Saturday, March 29, 2014

Second Term Results

The Sam's House gang just finished their end-of-year exams, so I am very late in reporting their success on the second term tests, roughly two months ago.  Please excuse my delinquent work.

As usual, the children performed extremely well. More than 85% of the children placed in the top 10 of their classes.  And several children took top honors.

Maya -- first in class 8
Amrit -- second in class 7
Sabita -- third in class 7
Bishal -- second in class 5
Sharmila -- first in class 4
Dipa -- second in class 4
Pratima -- third in class 4 (these three girls have ranked 1-2-3 every term going back to last year)
Bibek -- third is class 2
Parwati -- first in class 1
Dipika -- third in class 1
Samjhana -- first in lower kindergarten
Ambika -- first in nursery

We hope you take pride in all the Sam's House children who work hard every day to make the most of the opportunities you have provided.  Special recognition again to Shiva, the house tutor, as well as house manager Ramila, and resident tutor Sangita, who guide the children every day through their homework and lessons.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Child Trafficking

This is a very difficult blog post to write because it deals with matters that we at Sam’s House take with the utmost seriousness.

In the last few years there has been a necessary and welcome upsurge in the awareness about and work against child trafficking. For years, child trafficking seemed to operate beyond the scope of possible law enforcement, affecting populations that are most vulnerable to this type of crime. At Sam’s House we feel we serve an ancillary role against child trafficking by providing another option for orphaned or at-risk children.

Anyhow, I thought it would be a proper moment to share some thoughts on child trafficking because you may have questions about how we deal with this issue—and other forms of child welfare malfeasance—at Sam’s House.

1) At Sam’s House we investigate the background of each and every child we admit. We meet with local government officials who testify to a child’s situation.  We interview neighbors and make sure that stories about the children are consistent and straight-forward. The people we interview sign papers as witnesses and we don’t admit a child unless this process is intact.

Our Nepali board has a subcommittee of three people who are specifically responsible for admissions. They share a fervent desire to serve needy children, but also to expose and/or resist potential trafficking cases.

This is more difficult to do than you might expect. Barely a week goes by when we don’t hear an appeal from someone wanting us to accept a child.  I’ve personally watched our director turn away weeping men and women because either we were full or because their case didn’t match our admission standards, or we felt there might be something unscrupulous at hand.  Of course it’s the right thing to do, but it’s very difficult in that place and time.

2) Orphanage is shorthand for a children’s home.  It does not mean that all the children are technically orphans.  But the term orphanage persists and some groups have seized upon this to imply that some children’s homes are fraudulent.

Several children at Sam’s House are what we term “at-risk,” meaning they live in dangerous situations, either with the potential to be trafficked or living in abusive situations (e.g., as domestic servants). As an example, one of the children at Sam’s House was living only with her mother who suffers terrible epilepsy, enduring multiple disabling seizures per day. This little girl was forced to cut grass, haul rocks, and perform other menial labor just to earn food for day to day survival. Now she lives at Sam’s House, thrives at school, and hopes to become a social worker because of her life experience.  At Deshain and other holidays, she visits her Mom, and will keep that contact.  We feel that your support is appropriate to support this girl.

This being said, children’s homes (or orphanages) have turned into a small cottage business here in Nepal and these institutions do seize upon well-meaning tourists for donations and support that are not spent on the children as they should be.  But this is an issue best addressed by the Nepali government and by tourists becoming more aware.

3) We comply with each and every regulation required by the Nepalese government. Not all children’s homes do this and they complain that the laws are unnecessary or that the bureaucracy makes it impossible to abide. There is little enforcement of these laws, true, but we feel it’s the best policy to dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

If you get involved with a children’s home that is not Sam’s House, ask to see the books (ours available here). Ask to know their admissions procedure.  Ask to see their certificates and government registration.  This is the best way to insure that a house is legitimate.

4) Finally--and this is less related to child trafficking issues--the home should be run by Nepalis. In my opinion, one of the secondary goals of working with an INGO should be providing training and work to Nepali people. As long as foreigners remain involved administratively in that country, these opportunities are diminished. Our American board provides input to Sam's House regarding policy and operations, but ultimately this is only advisement. In collaboration with the Nepali board, we put checks and balances in place to make sure that money is properly handled and we evaluate children annually for educational, social and physical progress. Regardless of our passion for the house, it is best run by Nepali people who can act with the proper cultural and experiential insight.

All of the children at Sam’s House are truly deserving of your generous support. Your donations are spent with exceptional care. And, above all, we take every measure possible to insure that the focus of Sam’s House remain squarely on the child’s welfare.  You are changing lives.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hospital Visit

A few of the children at Sam's House require annual visits to a special neurology hospital in Kathmandu.  This past week five children and two house mothers recently visited the capital city for their appointments.

Because of your support, the medical treatment the children at Sam's House receive is truly rare for most children in Nepal, let alone children living in orphanages.  Thanks to your support, we're able to provide our children with the best possible treatment so that they can live the most fulfilled lives possible.  From their hearts to your ears... thank you!

 Saran, Rina and Ritika in the cab.
 Waiting for the appointments -- a long way, but no one's complaining.
 Front door to National Institute of Neurology and Allied Sciences in Bansbari.
 Finally the time arrives... we hustle inside.
 Rina, Chija, and Ritika bunking together.
 We used a down day to visit Swayambhunath. Rina lighting a candle in a Buddhist gumba.
 Playing cards (Naraamro chimekki), waiting for dinner.
Mina watching some TV before bed time.

Lauren and Jesse -- Thank you!

This past summer former Sam's House volunteer, Lauren Morrison (who left her indelible mark on the house in the form of a mural that she painted with the children) wedded her long-time boyfriend and new UCLA law professor, Jesse Leuders.

For their wedding, Lauren and Jesse kindly asked their guests to make donations to Sam's House in their honor.  We are plainly moved by this gesture and cannot express our gratitude for the invaluable support this will provide to all the children.

Thank you Lauren and Jesse, from everyone at Sam's House.  Please come see us again soon!!!

The beautiful bride and groom on their special day!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Nepali Board

As you likely know Sam's House is actually a partnership with a Nepali NGO called Kopila Bal Griha.  We have our board of trustees and oversee the fundraising for Kopila; the Kopila board does all the planning for the house and the children, and by contributing in other remarkable, sundry ways (as you'll see below).

The Kopila board meets regularly throughout the year, in addition to subcommitee meetings on house issues, children's education, and child admission.

A couple weeks ago they held their annual meeting at which, by law, they must review the year's accomplishments and start planning for the year ahead.  Like our trustees, the Kopila board serve as volunteers, so the annual meeting is held in a restaurant as a very small token of appreciation for their remarkable contributions.

Secretary Pradip Regmi reads the annual report. 

Dinesh suggests a possible local fundraising ideas for the house.  Board chair Maj. Chandra Bahadur Pun listens intently.

But the board members do not merely serve in a meeting capacity. Trustee Yamuna Buddhacharya traveled with Eka Dev and Ramila to eastern Nepal where they met two young girls whose parents had recently perished in a boat accident on the Koshi River.  This was a three day trip one way with travel over some very difficult terrain.  Both girls are now living happily at Sam's House.

Eka Dev, Ramila, and Yamuna pose with village officials and neighbors who serve as witnesses when the children are placed in our care.

Ramila and Yamuna help Anita across the river.

Monday, September 16, 2013

First Term School Results

Typically I feel it's a little tacky to boast on children's academic accomplishments, but we can always make an exception for Sam's House.

The SH gang recently took their first term exams (Nepali school year starts in April) and the results have come back.  Because of their hard work, your support, and Shiva's excellent and forbearing tutelage, all the children did very well, placing in the top 10 of their classes with few exceptions. Of special note:

Amrit (1st) class seven
Sabita (3rd) class seven
Bishal (4th) class five
Dipa (1st) class four
Sharmila (2nd) class four
Pratima (3rd) class four
- Sam's House, apparently, rules class four
Bibek (2nd) class two
Parwati (2nd) class one

The children continue to recognize the importance of their education and express their determination to do well.  I was talking to Sarita about her class rank for the last quarter.  I asked where she placed.
"That's great," I told her.
"Not for me."

Of course these are just numbers and ranks and pale indicators of what is really much more important... the opportunity to learn that you (our dear supporters) have provided to these children.  Thank you.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Sam's House Birthday

A few days back Sam's House celebrated its seventh birthday.  This is a combination birthday for the house all the children's birthdays, as we discovered that celebrating every birthday individually was getting costly above 20 kids (however, we do celebrate the children's actual birthdays).

Anyhow, this birthday was extra special on one meaningful count: Joyce Rothchild, Sam's daughter, was in attendance, the first of her siblings to visit the house.

I'll let the pictures below tell the story, but I have to add one detail.  About 15 minutes after the program began (welcomes, speeches, dances by the children), the skies opened up.  Rain poured and poured and poured.  The tent held up for a while but it was no match.  Somewhere after cutting the cake and distributing the gifts, we had no choice but to retreat into the house--all 70-plus: children, board members, didis, and invited guests.  We scattered to different floors in the house and ate in shifts.  It was one of those fun moments that will make this party distinctive from all the others to follow.

The tent set up on the playground.  We would set up 70 chairs in here.

 Tara, Asuna and Ramila making papad.

Sangita mixing a potato dish -- aloo chomeki (sp?)

 Mamata braiding Samjhana's hair before the party.

 Shiva (there's nothing he cannot do) and Dhiraj rigging the sound system for the event.

Sharmila, Chija, Dipa and Ritika relaxing up in the "parlor."  About an hour before the event, all the girls sat on this porch together, fixing hair and putting makeup on each other.

Mina and Samjhana
Babit and Dhiraj lead the gang in a welcoming song.

 Joyce Rothchild addresses the gathering.

 Nepali board chairman, retired Maj. Chandra Bahadur Pun makes a speech. He served 44 years as a Gorkha soldier and yet was never educated.  He encouraged the children to make the most of their education.

 The cake, of course.

Joyce hands a present to Ambika.

 Durga and Ganga modelling their birthday presents... new shoes.

Shoes were the big present this year... Mamata, Maya and Sarita.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thank you, Dinesh... Welcome Eka Dev!

     Dinesh on the job    

Eka Dev Devkota

From the first day of Sam's House, when it was only an idea back in 2004, we knew that our friend Dinesh Rajbhandari would be the only person who could make it happen.  At the time, he was considering looking for work in the U.S. But when we approached him about Sam's House, he decided that's what he wanted as well.  And thank goodness he did... starting Sam's House turned out to be, logistically, about 100 times harder than any of us expected.  In spite of all our research beforehand, we could not have anticipated how much unknown accompanies starting a children's home.  But no matter how hard the turn, Dinesh took everything in stride and, in just a few years, made Sam's House into one of the most respected children's homes in Nepal.  It's not an exaggeration to say he has been the single most important person in making Sam's House a reality.

* That photo above is from the annual Sam's House picnic in 2008. A goat wandered into our picnic area and without hesitation Dinesh popped up, grabbed its leash, and led it away.  Just one of the many, many unforseen tasks that directing Sam's House would require.

Working in Pokhara was keeping Dinesh and his wife Rekha away from their families in Kathmandu.  As much as they enjoyed Sam's House, family obligations were calling.  Earlier this year, Dinesh took a position in Kathmandu.  However, he won't go far... Dinesh has agreed to take a position on the board of trustees where he joins Rekha, who has served as a trustee since 2007.

Of course we were very concerned about who would fill Dinesh's extremely capable shoes... we only had to look as far as the Nepali board of Sam's House.  Eka Dev Devkota, who has served as board chair since 2007, vacated his spot to become the new director.  And we couldn't be happier since he already had intimate knowledge of Sam's House.   For nearly 15 years, Eka Dev has worked as the mobile camps coordinator for the International Nepal Fellowship.  He has extensive background experience in management and administration and we are just so excited that he will be leading Sam's House into the near future.  His energy for his new position is already very obvious and we're confident that Sam's House will continue to fulfill its mission to serve orphaned and at-risk children in Nepal... thanks, of course, to your continuing support.

So thank you, Dinesh!  And welcome Eka Dev!