This email was sent back to my friends and family after I spent a week in Humla in April of last year, returning seven children to their home district. It was such a moving experience that I wanted to share it, from the response that I received from this mail I decided to share it further with all of Umbrella’s supporters.
I have decided to send this email for two reasons:
1. I am stuck in the hottest place on earth for nine hours waiting for a bus to Kathmandu that will take 17 hours (I have never dreaded a bus journey and been impatient for one in such equal measure before) so have lots of time to burn.
2. Had a really interesting week and felt it warranted an email.
I have just landed in Nepalgunj after spending a week in Humla. Humla is a really remote area, altitude 3000m, in the far west of Nepal, you can almost see India, Pakistan’s K2 and China from its hills. It takes a 17 hour bus journey and a flight to get to its capital, Simikot. If you couldn’t fly it would take about 3 weeks trekking!
Humla is an extremely poor district, it is a different type of poverty than anything I have experienced before. When I volunteered Calcutta I saw people living on the streets on or in ‘slums’ with nothing at all, and with the juxtaposition of the relative wealth around them the poverty always seemed more violent, as if all was ripped from them. Humla on the other hand was different; everybody had nothing! It was poverty in the survival sense, everyone was working the land or tending to a flock of one just to survive that day, to feed their family that night but it was their way of life, there was an element of ‘ignorance is bliss’ about it all.
This poverty leaves families extremely vulnerable to child trafficking. Men go into these poor, uneducated villages, offer families the opportunity to send their children to amazing schools in KTM and all for the low low price of, maybe $50, $100 or $150. That may seem like a low low price, but these families often sell what ever land and/or livestock they have and are still in dept years later, all for the chance to give their children a future. The lucky ones do make it to KTM, often in shitty homes where they are forced to beg, starved and never go to school, but they are still the lucky ones, some go to India, especially the girls and are forced into domestic servitude or the sex trade!
An organization that Umbrella work closely with, Next Generation Nepal, work in this district and have recently opened a children’s home there to return trafficked children who ended up in Kathmandu back to their communities. Reunification (putting children back with their families) is not always possible or in the best interest of the child, there might not be any schools, they are a high risk of being re-trafficked and after spending years in KTM its often not fair to return them to this way of life and take away their hopes of an education, but opening this home in Simikot, they still have access to education and health care and most importantly they are close to their families (max 6 days walk-relatively close) so can return home at the holidays and can at least grow up surrounded by their customs, culture and people! From here the bridges can be built between the child and the family unit and the chance of reunification grows.
So Umbrella has 7 kids from Humla who were select to join this house. Majority of them were trafficked to KTM and haven’t been home in over 3 years, they left when they were 4 years old and haven’t seen their families since!!! So i was the lucky one who got to take them home!
Last Monday I set off with seven kids on a bus journey from hell! We didn’t get on the bus at its first stop so that meant we didn’t get proper seats, I was sitting on a bench beside the bus driver with three kids, the largest Nepali woman I have seen to date and a man who fancied my shoulder as a pillow! I had 100 plastic bags with me convinced the kids would get sick the entire way and had anticipated 100 “are we there yet”s before we left the Kathmandu valley.
The kids were great, never complained, slept (on me), for most of the journey, only asked for water and didn’t get sick once! A triumph! The bus brought us to Surkhet. We had 2 days to kill there while we waited for flight to Simikot. The flight had been delayed as fighting had broken out between the police and the army in Simikot so a curfew was in place (always good to hear about your intended destination).
On the second day the curfew was lifted and all flights were going on schedule! We were off! We boarded a plane that I would have to imagine was last serviced by one of the Wright brothers, and had emergency notes written in biro on the walls!!! But it flew despite all expectations! The kids were terrified, about the flight, the new home and returning to the homes and families they had left years before.
The flight in was spectacular! Humla is literally nestled amongst beautiful hills surrounded by breathtaking mountains! We were welcomed at the airport by the NGN team and the new house parents, but better still some of the kids families were there to meet them!! It was so amazing to be there for it!
We went to the new house, the kids wasted no time in claiming a bed, scoping out the place, figuring out where they could jump, impale, injure, sever limbs the quickest and of course get acquainted with their new friends! One of our girl’s mother and father arrived and it was a really moving scene, I don’t think I can capture it here with out sounding cheesey but it was really beautiful. The mother and father couldn’t stop crying as they examined every inch of their little girl who they hadn’t seen in 4 years! She just wiped the tears from her moms face and let them examine her and she assured her that she was ok and happy. Not much was said but I couldn’t help but cry a bit too. I felt so humbled to have been there for that reunion!
Another father and mother came who were as preoccupied about meeting me as their son! They gave me a Tika (blessing) and told me that they were not going to make the 5 day trek back to their village until I left, they would stay out of respect and carry my bags for me to the airport! They had their concerns about their boy leaving KTM, the perceived holy land of education in Nepal, so I had a lot of explaining to do on behalf of Umbrella but I think having their boy back made their anger ebb and the conviction of their argument subside! Much to my relief!
We spent a few days trekking around the place, enjoying the scenery, clean air, peace and quiet and then on Sunday the kids had their first day at school. In Umbrella we send the kids to private, English medium schools, in Simikot they will attend the government school. I walked them to school and was like a brooding mother waiting for them to return to tell me all about their first day at a new school! Well the verdict wasn’t great! “Sister, the school is toooooo dirty”, :Sister, the toilet is toooooo bad, only long toilet no short” (I’ll let you figure out what a long toilet means) “Sister the children are too noisey” “The children fight”…..our kids are soft it would seem! NGN have plans to work on it and improve the standards there and as they have fostered a strong relationship with the school management committee we are confident that they will be able to make big improvements to the school, thus benifiting not only the ‘NGN’ kids but the greater comunity!
Another new arrival to the home was a 2 year old girl who was sent to Kathmandu by her father who got remarried after her mother died. It is a pretty common story, one parent dies, the other remarries and the children from the previous marriage are rejected. So this baby is a temperamental little thing who could really scream the house down and, for some unknown reason, the only thing that would stop her crying was me?! If I picked her up, entered the room, sat besifde her she was grand! She had to sleep with me, eat with me, walk with me, everything unless we wanted to hear her cry for hours! But I wasn’t gona be there forever so we had to start to wean her off me. She wasn’t too happy but tough love saw her through. Not before she gave me a few parting gifts, a kiss on the cheek, a big wave, a brutal cough and I suspect knits! Cheers!!!
I left yesterday and all the kids came to the airport with me, more than one tried to get into my bags to come too and of course the father I mentioned before came to see me off! I was so sad to leave them, nervous about their education, sad to say goodbye to the kids I had gotten so close to and sad to be leaving the beautiful setting of Simikot! I am happy I got to see the project for my self as I had many reservations about this move, was it the right decision, would the children thank us when they were adults, could they end up trafficked again??? Having seen it first hand I am more convinced that it was the right move to make, the childrne will be happier here and this is the home that they need and deserve.
Amy (February 2011)