Monday, February 9, 2009

Why are these kids orphans?

Before I came to Nepal several people asked me why there were so many orphans. I always assumed that in third world countries the mortality rate was much higher than in western countries, so parents died earlier due to disease, health problems, and crime. I could not have been more wrong.

Out of 76 children, there is one kid who had both parents killed in a landslide, and one kid who had both parents killed in a car accident. These were the kinds of stories I was expecting, and they are few and far between. The majority of the orphans at Namaste have parents that are still alive. Half of the kids had fathers that abandoned the family because they a) wanted to marry someone else, b) had an alcohol abuse problem and could barely care for themselves, or c) did not want to be responsible for supporting kids and simply left the rest of the family to fend for themselves. The same half had mothers that a) were too poor to care for them so they sent their kids out to beg on the streets, b) got married to another man, were not allowed to take their kids into their second marriage, and abandoned them, or c) filled out applications to send their kid to an orphanage because they could not provide enough for their child to survive. The lucky ones have loving mothers that are just too poor to raise a child.

Below are two of the sadder and more depressing stories. I would never have guessed these kids came from a background like this until Namaste lent me a book that described each orphan and his/her story. They seem like the kind of kids that I used to spend my summers with at camp-- just a lot less spoiled.

W, X, Y, and Z (from oldest to youngest) came to Namaste after they had been living on the streets for three months. Their father remarried and left the family when the mother was pregnant with Z. When Z was two, their mother abandoned the family and married another man. The four kids fought for themselves on the streets for three months before they came to Namaste. W began working at a hotel to try to support herself and her siblings. She was only nine years old. She could not make enough to buy food for herself and her three siblings, so she would distribute the food equally among her three younger siblings and leave nothing for herself. To satiate her hunger, she would routinely eat bricks. Eventually the Pokhara police caught them one night as they were searching for a place to sleep. The police referred them to a socialization center who referred them to Namaste. After W came to Namaste, she needed counseling as she continued to eat bricks and was visibly affected by the abandonment of her parents.

S has the most traumatic background of all the children here at Namaste. When she was seven years old, her mother, who was extremely poor and unable to properly care for her, sent S to work as a house servant. The owner of the house, along with his two adult sons, repeatedly raped S for the three years she was there as a servant. This owner did not give her enough to eat and reluctantly let her go to school while refusing to pay for books or supplies. One night, a teacher discovered that S spent the night at school instead of going home. The teacher asked her about her home life, and once she heard about the violent rape and abuse, the police were notified and the men were put in jail. S was referred to Namaste immediately after.

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