Here’s an update from Marc Gold on his recent endeavors abroad. Marc is the founder of 100 Friends. Bangkok is his home when he’s not fundraising or on one of his missions. This is the story of his last trip to Nepal.
Quite by accident, I found out about an orphanage, Jeewan Uttan, with twenty-six children in Kathmandu, Nepal. Each month the woman who owns this orphanage, Bina, is struggling to find the Rupees to pay for rent, food, clothing, school fees, books, shoes, and transportation. There is never enough. They have no consistent support and from the point of view of capacity, she really shouldn’t have an orphanage at all. But from the point of view of the compassionate heart, it is absolutely fantastic that she has this orphanage she is running for less than a shoestring.
The children are mostly Tamang, one of the largest ethnic groups with a predominately poor population. There are a few Dalits (untouchable caste) who are even lower in the caste system. All the children come from Bina’s Tamang village in Eastern Nepal in the Malanchi district (about a five hour drive and a three day hike from Kathmandu). Many of them have had horrific beginnings in their short lives: neglect, beatings, alcoholic parents, lack of decent schools or no access at all to education, and they have no resources for help.
I met Bina and we liked each other from the start and became good friends. Really it was a match made in heaven. She was accomplishing many projects with very little money. She was a social activist as well as a humanitarian worker and she returned to her village at least ten days every month in order to help the local people. How she managed to help them with so little money is a story I have yet to hear. So I had ready cash, nineteen years of experience as a humanitarian aid worker on the micro level, some good connections and I’m not shy about making more (which is exactly what happened). I got to know Bina better and learned that she was one hundred percent trust worthy. The first thing I did was to take her on a shopping spree. They needed 26 of everything. 26 blankets. 26 shoes, 26 school uniforms, 26 of everything!…. I thought the van would burst but when we arrived at the orphanage the children were so excited.
But I also knew that it was important that eventually Jeewan Uttan should be able to be partially self-supporting. Towards that end, funds have been provided for them to start their own business selling candles, incense, and soap. Within twelve months, they should be able to earn about one third of their budgetary needs.
Now things at the orphanage are much more stable and since basic needs like food, clothing, bedding, and transportation are being taken care of on a regular basis, Bina can now concentrate on their psychological needs and issues related to their development. And there is time for fun! On my last visit I took all of the children for the day to Dragon World, an amusement park filled with rides including bumper cars and toy trains.
Bina also goes to her village in Eastern Nepal every month in Melanchi District. I accompanied her there in November 2008. It is a bumpy four-hour bus ride and then a six-hour walk up a very steep Himalayan trail. When we reached the top, we found ourselves at a Buddhist monastery run by a forty-year old monk named Guru who was accompanied by nine boy monks who were also orphans. The beautiful two hundred and fifty year old monastery also functioned as an orphanage. It was in terrible condition with loads of termite damage, structural deficiencies, and water damage. After a long discussion, I learned that $1200 would completely restore the building. The labor would be provided for free by local villagers.
Since the monastery was also an orphanage, the funds could be provided by100 Friends. The renovations are now complete. 100 Friends also supplied food, clothing, school supplies, soap, toothbrushes and many other materials for the children. After we left the monastery, we still had three more days of trekking through Melanchi. Everywhere we went people recognized Bina. On several occasions, we met extremely poor people who needed medical attention. One man only had one foot and really needed a prosthetic device. Another man needed to go to an eye hospital to save his vision. A widow with five children needed foot surgery on both of her feet- she hadn’t walked properly for fifteen years! All of these people (and more) were eventually brought to Kathmandu and all received treatments that were successful.
We also met a boy named Sanjay. Sanjay had no parents and was “looked after” by a mean, alcoholic grandfather who often beat him and worked him far too hard. After one beating, his shin was badly broken and never repaired leaving Sanjay crippled. He had never been to school or held a book. Now he is the twentieth child in Bina’s orphanage and happily going to school. His leg will have to be broken in surgery but I am assured he will be playing soccer by summer.
But we are most excited about a program that has a high chance of being funded for at least the next five years. For several years I have been endeavoring to create a program to help prevent the trafficking of young girls into sexual (and work) slavery and also to rescue and rehabilitate girls already trafficked. I have been trying to start such a program in Cambodia but I found it to be not only difficult but, as I later learned, potentially extremely dangerous.
I was stymied until I met Bina. She also wanted to start such a program, but she never had the funds or a foreign partner. I have a potential donor, connections and a certain amount of experience. Her Tamang community in Eastern Nepal has been suffering from this activity for many years. She knows where and how this problem exists and together we have determined what type of program could be developed to protect and assist hundreds if not thousands of poor young little girls at risk. I have no doubt that this program will be in operation within 6-8 months.
So all of this (and more to come!) has happened as a result of a chance meeting in a restaurant in Kathmandu last year. One can only wonder where it will all lead.