A new partner organisation for ChoraChori

ChoraChori is very pleased to announce that we have joined hands with a second Nepalese NGO partner, the Mithila Wildlife Trust.

In a blog post last December, we stated our intention to extend our work in support of the victims of child rape into Dhanusha, south Nepal. That remains our goal however, following a visit to the District earlier this month, we reached the conclusion that we would have to approach the challenge in a more measured way that we had envisaged. The Musahar and Dom communities are very closed castes and cautious of outsiders, including Nepali people. This is hardly surprising, considering some of the injustices that have been visited upon them in the past. First, we have to build confidence by making a tangible difference to the people and specifically to the well-being of the women and children.

On our visit we were joined by Maya Rai of the Kathmandu-based Nepal Knotcraft Centre who introduced us to women from the villages and who demonstrated their existing basket-weaving techniques. Maya’s company is keen that we train these talented women in modern techniques and contemporary designs, using natural fibres that are available locally. This will give excellent employment possibilities and community upliftment

Our other host was Dev Narayan Mandal who is a keen conservationist and the Founder of the Mithila Wildlife Trust. Dev is a local man who spent nine years in India before resolving to return to his home area and help the community which relies on the nearby forest for so much of its welfare. Sadly, that forest has been severely damaged by illegal logging but, through his Trust, this can be restored. Dev also explained the need for education to break the village poverty that has been such a central factor in child marriage. The (illegal) dowry system is being sustained in large part because the younger the girl at the time of marriage, the lower the dowry payment. Although the legal age for marriage in Nepal is 20, girls from this community were marrying between the ages of 12 and 16. Education offers the only way out.

In response we have agreed to fund the construction of a study facility that will support over 200 children outside of school hours, improving school retention rates. This will cost £9,500 and that sum has been kindly gifted by major donors in the UK. We have also provided £1,600 towards setting up a low-cost training space for the women, this through our “Empowering Girls in Nepal” collaboration with SIGBI. Both facilities should be constructed within three months and in good time before this year’s monsoon season.

This is just the first step in what is sure to be a productive and rewarding partnership!

The challenges of selecting trainees

In Nepal it’s easy to find appropriate girl trainees for an all-expenses-paid residential tailoring course, right? Wrong.

ChoraChori’s basic tailoring course offers a very attractive training package for a girl from an impoverished rural community. A trainee can join a six-month-long residential course with all costs met by ChoraChori and even receive a small training allowance that gives some pocket money (as a little further empowerment!). The challenge comes down to finding young women who are in genuine need and who are brave enough to swap tranquil rural life for the bustle of Kathmandu. It would be very easy to fill course places by remote recruitment through liaising with other organisations but we make doubly sure that these expensive charity places go to bona fide candidates by paying home visits.

To that end, ChoraChori’s head of vocational training, Lily Katuwal, and legal officer, Sunita Karki, were in Jhapa, southeast Nepal, last week. Their field visit was intended to not only followed up previous course attendees but also select new girls for training. The first challenge was getting there – 13 hours on a bus! The visit was coordinated through Fr Norbert, a local Jesuit priest, and Siril, a social worker based in Maheshpur, Jhapa District. This led to meetings with community leaders and a local school teacher but the ultimate selection could only follow all-important home visits to confirm domestic circumstances.

In spite of visiting 13 families, only two girls could be identified. Another major challenge was that since this trip was at the end of two major festivals, a few girls were still absent from their villages, visiting relatives. A further one was that girls were worried about going to the cold of Kathmandu as the winter season approaches – even though it can be quite cold in south Nepal too. Perhaps this was more a reflection of anxiety at being in the big city. These girls can be considered for the follow-on summer vocational training courses which may allay their seasonal concerns.

The first girl to join the course is 21-year-old Alisha, pictured top with her niece. She lives in a tea company house with her mother and father and a younger sister. Her parents eke out a living as labourers in the tea plantations, so Alisha is delighted at having this opportunity. The second girl, 19-year-old Ranjita lives in a little house with her mother and father, two elder brothers and their wives, their children and a younger brother. This very full house is the reality of rural poverty in southeast Nepal. Ranjita has previously been trained in dhaka weaving, but this didn’t lead to any employment and she is really keen to begin tailoring for which there is no shortage of work.

Lily’s search for trainees will, for now, continue nearer to home in Kathmandu valley. Well done Lily and Sunita on your stamina and commitment!

This programme has been made possible through our collaboration with the Soroptimist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) – see this link.

 

Anjali’s second career

Through its advanced vocational training programme, ChoraChori offers second career opportunities.

In my memoir, Gates of Bronze, I described how – bizarrely – we set up a contemporary circus group for young people whom my then charity had rescued from slavery inside Indian circuses. Many children had been lured into this miserable existence by traffickers who promised them the bright lights and stardom. After we rescued these children (700 of them in the period 2004 to 2011) we had to provide education and training that would allow them to be reintegrated into Nepalese society. It’s a bit of a long story, but in 2011/2012 we ended up offering to re-train returnees (who were interested) in contemporary circus skills, adapting the more traditional skills that they had learned the hard way. And so was born Circus Kathmandu.

The initiative (to my great surprise) proved to be hugely popular, as through Circus Kathmandu, these young people were able to realise the dreams that had been mis-sold to them. They found those bright lights through tours to Australia, Dubai, Norway and the UK. The performers ended up also earning a great deal of money through public and private shows. However, with time and having lived the dream, some moved on, getting married and wishing to settle down. One such performer was Anjali, back row, third left in the title picture. She is now a young mum living near our Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre in Kathmandu, which has made it easy for her to attend the in-house vocational training that we offer on the site. Anjali has completed the six months basic tailoring course and this week, after a further six months training, she received her advanced tailoring certificate.

In yesterday’s post, I described how Josephina returned to Jhapa District after her basic tailoring course. She is happy with that, but, like Anjali, she and other basic course graduates have the possibility to go into higher training. This takes them to a standard where they are very employable in the big cities, earning a great income as they make quality clothes, including for the international market.

ChoraChori’s new girls’ hostel identified

ChoraChori has identified premises to rent as its new girls’ hostel in Kathmandu.

After an exhaustive search of the neighbourhood of our existing Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Kathmandu, we have finally identified the building that will be our future girls’ hostel at the right price.

We aim to take this over as soon as possible and that comes with setup costs – including the need to repaint the building to a colour that is a bit gentler on the eye! There are four bedrooms on the first floor and three on the ground floor. With the use of bunk beds, we can accommodate 30-35 girls, as per our plans. The building is secure with a good wall and gate and there is a decent piece of outside space for recreation, such as badminton. This has only become possible through our three-year collaboration with the Soroptimist International Federation of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) that launched last month.

The budget for the setup and operating costs is here. We hope that our Soroptimist Christmas appeal will at least allow us to cover the setup costs and with anything more than that raised used to offset our hostel running costs into next year. The appeal will include participation in our Big Curry event on the 7th December.

To find out more about our collaboration with SIGBI, or make a donation to the Appeal, just visit the project microsite.  If you have any thoughts on how you might help, then please drop me a line.

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 opens silver jewellery workshop

USA jeweller Nancy Edwards joins ChoraChori as a volunteer consultant at its new jewellery training workshopChoraChori is delighted to announce that it is setting up a new silver jewellery workshop at its Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre (CRRC) in Nepal.

At our CRRC we provide protection, support, education and training to children from a range of backgrounds. These include trafficked and displaced Nepalese children whom we have rescued from India, child rape survivors from Nepal itself and vulnerable girls from deprived rural communities where trafficking and sexual assault are endemic. Our in-house vocational training, that began in August 2018, has up until now focussed primarily on tailoring training. But this month, in a Joint Venture with our great friends at U.S. nonprofit Her Future Coalition, we have opened a silver jewellery workshop that will provide training and an income in a shiny new discipline.

The arrangement with Her Future Coalition is that we will provide the workshop space, materials and beneficiaries and they will provide the professional expertise. The latter will be through visiting volunteer consultants from the USA and through trainers who will be seconded from time to time from the existing Her Future Coalition’s workshop in Calcutta. We are very pleased that the first of the visiting consultants, Nancy Edwards, will join us next month. Nancy (pictured above) left her career as a research scientist to pursue her passion as a designer and entrepreneur in jewellery. Ten years later, she is now a highly experienced trainer (including in metalsmithing) who works with other designers as well as creating her own wonderful pieces. However, she says that her most rewarding work so far has been to provide this training to vulnerable girls through Her Future Coalition.

The workshop will have twelve bench spaces on offer to girls who have already received training through Philip’s previous programme with The Esther Benjamins Trust (of which he is the Founder) and to new trainees. This will allow the workshop to produce jewellery for immediate sale while at the same time providing training at advanced and beginners’ levels. The initial workforce will consist of seven young women, five of whom are deaf. In Nepal deafness is highly stigmatised, seen as punishment for misdeeds in a previous life. Deaf people are often nicknamed “lato” which means “stupid”. Our experience has been that, on the contrary, perhaps able to work without auditory distractions, deaf workers are highly skilled and focussed and become wonderful jewellers. The two other women are from vulnerable families – their siblings were trafficked into India. The remaining five places will be reserved for rape survivors, to offer them therapeutic and ultimately income generation training.

This workshop is but a small step in a fascinating direction as we embed a skill within the local community that can offer training and employment to many more in the future. The programme’s launch was made possible through a combination of funds raised in our summer Big Give appeal and from our friends at Nexus International School in Singapore.

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.

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!

Au revoir Debbie and David

Yesterday ChoraChori in Nepal held a farewell party for a husband and wife team whose impact upon our work has been nothing short of transformative.

For the past three weeks we have been benefiting from the volunteer inputs of Debbie and David Mintz from the UK. Their role has been to train and support the local staff, developing their capacity to do their jobs ever better. The impact has been dramatic as Debbie has trained our child trauma management centre staff in the powerful Theraplay technique that is new to Nepal and has now become central to our management of child rape survivors. When our tenth child rape survivor arrives at the centre on Friday the staff will be better prepared than ever to manage her trauma. As for David, he has introduced candle-making as a new strand to our income generation activity that is helping the girls from Jhapa who joined us at the end of last month.

All great things must come to an end, for now, and yesterday Debbie and David had an emotional farewell party when they were presented with the mandatory T shirts signed by all the staff and children. I expect these garments will never be washed.

Bon voyage and au revoir!

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