Gates of Bronze

ChoraChori Founder Philip Holmes has published his memoir, Gates of Bronze, telling the remarkable story of how he responded to his first wife’s suicide by rescuing scores of Nepalese children from prisons, slavery, trafficking and exploitation.

In his book Philip quotes Winston Churchill who wrote “Success is the ability to move from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm” and that has been Philip’s mantra for his twenty years of charitable work in Nepal. Through Gates of Bronze he tells how he responded to the suicide of his first wife, Esther Benjamins, by leaving a promising career as a British Army dental officer to set up a children’s charity in her memory. Working with passionate and committed colleagues in Nepal, he headed up programmes that rescued children from prisons, circus slavery, trafficking, exploitation and abuse. Yes, there has been setback after setback, but Philip can now reflect on operations that rescued over 1,000 children, restoring freedom and childhoods and giving them a chance in life.

The dramatic and moving narrative is illustrated by Philip’s own sketches and by colour photographs, many of which were taken by professional photographers who covered Philip’s work. Gates of Bronze is published by Juntara and can be purchased through this site where there is also a download option. 10% of the sale price is donated to ChoraChori’s ongoing work in Nepal.

Journalist and historian biographer Anne Sebba writes:

“Philip Holmes is a natural storyteller but also a fighter with endless enthusiasm which shines through these pages. It’s impossible not to read this book without believing that some people have the power to move mountains. He may be one of them.”

Supporting Bibash

ChoraChori returns Nepali children to Nepal by the bus-load!

Regular readers may recognise the title picture as it shows a group of 29 boys whom ChoraChori rescued from Delhi in December 2015. All have now returned to their families or been moved on into work, but we continue to support them after repatriation. Children like Bibash.

Bibash was born in a village in Kanchanpur in Nepal’s far West. Growing up was tough as he was bullied and mocked by the other children for having a visually impaired father and a mother who had lost a leg. His frustration was taken out on his parents until eventually he ran away from home. At the age of 15 he ventured into the unknown when he crossed the border into India.

Before long, Bibash was picked up by the Indian authorities and placed in a grim “children’s shelter” in Delhi. But ChoraChori’s field team traced him and rescued him along with 28 other boys on Christmas Eve 2015. After his tough experiences in India, he was very glad to return home and expressed his desire to return to school. With ChoraChori’s support he is now in Grade 9 where he is doing well academically. Bibash wants to join the Army and to that end is close to gaining his black belt in karate!

His daily journey to school involved an hour’s walk each way in all weathers. So, ChoraChori recently bought him a bike and he’s very happy with that. Most interestingly, his parents say that he has become very polite towards them and is now a son to be proud of as he assumes family responsibilities.

The price of success is not necessarily that high in Nepal and we continue to transform children’s lives and possibilities through relatively modest, but targeted investments. But we are all too aware that there are still many kids like Bibash awaiting our rescue from India. We can only do that after we set up a new boys’ transit hostel in Kathmandu; we have had to suspend repatriations after we began taking child rape victims into our existing Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre and obviously the two beneficiary groups could not be accommodated on the same site.

We need your help! We have launched our Big Give summer appeal to help raise the funds we need for this new project and for new training opportunities for girls. Until the 28th May all online donations will double in value – one donation, twice the impact! Please use the button below to help us help more children like Bibash in the future. Many thanks!

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ChoraChori rescues 26 Nepalese boys from Bihar

On Good Friday, the 18th April 2019, ChoraChori facilitated the rescue of 26 Nepalese boys from a children’s shelter in Bihar, north India.

The open border between Nepal and India makes it easy for children to be trafficked or for them to voluntarily cross into India in search of opportunities. On the 27th March the Indian authorities intercepted a group of 26 teenage boys who were on their way to alleged employment opportunities in Chennai. Such transfer of children concerns the Nepal authorities for good reason. Why would Nepalese children be offered employment when there are no shortage of potential employees in Chennai itself? The truth of the matter is that it is much easier to exploit children who are foreign nationals – one of the sad fundamentals of child trafficking.

All of the boys hailed from Districts in south central Nepal. The boys had been placed in a children’s shelter at Sitamadhi in Bihar (pictured) with the request that the Nepalese authorities arrange their repatriation and reunification with their families. Accordingly, Nepal’s Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB) immediately contacted District Child Welfare Boards in Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi and Siraha Districts to trace the boys’ families. This being achieved quickly, CCWB then requested that the Sitamadhi District Child Protection Unit hand over the boys to authorised persons. These were Sanjiv Mahato (CCWB), Saroj Kumar Ray (an independent social worker appointed by Dhanusha Child Welfare Board) and Shailaja CM, the Operational Director of ChoraChori-Nepal (right of picture). The reunification was effected quickly on Good Friday, with ChoraChori-Nepal covering the costs, including the hire of the bus. The boys have since been reunited with their families, relieved to be back home after their month-long detention. See this press report on the rescue.

Well done to Shailaja and our staff lawyer, Sunita Karki, on their success and compliments to all other involved parties on this smooth operation. This latest rescue brings to 203 the number of displaced and trafficked children whose repatriation ChoraChori has facilitated since late 2015. We aim to open a boys’ hostel in Kathmandu later this year which will give the rescue programme a further boost.

Lost for words

Naresh back in his village with his uncle, grandmother and ChoraChori field staff Yogesh Dhami (left)

Lost for words

ChoraChori aims to return the children it rescues from India to their families. This makes for emotional reunions. When we reunited Naresh with his grandmother two weeks ago she was quite overwhelmed (see picture). Indeed, we believe it to be unprecedented for a Nepali grandmother to be lost for words.

Naresh2

Naresh back in his village with his uncle, grandmother and ChoraChori field staff member Yogesh Dhami (left)

Village boredom

A range of push factors drive Nepali kids to run away from home and seek a better life in India. Often they are attempting to escape grinding rural poverty or domestic abuse. In Naresh’s case the push factor was boredom. His parents and three brothers had migrated to Karnataka, southwest India, when he was 11 years old. But Naresh decided to stay behind with his maternal grandparents as he wanted to study at the village school. After a year though this became too dull and one day he took what he thought would be his chance for a more interesting life. He “borrowed” his grandfather’s bicycle and set off on the pretext of selling firewood.

India

Naresh crossed the border at a place called Gaddachowki, not far from his home near Mahendranagar in the far west of Nepal. He told ChoraChori that no one at the Gaddachowki crossing point checks people who are riding bikes. Then he sold the firewood to buy some food, before cycling for two days straight to a town called Bareilly that lies about 100 km from the border. On his first night there he ate at a temple which was providing free food and slept on the streets. His second night’s food came courtesy of a Muslim festival that he stumbled upon. On the third day he sold the bicycle and used the money to board a train to Delhi.

En route Naresh stopped off at a place called Ambala where he worked as a gardener for about two weeks. He became bored there too so resumed his journey to Delhi. However the Indian NGO Salaam Baalak Trust spotted him arriving at the railway station and took him to a children’s shelter. He spent three months there before ChoraChori field staff came to his rescue in March 2016.

ChoraChori reunites him successfully

After Naresh’s grandmother finally found her words, she was able to share her delight at his return. Apparently Naresh’s father, who works in a metal factory in Karnataka, will be returning home soon to meet him. He’ll then decide whether or not to take Naresh back with him to rejoin his mother and siblings. Whatever happens, Naresh seems to have learned his lesson and is currently studying in the eighth grade, aspiring to become a doctor.

Child sponsorship

There are still 22 children remaining at the ChoraChori refuge in Kathmandu pending tracing of families and/or completing rehabilitation. If you can help us with a regular donation through child sponsorship please let me know on philip@chorachori.org.uk. Failing that, please help us with a one off donation towards our other facility, the newly built Child Trauma Management Centre, using the button below. All donations to his appeal are matched at 50%. In other words £10 becomes £15 with donations accepted in all major currencies.

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Return to the Kathmandu refuge

A failed attempt at child reunification

ChoraChori has returned most of the children it has rescued from India to their families. Usually parents and siblings have greeted returnees with open arms; this was the case with Bibash in my previous post.  Occasionally, and in spite of our best efforts, family reunification doesn’t work out and we have to consider returning a child to our Kathmandu refuge for long term care. Khem (name changed) is a case in point.

Running away from home

Like so many of the children ChoraChori helps, Khem had a very difficult upbringing. He was born in Dhangadhi, in the far west of Nepal, the son of his father’s second wife. She developed an alcohol problem and left home when Khem was very little, whereabouts still unknown. Soon afterwards his father’s first wife returned with her three children and Khem’s problems deepened. His father went to work in Mumbai and essentially Khem’s grandmother looked after him. She protected him as best she could from his abusive stepmother.

Eventually Khem had had enough and he ran away, stealing money from his home and from neighbours to fund his trip into India. He ended up in a children’s home in Delhi, from where ChoraChori rescued him in March 2016. We returned him to his family last October. It seemed to our field staff at the time that he could expect enough family support but this hasn’t happened.

A tough family visit

When they visited the family last week ChoraChori field staff members Yogesh (top right) and Pratap were shocked by Khem’s circumstances. He wasn’t attending school and living under the same roof as 24 other members from his extended family, including four uncles. The domestic environment was tense in the extreme, with Khem’s grandmother and stepmother bickering during the visit itself. Khem’s stepmother perceives his mother as being the source of the family’s problems and calls Khem a thief. Indeed, this is how the broader community sees him after his earlier thefts. No neighbour allows him into their home. Khem’s father is still working in Mumbai but the money he sends home isn’t enough to look after his children and send them to school.

Actually, Khem’s stepsister has admitted that he has been well-behaved since he returned to the family. But memories are long and Khem seems to have little future in his family and village under such a burden of stigma. Yogesh and Pratap noted that he was very quiet during the visit although he had been smart and outgoing while staying at our Kathmandu refuge. As they were leaving the family, Khem asked Yogesh and Pratap if he could return to Kathmandu.

The challenge for ChoraChori

These days children’s homes in Kathmandu are criticised for how they institutionalise children who could be better supported within their families and communities. Most of the time this criticism is entirely valid. Especially since opportunists set up homes just to raise money rather than to care for children. But here we have an example of how family reunification and support is doomed to failure, not helped by the remoteness of so many villages. Under these circumstances a refuge can provide an invaluable safety net when there are no other options.

Khem will be returning to our Kathmandu refuge. This is an expensive long term care requirement that hopefully we can cover through child sponsorship. Even then there is a significant risk. For during his earlier stay Khem and another boy ran away for a day and he could well do so again. For we don’t keep children behind bars as per the Indian “children’s shelters”. When this happens, as is the case from time to time, we have the worry of their welfare while still being our responsibility.

But let’s hope we can turn this boy’s life around. If you feel you can help, either with a donation or as a sponsor, please do e mail me on philip@chorachori.org.uk.

A ChoraChori home visit

Following up Bibash

Nepali boy Bibash with his parentsIn December 2015 ChoraChori repatriated fifteen year old Nepali boy Bibash Tamang along with 23 other children in a major child rescue operation.  Our field staff who reunited Bibash with his family the following January returned last week to see how he was getting along.

Why did he leave home?

Bibash’s family lives in Kanchanpur, the most westerly of Nepal’s 75 Districts. It takes 15 hours to get there by car, much longer by bus. His father, Durgalal, is blind while his mother, Phulmaya, is disabled through a leg deformity. Bibash told us that he became tired of his friends at school teasing him about his parents’ disabilities (Nepal can be a harsh place in this regard) so he left home to seek a better life in India. He crossed the border near his home at a spot that is a notorious smuggling spot. But his dreams came to an abrupt end when the Indian police picked him up to then spend several months in a dreadful Indian “children’s shelter”. ChoraChori’s intervention secured his freedom and return to Nepal shortly afterwards.

Why did ChoraChori return Bibash to his family?

Although Bibash’s parents are disabled and live in a small house they are not totally destitute by any means. For they own six khatta (2,028 square metres) of land which is farmed on their behalf as they are unable to till the land. This works under the Nepali Aadhiya system (aadhi means half) whereby the farmer and landowner divide the produce 50:50.  He also has a government disability allowance of 600 rupees (£4-5 per month) and supplements his income by acting as a “witch doctor” from time to time. We decided that with a 10,000 rupee (£80) grant from ChoraChori could support Bibash back into education. This is a much cheaper option than keeping him in our Kathmandu refuge. And of course he is back with his family where he really belongs.

How is he faring at school?

Bibash is currently studying in the eighth grade at the local Sri Durga Secondary School. His uncle, Dan Bir Moktan, happens to be one of his teachers. He tells us that Bibash has been very applied and one day aspires to join the British Army. He knows that to do that he’ll at least have to pass the 10th grade School Leaver’s Certificate (and a bit more besides!). But we will continue to support him up until this point at least.

Bibash’s father said to our field staff: “You have provided my son with a second chance at life. We are forever indebted to you. Like any parent, we do not expect anything from Bibash except for him to have a brighter future”.

Child sponsorship

Please consider helping a Nepali boy like Bibash, either at the refuge or back with their families, through our child sponsorship scheme. To find out more, just contact me on philip@chorachori.org.uk

 

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