The worldwide recession certainly also has serious economic repercussions in Nepal, and one wonders, how much greater the misery of the people can become. A small, but for some people, a big hope appeared at the end of January. One day there was a rumour in Kathmandu that the two rebel leaders, Dr Baburam Bhattarai and Prachandra, had landed in an army helicopter in the middle of the night in the royal palace and had held a five-hour conversation with the king. Although the next morning this cinema-like version of the story was denied, newspapers reported that, indeed, serious negotiations between the two parties had taken place. It was decided that Maoists would not be referred to as "terrorists" anymore and that Interpol would no longer hunt their bosses with a head-bounty of $ 65,000 per person. [Naturally also waived was the double-so-high head-bounty, which the rebels had offered, in answer, for the head of the King!]
Political talks were announced for the coming week, and most political prisoners were released. Now, three months later, the parties could not yet agree on anything concrete; but the truce holds firm, and the army carries foodstuff by helicopter to a region, where more than 25.000 rebels are starving. For the king, the situation had become untenable, for he knew, had he continued like this, he would have lost his throne. On the other side the Maoists very well knew that they could not fight against the ultramodern high-tech weapons that the king had received as a gift from George W. Bush. People are now waiting to see what is going to happen. But to find a solution, which is acceptable to both sides, seems to be impossible. As a good start, due to the pressure from the Maoist ideology, an anti-corruption commission has been formed, which after thorough investigation relentlessly sends corrupt politicians and officials to prison. The fear of such investigations also grows among the middle class, which now is also being scrutinized closely. Whilst last year all kinds of documents, permits and rulings could still be obtained by money, such a thing is past, for everybody has to be afraid these days that their evil deeds might be uncovered.
The army finally accepted our soldier Bhagat, and at present he is undergoing a hard training in the jungle. Since he will - as the saying goes in Kathmandu - also serve the "people's army" he feels better now. He promised us if he ever were ordered to kill someone, he would just shoot to the side and miss his target…
Staying in Kathmandu always brings the unexpected. One morning our driver Rajendra came to us with his wife and their one-month old baby in their arms. The baby has to be admitted immediately to hospital, for otherwise it will die, he told us and said he had no money to pay for the costs. In theory all employees of our children's home, as well as all children, get free medical aid from us. But it was never agreed upon to extend this help also to all of their numerous relatives. In that case we would have to close down Children's World and open a hospital instead! But after we had a closer look at the baby we were shocked to see how terribly thin it was. The Nepalese doctor at once diagnosed malnutrition combined with pneumonia.
Rajendra and Fullmaya, the parents, themselves well fed, for weeks were unwittingly looking on their child was slowly dying in their arms! It was never hungry and never wept, Fullmaya told. But the baby had long since been too week to even drink milk from its mother's breast. The doctor himself looked dejected and told us that, unfortunately, this case was not unusual, and how despairing he was about the ignorance of the people in his country. After the child was discharged two weeks later, Sarshoti and Meena, along with some bigger children, regularly visit Rajendra and instruct the mother how to handle child and household hygienically.
We try to make the older children familiar with the thought that soon they will have to live in student communities, so that they learn to be on their own. We shall support them by paying their expensive university fees and by supplying them with what is called in Kathmandu "dry foodstuff"; such as beans, lentils, rice, soybeans, spices etc. But as regards the rest they shall have to get along on their own. This prospect does not please our dear children - they feel very well in the comfortable nest of Children's World and would like best, if nothing ever changed in this happy state of affairs…
Our most difficult child, Bharat, continues to give problems. After four years of school he knows neither the Nepalese nor the English alphabets. However, in his class he is the boss of a small "gang". Khim, who only has trouble with him, already found a distant relative of the boy in Southern Nepal, which is an especially poor region. From now on Bharat should better stay there, for he would, he felt, in any case never achieve anything. There were hot discussions, sometimes with all the children together. The boy is eight, a full orphan, and it was evident to all that he would certainly become a street-kid, if we sent him away. In order to arrive at a decision, a ballot was cast, and all - except Khim of course - voted that Bharat should stay for some more time in Children's World. Especially those staff members, who suffered most from his mischief, caringly gave him their support. Naturally it is difficult to burden Khim with such a child, for day by day he has to answer for his deeds. Bharat is slightly mentally disabled and retarded, but since there is no suitable institution for him in Nepal, we hope that after a few years he might be able to learn at least some manual skill.
Since the solar heating device was not enough for all, a friend from Nürnberg told he was ready to pay for a second one for the children's home. Unfortunately the roof could not support a second water tank, and instead we got installed three electric water heaters in the bathrooms. Now nobody can have an excuse anymore for running about dirty in the cold winter months.
Further preparations are being made for the project of the literacy school. The school, which our small children attend by paying heavy fees, from 6 to 9 a.m., puts their classrooms free of cost at our disposal. And Khim is about to print pamphlets that will be distributed in the government schools.
These government schools are of a rather low level, but they do not demand much money, and poorer families send at least one boy to attend such a school. Through these children we try to reach the other family members, and we shall see whether the project will function or not. Not only in the whole of Nepal, but also in Kathmandu, illiteracy is high, and it is not unusual to see men squatting in a circle listening to one of them reading out the newspaper.
Raj Kumar's strength declines further, but everybody else in the children's home is fine. The fear of a long predicted earthquake grows, and the few inhabitants of Kathmandu who are rich enough now build in an earthquake safe manner for their own needs. Yet on the day of a disaster most buildings will collapse like a house of cards. We consulted an architect, who claims he would be able to make the house safe for 5,000 Euro. But, because of the rebuilding, children would have to be for weeks without a roof over their heads, and, moreover, the landlord refuses to permit such work. It is the Indian continental shelf that is giving trouble. It is sliding slowly, under the Himalayas, and from 1955 to 1999 Mount Everest has gotten two meters higher. The thought of such a catastrophe is a nightmare for us, leaving us totally helpless. For as much as we try to find a solution, our efforts are in vain. Our Nepalese children and our staff accept it as it is and do not worry. "Since we cannot do anything about it", they say, "it is better not to think much about it". Our Western mentality of worrying about the future is somehow out of place here!
Also the war in Iraq, which here in Germany brought so many students to the streets, was registered despite satellite-TV without any emotion and from afar by Children's World. "Of course it is terrible", elder children told us, "but we really would feel ridiculous, if we went to the street to protest against it!" Other country, other manners and a totally different mentality, which after fourteen years of working with Nepal still often makes us furious, but from which we, in retrospect, always gained a lot.
Our hearty thanks for your faithful support in this work and love and best wishes to you all for the time ahead!
We picked up Sumitra as a six-year old, an undernourished girl at night from the street. According to what she told us her family, presumably nomads from India, abandoned her. Her brothers were fed regularly , and she only got what remainders they did not like to eat. One fine morning when she awoke, she found herself alone in the midst of Kathmandu's traffic. In order to provide her a good chance for her future life we gave her the family name Panday, which in Hinduism means belonging to a "higher caste". Today Sumitra is 15 years old.