Friday, March 30, 2007

Gorkha English Boarding School

Below are a few pictures of the school that Sam's House children will attend. A quick note on the name of the school. While it's a called a "boarding" school that doesn't always translate literally into the school's operations. I think some of these institutions keep the "boarding" because they once did take boarders or because it sounds a bit more dignified. In either case, Sam's House children will be staying at home with us and not boarding away.

This school has an excellent reputation in Pokhara. We're very fortunate to have our children attending. More to the point, we are very fortunate to have your support so that these children CAN attend Gorkha English Boarding School. Thank you.

This is the computer lab that Dinesh liked so much. It looks great. I presume that's an overhead projector hanging from the ceiling for lectures, demonstrations, etc.

A typical classroom. The instruction is primarily in English, which will help them immensely as they get older.

A view of the front yard.

This is the front walk. That's Rekha, the chair of the Nepali board.

The children are on holiday right now. They'll start classes when school resumes in April.


Meanwhile, Sam's House has taken in few more children, among them three siblings from a low caste family (2 girls, 1 boy). The father passed away last year and the mother lost fingers on one hand in a farming accident and cannot work. Here are more details from Dinesh:

"When they arrived in Pokhara, someone told them about Sam's House. So they (the mother and her 3 kids) came to us on Tuesday and submitted their application with some supporting documents. I told them that the admission committee will have to meet to go through their applications so I asked them to come back on Thursday at 10 am.

I then called the committee members and informed them about the case and they all agreed to take them in. This morning (Thursday) they came at 7 am and the mother just dropped her 3 children at the orphanage and she disappeared without meeting any of our staff. When I arrived at the orphanage at 9 o'clock, the kids were in the kitchen and waiting for the food. They looked hungry and very miserable. We don't know where the mother went. The oldest daughter said to us that she had gone to look for a job, but she doesn't know where. We now have accepted them as our family members in Sam's House."


Monday, March 26, 2007

Bishal and Mamata

Bishal is five years old. His mother died in child birth and his father was unknown to the family. An elderly woman in Pokhara had been raising him but now her health is fragile and she is increasingly unable to take care of him.

Dinesh writes, "Bishal went to school for a year. So, he knows English and Nepali alphabets and numbers. As he was raised in [difficult conditions], his language and behavior [are] terrible. The house mother and the house sisters will have to struggle to bring him into the right track.

Mamata before and after Sam's House. Mamata comes from a village south of Pokhara. The pictures below document her living conditions and Dinesh's field visit.

He writes, "When Mamata was 3 years old, her father left them. Then, Mamata's mother brought her to her parents' house and left her there and she disappeared. They said they have no contact with her. Now, the grandparents are too old. Her grandfather is very sick so her grandmother has to look after him also. Mamata is now 6 years old, but she hasn't been to the school. So, we brought her with us. She seems very happy in Sam's House."

The road to Mamata's house, south of Pokhara. Trustee Bharat Malla again joined Dinesh on this field visit.

Taxi crossing the river. They also had to stop several times to keep the taxi from overheating.

Family and neighbors gather round as Dinesh collects information about Mamata.

Mamata's grandmother sitting on the porch.


Dinesh sent out requests to area schools asking them to submit proposals for Sam's House children. Because Nepal's public schools are so terribly underfunded, and thus terrible, there is a large private sector of schools. However, among these private schools, there is little regulation and it can be difficult to discern the quality institutions from the ones merely hanging out a shingle. There is also great competition for available students, which is why Dinesh requested the proposals. A smart idea!

After reading proposals and visiting a few schools, Dinesh and the board decided on Gurkha English Boarding School in Deep (Nepali word for "light"), an area north of Pokhara. It's too far away for the children to walk but Dinesh arranged for the children to be included on their bus route. He says it's a bit more expensive than he had anticipated, but we told him education was not an expense on which we (or our donors) minded a little cost overrun.

Dinesh was particularly impressed with the schools computer education. Also, looking to the future, the school is located in an area where we may purchase land. So when the day comes to move to another facility, the children will be able to attend the same school.

Cheers, Dineshji. Excellent work. Thank you!

Pratima's Shoes

This morning I was playing catch-up, writing receipts for the donations we received while I was in Nepal. And I remembered that I had wanted to post this picture.

These are the shoes Pratima wore to Sam's House, the day she arrived. What had been her everyday shoes. As you can see they're decrepit and about four sizes too large, but this is what she had, probably hand-me-downs from a neighbor, like most of her possessions.

But today she is wearing new shoes, shoes that fit, shoes that won't blister her feet, shoes that will keep her feet warm, shoes that she can run around in comfortably. So thank you, Sam's House supporter, for Pratima's new shoes; she says "thank you" too.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Take a Guess...

So what is this item in this photo?

I wanted to save this post until after we had some good news to share. This incident involving this item occurred a day or two after Manju arrived, when there were only she and Pratima living in the house.

I had been in the commerical district at a cybercafe doing work when I took a cab back to Sam's House to meet up with Dinesh.

When I arrived, Dinesh was sitting in the middle of the playground in a wicker chair, engaged in conversation with a young man and woman who sat facing him. The young woman was doing most of the talking. They were both good-looking and appeared to be college-aged or slightly older. Pratima and Manju were playing on the swings. The didis were inside the house.

Normally, because he is always polite, Dinesh calls me over to introduce to people. But this time he didn't, and not wanting to interrupt, I walked on to the swingset to play with the girls.

They sat in discussion for another 15 minutes. I looked over occasionally, my interest growing more keen by the minute. It looked like a serious conversation.

The young man and woman stood up to leave and they handed Dinesh the slip of paper that is in the photo above. They were members of the Maoist party having come to solicit donations for their upcoming political rally.

Dinesh said they believed we had the capacity to donate, a sentiment only strengthened, I'm sure, when my white face came strolling through the yard. Dinesh told them that any money the orphanage had was for the children and no one else. He made a donation, but told them it was his personal donation and not a Sam's House gift.

So, the item you see is a Maoist receipt. I thought some of you would be interested because it's become a rather curious act--the Maoists handing out receipts. There have been many stories of western trekkers being stopped on the trail by Maoists who ask them to pay a "tax." In proper governmental fashion, the soliders write out a receipt for the travelers.

It should be noted, however, that their solicitation for a political rally donation is not unprecedented. In fact, Dinesh told me, other parties will do the same thing. But I'm guessing that Dinesh felt a little more pressure to donate to this group rather than other parties he wouldn't support.

Sam's House sits next to a gate that leads into the local university. Many college students pass by each day and many of these same students have been attracted to the Maoist party, successfully wooed by the Maoists' promises to redistribute wealth and rid the country of corruption. I don't think there's any need for us to worry, but seeing westerners coming and going from Sam's House may make us a target of future solicitations.

Incidentally, Dinesh gave 100 rupees. If you enlarge the photo, you'll see what appears to be "900." The Nepali 1 looks like our 9.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Banita and Sarita

Two more children came to live at Sam's House this week. They are both from Palpa, a village southeast of Pokhara, referred to us by one of our trustees.

Banita Bhandari. Her father went to India to work at a chemical factory in India. He returned to Palpa with an illness that turned out to be tuberculosis. They sold the family house to pay for his treatment. It was later learned that he also had contracted HIV, which he had passed on to Banita's mother. The father died two years ago and Banita's mother became depressed and stopped looking after Banita. Banita has been tested for HIV and tested negative.

Sarita Nepali. Her father passed away in 2002. Her mother is unable to work. For a time, the family subsisted on earnings from Sarita's older sister and brother. Their house collapsed last year, and since then, they have been supported by donations from neighbors.

A Day in the Life

I received an e-mail from Dinesh yesterday detailing his weekend journey to Dhital, a village north of Pokhara. He went to meet some children who had been referred to us by Kopila Nepal, a non-governmental organization that provides scholarships and other support to needy children.

The pictures tell the story...

Dinesh and crew rented a Toyota taxi for the trip. Without too much uninteresting detail, Toyota taxis are the black market of the Pokhara taxi scene. They don't have meters and you can negotiate for all kinds of trips, even if the driver has no idea whether he can make it or not. Toyotas are also the oldest model taxis in Nepal, adding a thrilling sense of risk to the ride.

That said, it's hard to imagine many cars being able to negotiate this trail. As Dinesh wrote, "There wasn't really a road, but just a mud track up on the mountain. The road was really scary." That's Bharat (a trustee) on the left. On the right, in the green cap, is the driver and behind him the Kopila Nepal representative.

Having left the taxi, presumably where the road ended, the crew fjorded this river and one other on the way to the village. Dinesh said they walked two hours downhill and another two hours along this river to reach Dhital...

This is typical of a village home, where Dinesh met with the local neighbors to learn more about the children needing homes. Dinesh visited four girls and one boy, ate some dal bhaat, and made the return trip, arriving back in Pokhara around 8pm. The neighbors will bring these children to Sam's House sometime during the next couple weeks.

And this is just one part of Dinesh's job--making field visits. We hope to extend ourselves to the western part of Nepal, which is the poorest region of the country and most in need of social services and support.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The children celebrated Holi the other day. Holi signifies the coming of spring. It is customary to douse each other in water and vermilion powder as part of the celebration. The powder and water are believed to have medicinal effects to ward off diseases that come in the spring time.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What's Next?

I'm in Bangkok now waiting for check-in.

Reading everyone's comments and e-mails, I was feeling pretty good about everything with Sam's House, but here's why that celebration is short-lived...

We were planning to admit four sisters to Sam's House. They were on our list, recommended to us by Kopila Nepal, a social service organization. Today Dinesh called them to talk about scheduling the process and paperwork. Our contact there told him the father of the four girls, who because of illness cannot work, took the sisters to India. Which, in other words, means they've been sold or contracted or trafficked. In any event, they won't be coming to Sam's House or any other place where they can be properly cared for and educated.

And I guess this is why any celebration seems a bit premature. This is just the beginning and there's so much more we can do.


Dinesh will continue processing children until he reaches 15 and that's where we'll stay for the year. Next year we'll increase to 20 and five more the year after that.

Now that we have a three year buffer in terms of operating revenue, we are turning our focus to land. As I've written in this space before, land is quite expensive in Pokhara, in fact, it's the prime investment in Nepal. You have to travel some distance outside Pokhara to find land that's available for sale at a reasonable price.

In addition to his house duties, Dinesh will begin scouting for possible land. He'll be looking in areas called Archalbot and Lamachaur. Both these areas feature stretches of land that are mostly flat, which can also be a challenge to find.