Samjana is 11 years old. She is in grade six at the local school in Batase village and has been living in the FHC Hostel for two years now. Her father was killed in the 2015 earth quake. Her mother works the farm and can’t afford to look after her seven children on her own so Samjana has moved into the hostel where she boards and goes to school. She’s getting well looked after and educated. She shares the hostel with 46 other students, 46 other extraordinary life stories. Samjana is intelligent and outgoing. Her English, even at her young age, is very good and it’s easy for me to have a conversation with her. Because of FHC she now has a chance to achieve to her potential and I have no doubt she will. Future Prime Minister? I wouldn’t be surprised.
What would have become of Samjhana and her spirited potential if someone wasn’t around to help?
Tragedy led to Sujan and his four sisters becoming parentless, orphaned, when the youngest was just five months of age. They then fell into the hands of their extended family with very mixed levels of care and protection. The older children, Sujan and Sangita, laboured on farms for survival. Sangita would watch other children walk to school and dreamed that one day that would be her, in uniform, ladened with books. Sujan strayed into the seedy side of Kathmandu for any work he could find, the family now splintered. By this time Som Tamang had moved to Australia and started his charity, FHC. He returned to Nepal, found Sujan and brought him home. With FHC support, the family got back together and were given access to education. Sangita would finally reach her dream. At the age of 15 she entered school in Grade 4. She is now 26 and studying Humanities and Political Science at University. Sujan is now employed by FHC and has the huge responsibility of managing the everyday functions of the charity on the ground here in Batase village, including the busy hostel. Kamala is sibling number three and she’s training to become a trekking guide with Take on Nepal (TON). The younger girls are completing their schooling.
FHC’s hostel is not an orphanage. The children aren’t necessarily from parentless homes but they are considerably disadvantaged for a variety of reasons – family disfunction, poverty, alcoholism, gambling, and out-dated cultural traditions that discriminate against girls. In regional parts of Nepal, old cultural traditions still very much determine the lives of young women. Their role in life can be one of few choices. At the age of 10, young girls are working the farm while looking after their siblings. By mid teens, a partner is being arranged for them and marriage follows. Or their families sell them off to slave labour in the cities, or neighboring India. Whatever the situation, school is limited for them. Their stunted education offers them few choices in life.
Som Tamang knows very well about how difficult life can be in these parts of Nepal because this is his home village. Now the charity is run by Som and his wife Susan Devitt. As well as the hostel, it raises funds to provide educational and health resources for Batase and neighbouring villages, including school-building projects. All money raised goes directly into the cause because the administration of the charity is managed 100 per cent by volunteers. I know this because I’m one of them. And now I can see the end result. Giving these kids a chance in life is what they deserve.
FHC’s support for the children in the hostel doesn’t stop when they reach the end of the Batase School curriculum. They can go to Grade 10 here, then further their schooling in Kathmandu with FHC support. Then onto university if they choose. Or they can possibly choose a career as a trekking guide with Take on Nepal, a trekking business run by Som and Susan.
The hostel is located about three kilometres from the school. As well as accommodation facilities, the hostel has a kitchen and full-time staff provide meals as well as help the children with their homework. With the help of the staff, the children are committed to their school lessons beyond the class room. These children have lived lives already, shaped by difficult starts to their life. Consequently they have a maturity of mind and spirit that is difficult to find in children of similar ages with more privileged upbringings. These children appreciate the opportunity they have been given by FHC and work hard to do the best they can. Their commitment is obvious and exciting to an outside observer. All they need is a chance. They will do the rest.
© Friends of Himalayan Children 2020