S: Senior Project 2014
FC: Experiencing a | Nepali Orphanage
1: Preface | I started this journey about six months ago. Yes, this was a school project, but for me it was more than that. Helping kids has always been my passion, but had not extended much further than the Bay Area. Wanting some perspective on orphanages to prior to my trip, , I researched "typical" orphanages and their effects on children. There were some devastating finds. As I will talk about in this book, Ama Ghar (the orphanage I visited at) was a type of orphanage that had not shown up in my research. It was a home, not a temporary living environment. These kids inspired me with their strength, courage, and determination in everything they did.
3: Statistics | Statistics for Nepali children are devastating, and here are a few: - 41% of children leave home due to family violence, and 19% for economic reasons - 75% of homeless boys are sexually abused, usually doing it for money, a small fee of around $3 - At least 40,000 children are bonded laborers - Over 5,000 children are working and living on the streets - Nepal has the number one child disappearance rate in the world - One in three children drop out of school Statistics on orphanages worldwide: - Over 7 million children are in institutional care worldwide - Every day 5,760 more children become orphans - An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year Although kids at Ama Ghar are defying some of these statistics, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, labor, and poverty are just a few of the reasons why they have ended up there in the first place. If it was not for an orphanage like Ama Ghar, there is no telling where these children would be.
5: Education | In many of the conversations I have had with both staff and the children, school tends to come up frequently. Nepali school goes much faster than American. Pre-Calculus is a fourth or fifth grade subject opposed to a 12th grade subject. After high school in Nepal (10th grade), there are a few different options for schooling, and each child at Ama Ghar will choose a different path. Because kids in orphanages are working before they arrive, move around a lot, and/or have developmental issues from growing up in an unstable environment, their age may not match their grade level. A 10 year old girl here is in a second grade class, usually meant for 7-8 year olds. This is because she is new at Ama Ghar and had issues in her last orphanage. Once you are done with high school, 10th grade, you are off to college, which is 11th and 12th. Some children opt out if they are not the academic types, and will go onto skill training. This is like vocational school in America. Some kids are going into the beauty industry, one wants to go be an actor in Hollywood or Bollywood, and another wants to be a flight attendant so she can travel the world. After 12th grade, there is Bachelors, what we call “university” or “college.” There are kids who are going into sociology, business and many other career paths.
7: Role Models | Without a stable parent, children can easily go astray. That is why it is important that the children have someone to be a similar figure in their lives. With four house-mothers and a couple of house-fathers at Ama Ghar, that are considered by the children as “aunts” and “uncles,” there seems to be plenty of love and attention available. In many orphanages, there is a staff. Children create bonds, yes, but the staff members are more there to enforce rules and keep the children on task. It is only a job for them Although this remains true at Ama Ghar, the staff maintains a high trust level for the children if they ever need to talk. And the biggest thing: they treat them like real children. They give the children chores, they make dinner with the help of the kids, and are there for any and all support. For children with unstable parents or nonliving parents, they cannot survive alone. The maturity that these kids have is unbelievable, but at the end of the day they are not much different than you and I in their hopes and desires. Those who work at Ama Ghar respect that to the fullest. Without these people, the kids would not thrive in the same ways.
9: Recreating a Family | In Nepal, about 95% of children living in orphanages have at least one parent still living. And because the children are most likely coming from the 25% in of families in Nepal that are below the international poverty line of $1.25 in US dollars, it leaves the parents wanting to better their kids lives, or unwilling to raise the child. And although these families still exist, and the children are well aware of it, Ama Ghar is a new stable family for them. There are about three sets of real siblings in the home, but you wouldn't know it because the bonds are all just as close. Some children will visit family very rarely yet sometimes on holidays or when there is a death in the family, but for the most part they stay at Ama Ghar. The older ones take care of the younger kids and the younger kids are always inclusive of visitors and new children entering Ama Ghar.
11: Structure & Normality | Orphanages have been coined by experts as "a form of child abuse," because the minimal room for development and such strict structure. Studies have shown that this causes developmental disabilities both physically and mentally. However, the kids at Ama Ghar seem to act similarly to children in America. They go on Facebook without permission, have basic chores, and beg for cell phones. The head of the orphanage says that she has even gotten criticism from schools that the children have "too much" free time, which is about an hour after school. As seen to the left, the children have a schedule, but it is very typical. Children are asked to keep their rooms clean, they take turns preparing meals and cleaning dishes, and are allowed to go on Facebook twice a week for an our a time (although this rule is often broken). On weekends, the kids have endless play time (other than an hour on Sundays for studying), and will stay up late watching Bollywood films. Many of these kids are used to discipline from before they were at Ama Ghar, and many of the kids have to be taught how to play, quite the opposite of a "normal" orphanage situation. But during their hour of free time everything is happening. As I sat on the porch, I watched as the boys played tennis and cricket, the young girls made up games in the sandbox and play structure, and the teenagers read "Seventeen" and chatted.
12: Kid's Stories & Anecdotes
15: When I first met Sabina, she was shy but warm, and quickly she became attached and outgoing. She had just been at Ama Ghar a couple of weeks, and was only there temporarily as her paperwork was being processed for another home. You would never know it because she was so close to all the girls her age. Sabina had just gotten out of a orphanage by the name of "Happy Home." And sadly, this was anything but. The man running the home was involved in sex trafficking and was selling the kids in the orphanage. Luckily, the man was arrested quickly and Sabina was a child who escaped and got into another home quickly. In Nepal, around 10,000-15,000 girls are trafficked into India and sold into Indian brothels and forced to become prostitutes annually.
17: Rehka is one of the most lovable little girls. More often than not she is attached to an older girl or playing with the group of younger ones. Her smile is contagious. However her story is probably the most upsetting. Rekha is at Ama Ghar because she witnessed her father murdering her mother, and her father is currently in prison. She has since developed PTSD. She talks about the experience in her sleep often and has nightmares. Along with that, she has attachment issues. She was once the youngest kid in the orphanage and held the most attention, but the new children recently arriving has proved hard for Rekha. Because she is young, the pain is still fresh and obvious to others. Many of the older children express it much less and in not as obvious ways.
19: Having a conversation with the head of Ama Ghar, she explained that the staff often remind the children of their support if they ever need to talk. However, sometimes kids will express their emotions in other ways. Jenuka, along with her sister Menuka, were the first two children brought to Ama Ghar and Jenuka tells everyone proudly. She is loud and outgoing, and for that reason, she was asked to write a piece of slam poetry for a competition between a few schools in the area. She asked me to help her, but this is as far as she got when I came over. Although I never learned Jenuka's story, this poem was enough. She was always quite positive and curious about so much. We talked almost every day about subjects ranging from from One Direction to school. And she always had a friend on her arm. So reading her honest words opened my eyes and reminded me of the pain that many of these kids have gone through and how strong they remain. They seemed so together it was hard to remember sometimes. | Self Expression
20: S | Sandesh
21: Sandesh is such a kind-hearted teenage boy. Every morning I would be greeted with a huge smile. But he has had a hard upbringing. Sandesh's father was abusive to both him and his brother. He moved into Ama Ghar while his father was still alive, and he still felt ties to him which held him back. When Sandesh's father died, the staff say he changed a lot. A burden had been lifted of knowing that he would be safe from harm now definitively. In Nepal, about 80% of reported cases of violences, the perpetrator was a member of the family, usually the father. A recent study from the Better Care Network claims, "research has shown that children in orphanages can face a higher risk for violence and abuse than in family settings, especially if they are disabled. These risks stem from a variety of sources, including staff and other children." And in many cases this is quite true, yet Ama Ghar strongly disagrees with physical punishment.
24: JOURNEY | INCREDIBLE
27: Works Cited | "Children's Statistics." Worldwide Orphan Statistics. Web. 20 May 2014.