At the start of this year, ChoraChori was very much “on the up” following an outstanding performance in 2019. We entered the year optimistic that our most recent significant investment in building the capacity of our local partner NGO, ChoraChori-Nepal (CC-N), through funding additional staff members, would bear fruit. We looked forward to CC-N rescuing many more children, providing rehabilitation, education and training.
But in March we hit the buffers.
Through COVID, we had to contend with an anticipated immediate 50% drop in income, the loss of major funding lines that had seemed rock-solid and the need to draw upon our finite reserves. Operationally, because of local lockdowns, all CC-N child rescue operations from India and field work in Nepal had to end. Linked to that, we would have to close the new transit boys’ hostel (set up for rescues from India) and girls’ hostel (for vocational training) that we had only just opened in the final months of 2019. Clearly, for both financial and operational reasons, we needed to make urgent cutbacks if the charity and our work was to survive. Out of courtesy, we invited CC-N to suggest where those economies should be implemented. To our surprise, the Executive Director CC-N suggested closing the refuge and associated rehabilitation in favour of continuing with less-challenging community-based projects.
Closure of the refuge was absolutely not our wish after years of investment in time, clinical expertise and finance. However, by August (and following the unexpected loss of another major funder), it became clear that indeed this activity would have to end or ChoraChori would cease to exist as a charity by April or May of 2021. Acutely aware of our obligations both moral and under UK charity law to protect vulnerable beneficiaries AND the funds which are entrusted to us, we drafted an MOU that would provide a timetable for closure of the refuge and lay off of CC-N refuge and administrative staff by the end of December. The timetable would ensure that children’s needs would be paramount as assessed by a local consultant child psychiatrist (who knew the children very well) and that their long term care and therapeutic needs could be finely tuned according to their clinical and domestic circumstances. Accordingly, our release of funds to CC-N – involving tens of thousands of pounds – would be geared towards a structured drawdown of the refuge under a revised (reduced) budget.
Unfortunately, the Executive Director of CC-N refused to discuss the draft MOU, labelling our suggestions as “micromanagement”. Instead, he broke off communications and, without forewarning to us, announced to his staff that there were no further funds available and that the refuge would have to close imminently. This was obviously a misrepresentation of the situation. We felt this shocking move was an attempt to apply emotional pressure into forcing us to release funds without essential restrictions. That would mean our being unable to fulfil our aforementioned legal obligations to ensure welfare of beneficiaries and the use of funds that had been given to ChoraChori for specific purposes. We stood firm, having no choice to do otherwise. But in this way, CC-N effectively ended a partnership that could have seen their continuing to work with us, albeit at a reduced level, into 2021.
To our deep disappointment, the Executive Director has gone behind our backs and contacted directly at least one of our major UK donors in a bid to harm our reputation. The core allegation has been that we have applied “extreme pressure to allow visits by unvetted potential donors and volunteers to our [CC-N] ‘safe house’, despite clearly expressing our [CC-N] concerns about this practice being in complete violation of our [CC-N] Child Protection Policy”. This very serious accusation is an easy one to make but categorically untrue. There has been absolutely no breach in child protection policies that we are aware of. ChoraChori has carried out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (or national equivalents) on 100% of our volunteers and refuge visitors have always been accompanied by CC-N staff on strictly regulated, timed visits. It should be noted in respect of the latter that it is impossible to conduct worldwide checks, often at very short notice, and transparency for visiting donors, both actual and potential, has been a vital ingredient of ensuring financial sustainability and good fundraising practice.
In the light of our concerns about potential harm to beneficiaries, loss of financial accountability and reputational damage, very regrettably we have had to submit a Serious Incident Report to our regulatory body, the Charity Commission of England and Wales. This is another Trustee duty, even if the actions relate to a former overseas partner organisation.
These very disturbing developments should not at all detract from major positive results in 2020 against the odds. We have conducted successful public appeals that raised £55,000 and allowed our partner The Mithila Wildlife Trust to feed over 27,000 people across 17 Districts of south Nepal. We have secured by far our biggest grant to date to restore a community forest in Dhanusha District, hopefully the first of many reforestation projects. And we have been able to support the registration of a new social enterprise, Lily’s Leaves, that will work closely with The Mithila Wildlife Trust to provide training and employment to abused girls and women from marginalised communities. We will be able to start 2021 in a strong financial position, working with dynamic project partners and a powerful vision for a broad programme of social and environmental upliftment in southeast Nepal. Our valued partnerships with registered charity Unity in Health and U.S. non-profit Her Future Coalition are stronger than ever. We will collaborate in mental health and empowerment programmes for girls and women. In this way, we are very much gearing up for a strong resurgence, leaner and more cost-effective than before, ready for the fresh start with our project partners that will take us on to greater challenges. You can help us achieve that by showing solidarity through supporting us in our forthcoming Big Give Christmas Challenge.
We would like to say a huge thank you to those who have remained loyal to us and for everyone’s continued solidarity in helping Nepal in these most testing of times, when the need is greater than ever before.