Compassion – One Year Report

This is a report from a recent two time volunteer at the orphanage:

Then (2010)

It’s been one year since the first time I visited Nepal to volunteer with the orphanage of Glorious Ministries. Working with the children left such a lasting impression on me that I have been boring my friends to tears talking about them, and aching to come back and see them again.

Two things struck me when I first arrived. First the poverty of the conditions the children were living in, and second, the happiness they exuded despite their circumstances. At that time the orphanage only had electricity every other day, and then, only for a couple of hours in that day. This is common in Nepal, but so difficult when you have 20 children huddled around candles trying to study. It’s no surprise so many of the children need glasses at a very early age. Candles are costly and sometimes school books would catch fire, obviously it was not the best situation.

Add to that their water well was only functional when there was electricity. In developed countries its only after a natural disaster like an earthquake that we realise the value of water. While at the orphanage I remember a particular week where we went without water for several days. Dishes piled up and gathered flies in the kitchen, I had never been without showering for so long in my life. For a country that uses a hand-washing system in the toilet… when there’s no water, sometimes there’s no option but to gather your courage and pull your pants up without so much as even a wipe. The children’s skin became encrusted with dirt and build up and there were no clean clothes to change into. Water was reserved for cooking only, as there is always a mountain of rice to be cooked to feed the children.

On that occasion I recall one of the staff breaking into the well so we could bypass the electric system and gather water freely when we wanted. This would have been great if not for the fact that we then had to use a bucket and rope (phenomenally harder than I imagined), and the water was no longer filtered by the machine from grits and the general filth in the well. From then on water was filtered into bowls through the children’s school shirts to make sure it was relatively grit free before attempting to cook. When washing I’m not sure how much cleaner the clothes got with that water, but at the very least, we were able to remove some of the filth off the children, which was a feat in itself.

Sometimes the problem was too much water. The kitchen, and I use that term loosely, was a concrete shed with a tin roof balanced precariously on metal rods. The walls were black and sticky with cooking grime, and the children sat on grass mats to eat in the dark. That was the condition it was in before the landlord gave it to them, and no amount of cleaning or rain leaking down the walls could fix it. It was on one of those rainy, leaky nights, when I was thinking how great it was to have water, that I learnt the dangers of water as well. The kitchen doubled as a store room for food. The orphanage had recently been gifted enough money to buy a few months worth of rice for the children. The rain invaded the food stores and all the rice was soaked. I didn’t know this until the next morning when I woke to find three square metres of mountains of rice drying on the roof. Even with the Nepali sun in full force, they lost a lot of that rice.

Despite these conditions, which I was far from used to, the children were always really happy. I was surprised and inspired by their cheeriness throughout their duties (building and heavy lifting for the boys, and non-stop cooking/cleaning for the girls). In my sickness, it was the smiling faces of the children that lifted my spirits. Considering there were twenty of them crammed into three bedrooms, I was surprised there was not more fighting. I’m not saying there wasn’t fighting, but I’m surprised there was not more.

I left Nepal and the children in amazement at what is inside an airplane. After seeing it through their eyes, I too can’t believe that airplanes provide a cushioned seat for each person, a light and fan for each person, a TV, music, food delivered to your seat, a flushing toilet! It slowly dawned on me what luxury we live in, and what luxury we still manage to complain about.

Now (2011)

It’s been a year since then, and in that time Compassion Nepal was founded and started donating to Glorious Ministries orphanage. Not many people get the chance to see the results of donations, to see how the few dollars we give can make such an impact in other’s lives. As eager as I was to visit and see the children again, and as keen as I was to see how our money had helped, I was not looking forward to living in such poverty again.

Imagine how surprised I was to find the new house was no different to the standards of New Zealand (for those of you who don’t know, the orphanage had to move residence due to their landlord reclaiming their house as well as attacks on the children from local gangs). The new house has electricity, running water with a water filter (the previous water filter was a clay jar), more bedrooms to allow the children to grow in their own space and a new kitchen, unblackened by time, and noticeably free of flies. The kitchen possibly impressed me the most as you may recall the previous kitchen was a filth-sticky, dark, concrete shed, with fly-ridden grass mats on which we ate. At first I thought, this house is too fancy to be an orphanage, and just as quickly, I was angered by my ridiculous thinking. Why is it that we think the poor must remain poor for us to donate to them. Are we not giving so that they can have the same opportunities as us?

When the children came home from school to meet us, a year older, a year smarter, I noticed a peace about them which had not been there last time. These children are happy, they are safe and they are building confidence in themselves, their situation and their abilities. By no means is this the end of need for them. Now comes the struggle for Glorious Ministries to maintain these conditions and provide security for the future these children are building for themselves.

This years school uniforms and fees have been paid for. One girl, the smallest, finally has a girls uniform this year, prior to this she used the sullied, hand-me-downs from the boys. This, plus her short haircut to prevent lice has always meant she was mistaken for a boy. Just yesterday she proudly announced herself on the staircase so I could see her in her uniform skirt. Aside from the potential in the children, there is also land next to the house which will be planted in for the orphanage. They have started turning the soil; a plot the size of a football field turned with just five hand ploughs. The children work hard in the soil, taking turns when they become tired. They never shy away from work, always ready to help and work diligently for whatever is needed. Last year they worked hard building a wall around the house for protection, and this year they work hard on the earth which will provide them food and a much needed buffer to the vegetable budget. This time, they were allowed to play in the mud after work and I have never seen children so happy, I have never seen these children get the opportunity to play like children, as they did then. Before they would have been scolded for getting their clothes dirty if even a little mud got on them because water was so scarce, but now they played and slid in the muddy water to their hearts content, knowing that a hose was ready to wash them before they went inside for a bath.

It is these, and other such luxuries that we take for granted that we now want to provide for the children. After seeing them living like this, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Thanks also to everyone who has helped on this journey.

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