Follow up visit to Kitini College

ChoraChori Founder/CEO Philip Holmes today paid an evaluation and monitoring visit to Kitini College; he was greeted by a very happy Headteacher, staff and pupils.

Saroj KC, Headteacher of Kitini College, NepalIt is incumbent upon us to follow up the projects we fund; this is a task that includes through visits by the CEO and Trustees of the charity. The Treasurer makes an annual visit to review the local finances. Today Philip Holmes visited Kitini College which has received tens of thousands of pounds of funding from ChoraChori towards making this one of the top state schools in Nepal. Through grants secured from Foundations and some community fundraising, we have been able to pay for science laboratories and a computer lab that have allowed the school to extend its curriculum. Indeed it is currently making the transition from being a Nepali medium school to an English medium school. This represents a major step-up for Kitini.

The most recent project has been the retrofitting of the school to make it resistant to future earthquakes. Three-quarters of the £68k project has been funded through us by our UK partner Foundations while the remainder has been donated by a grant from the local municipality. The building works began in February and should be completed by the end of next month. There has been a slight delay due to the water supply drying up – a sign of the times, sadly, as in the recent past this part of the valley provided water to the rest of Kathmandu.

The Headteacher, Mr Saroj KC, pictured above with Bhaskar Karki and Shailaja CM of ChoraChori-Nepal, was beaming with delight. These works have meant so much to him not only for professional reasons but for very personal ones. For he told us today that he is a former pupil of the school and his father was once the Vice-Principal. This sense of ownership explains why he is so passionate about taking the school forward.

There was one other marker of success apart from the tangible ones that we saw today. Somewhat surprisingly, when we started working at the school we found that 70% of the pupils were girls. This is because parents were sending their sons to private schools so that they could have a better education. In the space of three years that percentage has dropped to 60% although the numbers of students at the school have increased substantially. Essentially, our enhancements are levelling the playing field and boys are now being transferred from nearby private schools to Kitini. Mr KC is confident that the proportion will be 50:50 very soon.

Our next major project at the school will be to establish a bursary scheme to begin at the start of the next academic year in April 2020. This will benefit children from the poorest families, irrespective of gender.

 

Final words on “As a Tiger in the Jungle” – and the future challenge for ChoraChori

Nepal performers Aman Tamang and Renu Ghalan in circus performanceBetween April and June 2019, contemporary circus show “As a Tiger in the Jungle” enjoyed a hugely successful tour of top venues across England and Wales, including the Glastonbury Festival. Nepalese performers Aman and Renu have now returned to Nepal but leave behind a powerful legacy of memorable performances and poignant messages.

Through “As a Tiger in the Jungle” Aman and Renu shared their experience of being trafficked from Nepal into slavery as “child performers”. See this previous blog post that gives the detail of this remarkable production. Between performances, they would take time out to give interviews on television and radio, ensuring that their message wasn’t confined only to those who attended the shows. Click on the image above to see their appearance on BBC Southeast during their visit to Brighton.

In May they laid on a special charity performance at Stratford Circus in London in support of ChoraChori’s Big Give summer appeal. Afterwards, ChoraChori Founder Philip Holmes addressed the audience in which he reflected on his organisation’s previous rescue work of Philip Holmes, Founder ChoraChorihundreds of children, including Aman and Renu, and how the contemporary circus training had started out in 2011. Then he called for public support for the greater challenge that lies ahead, as ChoraChori tackles the burgeoning issue of child rape in Nepal. When you read press articles such as this one from last week’s Kathmandu Post, it brings sharply into focus just how much needs to be done – even in ensuring appropriate police management of survivors. You can see an extract of Philip’s speech by clicking on his image above.

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ChoraChori to train its own social worker in Nepal

We are very pleased to announce that, thanks to generous supporter sponsorship, ChoraChori will be training its own social worker in Nepal – a young woman with quite a story to tell.

Twenty-year-old Chhukit Lama knows all about the extreme vulnerability that can accompany childhood in Nepal.

She hails from Humla, a remote, sparsely-populated District in Nepal’s remote northwest, next to the Tibet border.  Even at “the best of times” it’s a tough place to grow up with a chronic lack of healthcare provision and education. It has the lowest literacy rate in Nepal (47.8%), an infant mortality rate of over 30% and an average life expectancy of just 58. But back in 2004, when Chhukit was just five, the District was in the midst of the worst of times, with the ten-year-long Maoist “People’s War” at its height. Schools were shut down and children were being conscripted into the “People’s Army”. Parents were desperate to get their children to a place of safety and find an education – and an apparent saviour came to their aid.

As described in Philip Holmes’ newly published memoir Gates of Bronze, self-confessed child trafficker DB Phadera began to prey on the families. He offered false hope, taking children out of the District, with some adopted abroad without their parents’ knowledge or consent. He took older girls, like Chhukit, across the border to Tamil Nadu in India’s deep south where he admitted them to the Michael Job Centre. Operated by self-styled “India’s Billy Graham”, the late Dr PP Job, this fake orphanage was an extreme “Christian” indoctrination centre. Dr Job’s agenda was to bring up these children in his version of the faith so that they could return to their home areas as missionaries, with, in his words, “a bible in one hand and a degree in the other”. The Centre was supported by a keen, but naive, band of international radical evangelists who believed Dr Job’s lies that the children at the Centre were the orphan daughters of Christian martyrs. In fact, for the most part, the children’s parents were alive and well and they came from Hindu or Buddhist families.

Phadera took five-year-old Chhukit, her older sister and four other girls from the village on the long journey south. So began her eight-year sentence that ended only after her parents responded to her sister’s desperate telephone appeals and paid the trafficker to return their daughters to them. Soon afterwards, in September 2011, Philip and his team went to the Centre and brought all of the Nepalese girls out of this fraudulent arrangement. See this report from the Nepali Times and this one from the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Chhukit then joined the returnees in completing her education in an excellent school in Kathmandu, funded by Philip’s former charity, The Esther Benjamins Trust.

Chhukit excelled at school, passing her School Leaving Certificate (a remarkable achievement in itself for a girl from Humla) and her Plus Two exams (the equivalent of A-Levels). Now, thanks to two very generous ChoraChori sponsors, she will start a four-year full-time course towards her Bachelor’s in Social Work. The total cost will be £7,800 but this will represent not only a tremendous investment in this talented young woman’s future but also help us build local capacity in Nepal – the latter being part of ChoraChori-UK’s remit. While she is studying, Chhukit will also “pay-back” by spending time supporting the child rape survivors at our Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre (CRRC) in Kathmandu.

ChoraChori trainee social worker at the Children's Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal

Blind man’s buff at the CRRC

ChoraChori’s legal team fighting child rape cases in Nepal

ChoraChori’s support to child rape victims in Nepal includes ensuring that they obtain justice.

ChoraChori provides support to child rape victims and their families in Nepal that includes protection, material support (children from low caste families are often vulnerable through extreme poverty) and psychosocial counselling at our Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre in Kathmandu. But an equally important element is ensuring that victims are able to access justice and that legal cases are prosecuted properly in the courts rather than being “resolved” through illegal financial settlements between the rapist and the victim’s family. Victims may come under huge pressure to take this option by threats or even with the encouragement of NGOs or the police. See this link.

In Nepal the punishment for rape can be quite severe; indeed, a couple of months ago a child rapist was given a life sentence with the instruction that life should mean life. The challenge is to get cases registered in the first place and to ensure witness protection and support through the legal procedures and in the courtroom itself. We have two staff lawyers who have been dealing with 16 rape cases, five of these being gang rapes. So far there have been nine convictions (all involving jail sentences), the most recent being on the 17th March when a rapist was given an eight year prison sentence and ordered to pay 50,000 rupees (£350) to his victim.

Nevertheless, to see successful convictions our legal team has to be prepared for postponement of hearings, procedural failings and ineptitude. But his is nothing compared to how victims – traumatised children – still have to run the gauntlet of intrusive questioning in public situations and in hostile male-dominated environments such as at police stations and in the courts themselves. This parallels the experience in India where there is a risk of rapists escaping justice through little girls being unable to describe what has happened to them either because of the trauma or through lack of the necessary vocabulary. See this report on ganda kaam (“dirty work”) that has appeared in the India media. This relates to the Muzaffarpur children’s shelter sex abuse scandal, a location from which we rescued Nepali girls last year.

So much more needs to be done in both countries to ensure that child rape victims are dealt with sensitively and that justice prevails. And through our legal support we also need to make the point that rapists cannot act with impunity.

ChoraChori supports a new major capital project at Kitini College

ChoraChori and its partners have provided funds for a new major capital project at Kitini College.

In 2015 Kitini College suffered some structural damage when two earthquakes struck Nepal in April and May. It could have been much worse; a neighbouring private school collapsed causing fatalities.

This government school is important within Lalitpur District as it serves a huge catchment area that extends into the adjacent Kavre and Kathmandu Districts. Many of the students come from low caste families and include the children of the desperately poor peripatetic population that provides seasonal labour in nearby brick kilns. And the children at the ChoraChori Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre also attend the school, part of their return to normality after the trauma they have endured. Therefore it has been important for us to reinforce the school, literally, by a major project that will make it resistant to future earthquakes.

Working alongside our new project partner, Gandys Foundation, we have been successful in securing all the funds necessary from major donors and two other grant-making Trusts for this four month long project. The local municipality has also contributed 25% of the project costs, so it has been great to see this local commitment to a great school.

Back home to Jhapa

Last weekend ChoraChori returned a group of girls from Jhapa to their homes after completing their six month tailoring training course at our Kathmandu centre. ChoraChori supporter Caroline Milne joined them for the trip and shares what she saw along the way.

After spending six months at the ChoraChori refuge in Godawari, Kathmandu it was time for eight girls to return home to Jhapa. Six months may not seem like a long time, but it’s long enough to make new friends and feel sad when you have to say goodbye. There were hugs and tears as the girls packed up last Sunday afternoon and got ready for the long journey ahead.

As well as all their personal belongings, the girls each had a sewing machine to take home with them so that they can put their new tailoring skills to good use at home and hopefully provide a source of income. By the time everything was loaded onto the minibus, it was packed both inside and outside. There was a big send off from the children and staff left at the refuge and the journey began (cover picture).

The main town in Jhapa, Birtamode, is only around 440km away, but due to the mountainous roads and difficult driving conditions it can take over twelve hours to get there. Driving through the night with passengers, thankfully not the driver, sleeping on the way and a stop for food around 10:30 pm, we made it to the first drop-off at 2:30 am. The necessary hand-over paperwork was done we were on our way again. After a deliberately slow remaining journey and a few hours sleeping in the bus by the side of the road, we finally arrived in Birtamode around 6:30 am.

No rest for the wicked. Bags were left in the hotel, a quick attempt at freshening up and we were on our way again to drop the other girls at various locations. Fortunately, there was time for some tea and a taste of a local roadside delicacy, bhakka. The girls gradually left us to complete their journeys via auto-rickshaw and we reached our final destination in the tea plantations at 9 am.

The final stop was at the Jesuit School and this provided an opportunity to meet Father Norbert who has helped ChoraChori find the girls who will benefit most from the vocational training in Kathmandu. One of the girls was really excited to finally be almost home and very quickly disappeared on a bicycle, complete with a rather heavy sewing machine. We found her later at home, happily reunited with family.

We should not underestimate the challenges these girls face on returning home. Their lives have been very different for the last six months in Kathmandu; living with friends and having a good support network. This is not always the case back in the tea plantation. Living conditions are basic and, in some cases, key family members are working overseas leaving the girls potentially feeling isolated and alone. It is important that as an organisation we continue to monitor the situation and provide further support to allow the girls to successfully use their new skills if it is needed.

This is not the end; it is just the beginning.

Community-based care in Nepal?

ChoraChori’s field team has rescued a child rape victim who was failed by family and community in east Nepal.

The 12 year old girl pictured left is from Phidim, the principal town of Panchthar District. Her miserable life stands in stark contrast to the dramatic natural beauty of Nepal’s most eastern District. She is homeless because, although her mother is alive and well, she is unwelcome at her step-father’s home. Therefore she has been wandering around the community, surviving by taking on domestic chores in return for food and shelter, her overnight accommodation being often nothing more than cow-sheds.

Panchthar lies within Nepal’s Province No 1, the Province with the highest rates of reported rape at 8.5 per 100,000 of population in the period July 17 to June 18. ChoraChori is currently analysing why this should be so, but in the meantime we are dealing with the consequences.

Tragically, this little girl became one of the statistics from last year. Her rapist has already been convicted and we will fight for him to remain in jail should this come to an appeal. But meantime we are working with the village authority to allow her transfer into our care in Kathmandu. She is of course severely traumatised by her experiences and we will need to manage the trauma as well as offer her a place of safety at our refuge.

So often we hear from respected authorities that children belong with families and communities. It’s not as easy as that in remote parts of Nepal and clearly in this case that arrangement has failed with such dire consequences; it is time for us to intervene and protect this child properly.

Next week you have an opportunity to do something to help this girl and the many others that ChoraChori has rescued. You can join me in making a donation towards our work through The Big Give Christmas Challenge through which all online donations will automatically be doubled in value. Please don’t donate now. If you leave us your e mail address here we will send you a reminder when the Appeal goes live.

Thank you.

Computers for Shree Ganesh School!

This week ChoraChori-UK visitor to Nepal, Caroline Milne, saw for herself the impact of fundraising that she has supported when she accompanied a special delivery of computers to a terribly under-resourced government school in Kathmandu valley.

How can a school teach computer science when it doesn’t have any computers?

This is not an unusual challenge in under-resourced government schools in Nepal. And it’s often girls that ultimately lose out as parents frequently choose to send their sons to private schools while their daughters make-do at the local government school. This is gender discrimination within families.

One such school has been Shree Ganesh School which is in a village on the edge of Kathmandu valley. It is attended by 147 students, 85 of them girls and 62 boys. Most of the children are from the low caste “Danuwar” community. The Danuwars once earned their living through fishing but the local river became polluted and these days they undertake unskilled labour work. It gets worse. Danuwars are generally considered “matwalli” a derogatory term for the caste that abuse alcohol. The principal of the school tells us that the parents drink all day and often give it to their children too.

This week ChoraChori has done what it can to level the educational playing field for Danuwar children of both sexes by delivering ten computers to the school. These will benefit around 70 children in Grades 6-8. Inspired by the delivery, the school committee is now planning to extend the curriculum to include Grades 9 and 10. This is a great result and we’re most thankful to Nexus International School in Singapore and to a UK Trust that has provided the funding.

To find out more click on the image!

The tea plantations of Jhapa District, southeast Nepal

In August 2018 a ChoraChori research team visited a tea plantation in Jhapa District, southeast Nepal, to see living and working conditions for themselves.

Just over two years ago Jesuit priest Fr Norbert (pictured left), requested us to help a group of girls in Tipling, Dhading District. The girls’ school had been destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes and we agreed to bring them to Kathmandu to complete their grades 11 and 12 while learning some income generation skills. That was the start of a programme that is ongoing. Since then Fr Norbert has been transferred from Tipling to Jhapa District in the southeast where he is teaching at the Moran Memorial School. It was set up by the Jesuits in 1999 to support the children of impoverished tea plantation workers. Last month Fr Norbert asked if we could admit a group of Jhapa girls – school drop-outs – to our income generation programme and seven of them start tailoring training this month following a short course in candle-making.

When he isn’t teaching “moral science” Fr Norbert is touring the tea estate, meeting with workers and their children, hearing their problems and helping them where he can. Yesterday we were privileged to join him as he did his rounds. He showed us the mud huts that provide only the most rudimentary of shelter in an area where there is no sanitation and open defecation remains common practice. The school is doing its best to educate the children but obviously the home environment is dreadful rendering home study almost impossible. Exam results are therefore only average and drop out rates are high.

We saw men and women (no children) plucking tea for which they receive $2 per day for an eight hour shift that yields 26kg of tea per person. The tea is weighed on a basic set of scales and from there taken to the nearby factory (which we also visited) where it is processed on the spot. Plucking tea is laborious but the workers are threatened by the impact of mechanisation. For we also saw a machine being operated that skims the tops of the tea bushes, albeit without the delicacy of the hand. Since their jobs are potentially on the line, the workers are in no position to complain about the pittance that they are paid.

Fr Norbert does the best that he can to jolly the workers along but the over-riding sentiment within the estates is one of hopelessness. The poverty is obvious but the misery is compounded by alcohol abuse and depression is widespread. Jhapa has the highest girl suicide rate of any District in Nepal.

ChoraChori is pleased to support Fr Norbert and the community by teaching skills for life to Jhapa girls at our training centre in Kathmandu. This will give them and their future families a chance to escape the cycle of poverty and de facto slavery.

A “creche” at the tea plantation in Jhapa

 

Theraplay in Nepal

With a vital training input from volunteer consultant Debbie Mintz, ChoraChori has started using theraplay as a powerful therapeutic tool at its child trauma management centre in Kathmandu.

In the past week ChoraChori has admitted a ninth victim of child rape to its child trauma management facility in Kathmandu. The task of therapeutic management of children who have experienced almost unbelievable horrors, including at Indian “children’s shelters”, is a daunting one. Our local staff are very highly trained but remain open to new therapeutic approaches that can help them meet the challenge of restoring children’s confidence in themselves and in humanity. Accordingly, we have been delighted to receive the very timely British volunteer consultant support of Debbie Mintz who has trained staff in the technique of theraplay.

Theraplay is a proactive, intensive, relationship-focused therapy, modelled on the natural patterns of early healthy interactions between parents and infant; the kind that lead to secure attachment and lifelong good mental health. Theraplay is uniquely suited to the treatment of complex trauma in children because the model focuses on developing a secure base, strong attachments, concrete guidance, support and nurturing. These are the foundations from which a child can utilise natural reparative mechanisms, address their traumatic history, and have a restorative experience.

Whilst theraplay treatment is often carried out with children and their parents, it is very suitable for use with children whose primary relationships have broken down. With an attuned therapist guiding the child sequentially through phases of treatment, safety and security are first established in the relationship, allowing trauma to be addressed directly, and finally allowing social reconnection with others. Theraplay functions to create a sense of safety for the child by anchoring them in a nurturing, safe, and structured relationship, thus addressing attachment concerns first. Once children establish a sense of feeling connected to one important other, the trauma work can proceed with greater ease since the emotional foundation is set.

The benefit has been immediate and dramatic. Debbie writes:

I have been in Nepal for almost two weeks now and my experiences have not necessarily met my expectations. Teaching the therapists here to use theraplay as a part of their therapeutic model was a pleasure and easier than I expected. They have a natural warmth, compassion and intuition that makes them ideally suited to the attachment-focused theraplay model. Beginning theraplay sessions with the children has been deeply moving and has not taken the course I expected at all. The usual curiosity that I see in children in the UK is very much present, but the natural resistance that often comes with it is not. I will have to think more about why this is, but my initial instinct is that these children are so desperate for safety and nurture that having found physical care and security with the dedicated staff at ChoraChori, they have almost been waiting for the engagement and nurture of theraplay. We have already seen remarkable results. Within the first week children unexpectedly and spontaneously shared previously undisclosed traumatic experiences of the most severe nature to their trusted therapists. This seems to have come much more speedily than expected on the safe foundations that the close and attuned interactions of theraplay have provided.

ChoraChori is making a very strong start into an area of childcare where few organisations and charities wish to venture; it is just too difficult, too harrowing and too demanding of a long term commitment. But alongside our partner Unity in Health we are laying the foundations of a therapeutic service that is so badly needed in Nepal given the scale of the problem that we need to address.

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