Once again the hard winter has taken over in Nepal and people wait for the sun's first rays to leave their unheated homes and huts. The country's situation is catastrophic. The population is bitterly disappointed in the inability of politicians to improve conditions and slowly splits into numerous ethnic groups that make all sorts of unreasonable demands. This situation causes even more distrust and hostility among the people. The international donors have announced that they are no longer supporting Nepal due to the uncertain political situation and the general corruption. As a consequence there are almost no companies that are willing to invest in the country. With electricity outages averaging 7 hours a day, it is challenging to start up even small factories. Due to the general malnutrition of children in the country - especially in remote regions - many children die before their fifth birthday from diarrhea, cholera and pneumonia.
The Nepalese newspapers have only weakly denied the charge that the 1000 Nepalese UN Peace Keepers who were stationed in Haiti have brought cholera back to Nepal. Everyone who knows the country realizes that cholera breaks out here and there, especially in summer, even if it has not yet developed into a major epidemic. Those who know the extremely low level of education of Nepalese soldiers might wonder why men who have grown up from childhood in poverty and poor sanitary conditions were sent by the United Nations for such an important role in relieving the misery of Haiti. The answer is simple: Nepalese soldiers are cheap, even if these low wages mean a lot to them, and enable them to feed their families in Nepal. So they do not hesitate to go to the most dangerous crisis regions in the world, including Afghanistan.
10 or 20 years ago the Nepalese were a very friendly people; now they are often aggressive and brutal. To go shopping in the narrow streets of Kathmandu to buy what we need for our work in the slums has become a real challenge: you are pushed around, kicked and spat upon when you do not jump quickly enough to the side when someone in a hurry wants to pass. And there is no chance of buying anything without having to elbow your way aggressively through the crowd!
Nevertheless, our work in the slum communities continue, and the people are grateful for what we are able to accomplish. Our nutrition program for children continues in four slum areas helping about 500 children to grow up healthy under improving conditions. Our annual medical examinations have confirmed the improvements: this year we needed to distribute only 50% of the amount of drugs that we needed to distribute last year for these same children. Parents are often not able to provide health care for their children due to lack of funds, so we do what we can. The baby Jitendra will need surgery soon to get a new heart valve. The girl Bindu suffers from a rare genetic disease, xeroderma pigmentosum, in which malignant tumors have disfigured her face. The cancer tissue was first removed from her eyes, which are now being treated by chemotherapy drops. Next doctors will operate on other areas of her face. If she had not hidden for a year in her hut, her nose could have been saved. Despite all efforts, this disease is incurable, and Bindu's life expectancy is probably only a few years.
During 2010 we handed out hundreds of winter jackets to children. The jackets we had provided the prior year had been worn to rags, as the children wore them day and night through the four months of winter. The women of Banshigat are still regularly cleaning up the slum alleys, a program we initiated in July. We decided to extend this program, which improves conditions for children and people in that they no longer need to live in mud or dust, by surfacing the main street in the slum. This is an important project we plan to expand in the coming years. We provided the community all the required materials such as stones, sand and cement for grouting. Initially the men said they were willing to participate in the work, but when it came time to actually start work it was more interesting for them to play cards and drink! So the women did the work. It was unbearable for us to see how the women struggled with this hard work, so we hired some skilled laborers to help. People in the slum generally like to be photographed, but they do not like it when people take pictures of men playing cards or drinking because they are ashamed of it and it makes them feel uncomfortable. It is the generally the women who feed the family; many men are simply hopeless alcoholics. 25% of the people in the slums survive by finding resellable items in garbage dumps. Most of the other women and some men survive through day labor at construction sites, where they do the heaviest work.
The highlight of our November stay in Kathmandu was the unexpected reunion of Sumitra with her mother Bhogiya. They had not seen each other for 18 years. We had found Sumitra as a very sick child of three alone in the tourist district. She belongs to the Maute caste of nomads, who generally spend the winter months in the slums. By chance Sija recently found a woman who claimed to know Sumitra's mother. The woman led us to a small tent camp where we found the long-awaited mother in incredibly miserable living conditions. Bhogiya told us that the former stepfather had sold Sumitra to a tourist during Bhogiya's absence . Bhogiya had searched desperately for her daughter for months, but in vain.
The reunion was touching, but was also a shock for Sumitra. We brought the mother and her new partner Kuseshwor out of the filthy tent camp and found them a place in the slum of Banshigat. A set of false teeth for him and the basic necessities for her and they were completely changed people. Bhogiya had never in her life slept in a bed. They now live in one of the rooms in the house of Bina, the responsible caretaker of the slum area. Bina watches over them and tells them carefully what to do. They earn their living by cleaning in the settlement each day. Sumitra, who had yearned so hard for maternal tenderness for 18 years, has suddenly found herself in the role of being her mother's mother. This is a difficult situation for them, because Sumitra must teach her mother everything that one typically learns as a child: to wash, to clean, to cook hygienically etc.
Today, with Renu, Laxmi and Muna together, Sumitra finished her studies as a health assistant. They will soon be sent into remote Himalayan villages where they will staff health posts performing the services of a doctor. "Real" Doctors refuse to leave the capital, and many young people take these three years of training. By western standards we would not consider them to be medically qualified, but in Nepal they are saving many lives. During a recent physical examination of 400 children from the slums the girls assisted the doctors and did a great job.
Although Children's World is no more, the former boys and girls who grew up with us often visit the apartment which Sija, Kusum and Prakash share. Prakash, the brother of Pramod who died of leukemia, has studied food science and now performs the book-keeping for the project, which Meena no longer provides. Our blind Goma visited us in Kathmandu after four years of study in India. She has written a letter for you all illustrated by Kusum to Goma's very specific instructions. Goma always knows exactly what she wants! None of our 60 children from Children's World has become rich, but they all live in much better circumstances than their parents did. And we now have 70 "grandchildren." It will be a long time before the term family planning is generally understood in the slums!
We simply continue our work with patience and acceptance of the limitations of what we can do. On behalf of the people from the slums we send you our heartfelt thanks for your indispensable support.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year