been running an art workshop for returnees that has been teaching ceramics and mosaic techniques to older girls. This started in September and we have been enjoying the support of UK volunteer and professional potter Alex Hunter in this exciting development that will lead to jobs within the arts and crafts sector in Nepal. We see great merit in collocating both activities so that returnees have the option to mix their interests and see which pathway suits them better. A school in Kathmandu would be more readily accessible to Western volunteer teachers, both artistic and academic, and would put an appropriate distance between the students and their families in rural areas who only spoil their daughters' chances in life (again) by interfering in our provision.
I have shared this vision with Richard and we concur on the desirability of moving on to a higher level. It remains to be seen exactly what shape that partnership will take.
Sitting at the dinner table last evening and discussing our respective personal bereavements it inevitably became quite emotional. I was reminded by that once again of how gut-wrenching and fresh that sense of loss remains. But rather than being a pair of sad, inward looking people we find ourselves both here in a foreign land trying to make it a better place for some of the country's most vulnerable children. The human response to trauma can be quite paradoxical and perhaps it is our capacity to rise above this that sets us apart from animals and reflects the divine that is within us all, whether we choose to recognise it or not. The divine that happens to be saluted through the Nepali routine greeting of "Namaste".
Friday, 16 November 2007
No doubt like me you were beginning to wonder why it seems to be so difficult and painful to become a parent in every respect, why children (and sometimes aspiring parents) have had to stay in Nepalese children's homes in the meantime and if there would ever be light at the end of this particularly long tunnel. That light seems to be there now.
I now wish you everything that you would wish for yourselves and great joy in your adoptions.
Thursday, 15 November 2007
In previous posts I have mentioned the problems in village schools with huge classes, chronic under-resourcing and the routine rote form of learning that burdens children's memories pointlessly while stifling their creativity. Therein lie some of the intrinsic flaws. However, as part of a pursuit of the Holy Grail of increasing attendance and reducing drop out rates (especially for girls) incentives are used to motivate the children and their families that can totally backfire. I am currently refusing to fund any kind of a feeding programme in village schools in Rupendehi district as that fosters dependency (which once started is hard to break away from) and provides the wrong motivation to attend classes. I point to an example of how well-intentioned NGOs can get it wrong in an item that appeared in yesterday's Himalayan newspaper. It was reported that in one rural district an NGO has offered the incentive of two litres of cooking oil per month provided per child that attends classes. It seems that this has now become the only pathetic reason that families send their children to school. Children can keep repeating the same year at school over and over again, failing exams and without making any educational progress while continuing to receive oil. One mother said:
"If my daughter fails this year, we could get the oil for one more year. If she passes she will go to a distant school and there will be no one to do the household chores too. I will ask the teachers to fail my daughter this year."
So at the end of this programme (if the NGO can ever detach itself from it) the statistics will point to increased attendance of pupils and everyone, as I stated above, is fooled, including themselves. Indeed the "success" may become a paradigm for managing this endemic problem. Meantime the children will have achieved nothing, exploited by parents who seem to value them only in terms of a few paltry gallons of oil. This is why I believe we need to engage in something different and I will elaborate upon this in a later post.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Maya's story began in April 2004 when we rescued her from an Indian circus in Kerala. Her family background was dreadful - no known father and a mother involved in the sex trade. After a great deal of thought we decided to take a risk and return her to her mother (at the time family reunifications being top priority) but we discovered soon afterwards that her mother had promptly sent her off into domestic service (slavery) in Kathmandu. So the field worker who had rescued her from the circus had to rescue her a second time, this time from a house in Kathmandu. Maya then came to live at our children's refuge and attended school for a couple of years before beginning my mosaic training last October. She is a brilliant artist and has been rewarded very well financially for her efforts. Now the mother who has spoiled her life twice stands to spoil it again if we don't take action. Maya is very happy to give her money though, perhaps in an attempt to buy love and some kind of family connection.
After some discussion this morning with fellow carers I have decided that the girls at my studio who will sign contracts with Himalayan Mosaics at the start of next month will agree to how their wages are managed during the term of their contracts. They will pay for their keep and receive a modest amount of pocket money. The remainder will be locked away in a savings account until completion of their contract. If they need anything urgently in the meantime then it will be only by agreement of the employer (me).
It is difficult to anticpate everything over here, but that should keep the predatory parents at bay.
Monday, 12 November 2007
But of course these days you don't have to leave home to attend an exhibition. London law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse are now very kindly hosting an exhibition of our mosaics through Second Life. If you haven't signed up for Second Life you can get a flavour of this initiative here:
Sunday, 11 November 2007
This was Remembrance Sunday and the occasion was marked at The British Embassy in Kathmandu in spite of the general disinterest of The British Ambassador who, as anticipated, was absent from the ceremony. The service was held in the open air and I was delighted to see extra chairs having to be brought in to accommodate the numbers that attended. The Gurkha officers and soldiers looked splendid in their Service Dress and slouch hats; they were displaying an admirable collection of medals, reflecting a huge amount of service to the Crown. And the padre spoke well, the criterion of that being that he kept my attention from drifting unduly on a day that in its nature lends itself to mind wandering.
That said, I did find myself thinking a lot about a lad called Gordon Turnbull, killed in 1943 at Anzio (south of Rome) while fighting with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at the age of 23. Gordon was my father's cousin and 24 years ago while on holiday in Italy I made a pilgrimage to his grave. That visit was particularly poignant as at the time I too was in uniform as a young Army captain, I was also 23 and I believe the first member of the family to pay respects at his grave in 40 years. At the time of his death Gordon was unmarried and I had thought that was the end of it all. That is until this year when I dipped into "Genes Reunited" on the internet and found a lady mentioning his name and seeking relatives. I responded and it emerged that Gordon had fathered a girl before joining up; that girl had been adopted out and forgotten about. She had lost her roots, a loss that must have seemed very final after her father's untimely death. She has suffered severe depression and is now in care back in Northern Ireland. However I have been very pleased to make indirect contact with this hitherto forgotten second cousin through her daughter and to start to broker links between her children and their cousins that I do know of from within the family. This all illustrates that a soldier's death sixty four years ago is not necessarily in the past and as well as remembering that sacrifice we must also remember the legacy of loss that so often continues to this day.
On a brighter note, the Kathmandu refuge children came to my house yesterday to perform song and dance ("Bhailo") as part of the Tihar festivities. Seventy of them - former street children, prison children and circus children - turned up along with a few of their carers. It is amazing and hugely rewarding to see how they have matured (some have been with us for almost seven years now) and exude confidence and joie de vivre. For me, that's what the charity is all about. Here's some of the footage that I recorded:
Saturday, 10 November 2007
The boy who is dancing, Akash, is one of two brothers that we found outside Tansen jail away back in October 2000. They were sleeping rough and getting food through the bars from their imprisoned mother. Akash is now a tremendous all-rounder, great academically, at sport and also at dance!
Friday, 9 November 2007
Thursday, 8 November 2007
Monday, 5 November 2007
Friday, 2 November 2007
This year we had a mini crisis over Priya. She was one of the two girls that I started training in mosaic art this time last year - an initiative that has now been extended to 16 others in my Kathmandu studio. She quickly became a top artist, having the perfect combination of skill and speed at her work. But her vulnerability is a case in point. She had returned from the circus to find both of her parents had committed suicide. Her aunt duly packed her off to another kind of slave labour inside a Kathmandu carpet factory and we rescued her from there in July last year. Last month she, like many other kids, wanted to go "home" for Dashain and of course we couldn´t stop her as she´s a free person. Then we received the news that she´d got married (she´s barely sixteen) to a boy that she knew from the carpet factory. That seemed to be the end of her short career and this otherwise totally uneducated girl appeared to be rejoining the cycle of poverty from which she had so briefly emerged. However it seems that all is not lost as we have since heard that she is very happy to be married and will set up home in Kathmandu. She also wants to continue with her mosaic work and I am very glad to agree to that wish. Hopefully having a good income - no doubt better than her husband´s - will help with the stability of the marriage. In the harsh reality of daily life in Nepal a wife who has economic value will be valued all the more.
This is the last day of my holiday in Spain. It has provided a break from the chaos of living in Nepal and allowed me to find some time to relax. I have also found the creative space to plan the future of my new company "Himalayan Mosaics" and develop some fresh directions for the Trust. It´s really been just what the doctor ordered - or more correctly what my wife Bev ordered. I am now ready for the fray once again.