The political situation has not changed much in Nepal. Now and then there are talks between Maoists and the government, which do not bear any fruit of course. By end of May the prime minister, who was nominated by the King, resigned because he could no longer bear the pressure put on him by all parties. They demand fresh elections and the restoration of democracy. Last October the King had dissolved the parliament and since that time he rules the country through a cabinet formed by himself. The outcome was that left- and right-wing members of parliament demonstrate together and for days sit in protest on the ground before the parliamentary building. Basically the Maoists support this movement, for they also demand new elections, but they gradually are becoming nervous and threaten to resume their armed resistance in the jungle, unless there will be fruitful negotiations. Their leaders again went underground and the tension is growing in the whole country. Thus time passes away without anything positive happening. The destitute are becoming poorer and poorer and nobody cares for them. Due to our new engagement in the slums of Kathmandu, "Children's World", is now becoming aware of the misery outside their own little "paradise" and our children are horrified by the scenes in the slums.
The alphabetisation school has been a real flop! In spite of all our efforts and the help offered by a nearby school, which made its classrooms available both morning and evening, just one young woman turned up to the announced lesson! It was somehow frustrating and we decided that if the illiterate do not come to us, we would have to go to their places. After much discussion we luckily met Hukum Lama, who coordinates the committees of all 66 slum areas in Kathmandu. He himself comes from such a slum and has achieved something in life. Now as a retired man he helps people from slums on an honorary basis. These people have come from far-away villages and now illegally occupy land in the Kathmandu valley. They have built clusters of huts with corrugated sheets and are afraid of being driven away by the government. Therefore they have grouped themselves into committees, to prevent strangers from entering their slums. Without Hukum Lama they just would have chased us away, although there were mostly Nepalese in our group. Many were suspicious in the beginning and even hostile, and only after we provided them a cemented platform for the well (which otherwise is surrounded by mud), where women wash their laundry and fetch water, did they start to trust us. Just opposite there were - also surrounded by mud - three empty rooms, which once upon a time were meant to be kind of a school. First of all, the slum people were taken aback, when the new teachers - our girls Sija, Samjhana and Umda - got their hands dirty and started cleaning the dilapidated rooms. Only after this were they ready to cooperate with us. Since they feared we might withdraw again after a short time, the committee insisted on an agreement. After lengthy discussions we reached an agreement - and moreover the contract resulted in our favour. It stipulates that if the number of students drops below 35 we shall close down the school, taking our desks and benches with us. With some initial exceptions, parents are sticking to this regulation and are sending their children to school, also because they fear the committee.
First of all children are taught at the well how to clean their bodies and then the lessons start. Sija recently wrote in an e-mail to us that children are now slightly cleaner when they come to the class. The committee undertakes in the agreement to guarantee for the safety of our girls. Yet the area is known for its criminal activities, both big and small. Muna has been placed as a teacher in another slum area, where a school was run before, but they had no means to employ an English-teacher. In that school we also committed ourselves to pay the school fees for 20 children, whose parents are disabled, for one year; they cannot pay the fees, however small they might be. After their teaching activity all four girls pursue their regular studies. It makes them happy to be able to pass on the help they received to others. In this way the somewhat egoistic mentality of "Children's World" slowly starts changing for better, and many others would like to join in the project, if their time-table would permit. Of course we give these girls a salary, the same amount which other teachers receive in the beginning, 2000 NRs. a month (at present 10-11 Euro). Half of the amount they have to hand over to the Children's home for food and shelter, and we continue to pay their university fees as well as their medical expenses. This kind of activity gives us satisfaction, and we are assured that nothing will go wrong, for it is our own students to whom we assigned this task and through them we can control and monitor our project. We are well aware that we shall not be able to transform the slums into a new paradise like "Children's World", but through this "grass-roots" work of education and schooling we can achieve a lot, we reach out to more and more poor children and after fourteen years of our engagement in Nepal this new work seems to be of utmost urgency. Moreover our students gain themselves a lot from this experience for their own development.
Within two years our contract with the present house owner will run out, for he will need the house for himself. Rent has risen to extreme heights (for our house at present about 600 Euro per month). Other small societies which were bold enough to construct their own houses show that their way is worth imitating. 10 years is a period in which the house already would have been paid off, and moreover we would not have to pay rent anymore. We are considering this issue. A house would cost roughly 75.000 Euro. Half of the children, the elder ones, will move out within two years and then live in shared flats and houses, and gradually become independent. Only 25 children will remain with us. The new children's home would be not only a smaller version of Children's World, but also a central meeting point and office for our external activities. But it also would serve as a shelter for our elder staff members, where they could stay as long as they are alive. With a normal Nepalese salary of 1.500 to 2.500 NRs (17 to 29 Euro) plus food, shelter and medical care they are very well off at the moment. But what will they do later on? Will their children, who do not specially excel as students, be able and willing to support them? This is a big concern for us. The earthquake-proof house will be integrated into eight interlocked living units. Once our staff members die, the various rooms would not go automatically to their children, but primarily be used for education-purposes under the supervision of Khim. We take our time in drawing up the contract. But one thing is for certain: We as Children's Aid to Nepal and as foreigners are not entitled to own property in Nepal, and the contract partly relies - especially if we are no longer there - on our confidence in our Nepalese friends. Most of all we would like to have a young man, who could gradually acquaint himself with the project and who would later on, after our final "withdrawal", fully manage the whole project.
Raj Kumar is lovingly cared for by his "father" Meghraj, as he himself calls him, and he found a new friend, the bitch Lisbeth. We saved her in spite of Khim, after she had been run over by a car. He protested strongly because of the cost, which her treatment would bring us, and argued that we should rather spend the money on a human being. There was a real quarrel. So again we put the issue to a vote, as we used to do before in such cases in Children's World. Result: All voted against Khim: Lisbeth has been cured, she likes good people and is very useful against thieves, who prowl at night around the house. In this way one night our neighbour's living room was emptied, whereas the thieves afraid of Lisbeth's barking spared our house. Even Khim had to admit this in the end.
We admitted two new girls, Sangita and Sunita, who will sit for their school-leaving exam next year - for the time being for one year. They were serving as house maids and had no time to study. Goma came from New Delhi to spend her holidays in Kathmandu as every year. From next year onwards she will study in Nepal, for just as with Shree Krishna India has spoilt her. Both of them are astonishingly arrogant and impudent, therefore we decided to keep them better in Kathmandu in our control. Sree Krishna now attends a good college in Kathmandu and despite his initial protests feels comfortable there. We took Goma along to the slums. Though she could not see anything, the stench prevailing there was sufficient to give her a shock. Our little princess, who only thinks for herself, was suddenly faced with the poverty and distress beyond her blind world. Misery and poverty now have become real terms for all in Children's World, and often there are discussions what could be done… and in which way.
All children and adults send you their heartfelt greetings and thanks. We shall write you again in December and send the receipts for your donations of 2003. In the meantime we wish you all the best. Best Wishes.