Last year, as some readers of this blog know, Travis and I spent two months in Nepal living in the remote village of Jarang, where we worked with Edge of Seven on a primary school building project. Throughout our stay, we lived with a lovely family (and many mice and mosquitoes) in a small house. We ate Dal Bhat (the standard Nepalese dish of rice and lentils) for every meal, showered occasionally from a bucket, and played a lot of “beetle baseball” on our porch, a game in which we used our books to swat away the fist-sized bugs that were drawn to our headlamps at night. We also built a school from the ground up side-by-side the residents of the village, many who grew to be like a second family, and developed great friendships with the volunteers who traveled from the U.S. to help in the effort. It was an experience that we will both forever regard as life-changing.
This past spring, Travis was offered a longer-term position with Edge of Seven, overseeing the implementation of the sturdier earthbag construction method on three school buildings in the Solukhumbu District – the first schools of their kind in this earthquake-prone region. An amazing opportunity for him, to be sure. But I didn’t even have to take a good look at myself in the mirror to know that I didn’t have nine months of village life in me. Despite the fact that my construction skills are essentially limited to “passing things” and “digging,” in order to be productive and retain my sanity, I would need a laptop and a (at least semi-regular) internet connection.
When pondering work in Kathmandu during our time here, I first thought of Next Generation Nepal, an organization that helps reunite children who have been trafficked to illegal orphanages with their families.
I thought of them because in March I had read NGN founder Conor Grennan’s book “Little Princes”, his personal story about the months he spent volunteering in a children’s home in Nepal and the overwhelming facts he discovered about the domestic child trafficking industry during that time. When I read the book, in addition to being overwhelmed by the immensity of the issue, it struck a bit of a personal nerve. That’s because during my first trip as a tourist to Nepal a few years back, I spent a couple of days volunteering at a children’s home, and at the end of my stay I made a small donation. The home seemed well-run, the mission seemed transparent, and my experience there seemed good on the surface. But eventually I found myself with a lot of questions that I had no way to answer.
For those unfamiliar with NGN’s work, some children’s homes in Nepal are more business than philanthropy, and, often, children living in illegitimate homes are not truly orphans. Child traffickers, targeting parents in remote, uneducated, and impoverished areas, promise city boarding school educations for their children in return for large sums of money. Often, though, these kids are instead placed in orphanages that generate part of their revenue from tourist donations. Countless children, who still have living parents, are even adopted out of these homes to unaware international couples.
Children’s homes in Nepal are not well regulated, and while I don’t have any proof that the home I volunteered at was engaged in illegal activities, I do know that there were inconsistencies in the information I was receiving that made me feel uncomfortable. Without being able to really know what was going on, I stopped my financial support. Before reading “Little Princes” and doing more research about the situations so many children in this country are in, I had moments of guilt over this decision. But after learning more, I felt that the risk that my support could be helping to perpetuate the problems it was meant to relieve was too big.
Needless to say, I was excited to hear back from NGN and for the opportunity to work with their team in Kathmandu. It’s been about a month now, and I don’t think I will cease to be floored by how much there is to learn about this complicated issue and how much work there is to be done. I also don’t think I will cease to be floored by the passion everyone on the NGN team possesses. It’s truly an honor to work with such dedicated people.
There is so much that could be written about this issue – I could never sum it up in a blog post. But for anyone interested in learning more, I encourage you to check out NGN’s website, and I look forward to writing more about my work with them in the future.