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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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.

Rape at an Indian children’s shelter

In our blog post of 30th April we reported on our rescue of three Nepali girls from an Indian children’s shelter at Muzaffarpur. This followed months of negotiation and three visits to overcome what seemed at the time to be insurmountable bureaucracy. Now we know the reason for this obstructive behaviour. As we suspected, the shelter had something to hide. According to a media report in today’s Times of India eight staff members have been arrested on charges of sexual abuse and rape. Two men, one of whom heads up the NGO that runs the shelter and the other a member of the local Child Welfare Committee, have been charged with rape. It will take time for the full scale of the horror to be revealed as there were 46 (Indian) minors at the shelter who will need to be interviewed and counselled by the Indian authorities. However, media reports elsewhere suggest that the female staff were complicit too, forcing girls into same-sex activity.

ChoraChori has rescued a total of six Nepali girls from this shelter over the past year, four of whom are still being supported at our children’s refuge and trauma management centre in Kathmandu. Sadly, this is unlikely to be an isolated case which explains why our cross-border rescue programme is so vitally important.

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Child reunification and rescue at Christmas

ChoraChori conducts child reunification and rescue before Christmas.

ChoraChori’s main aim is to reunite displaced children it rescues from India with their families. This follows a period of care, rehabilitation, education and training at its transit refuge in Kathmandu.

Parbati’s story

British volunteer teaching Nepali girls screen printingParbati is one of 33 children whom ChoraChori rescued from a very bad children’s shelter in Bihar, north India, in March. She’d gone originally to India with a boyfriend who had subsequently abandoned her. When she joined us she was very withdrawn and unwilling to speak about her past. However, during her time at the refuge she has blossomed. She has benefited from training provided by British volunteers Ben and Lara. Ben has taught her how to use the electric sewing machine while Lara has trained Parbati in screen printing techniques. See the adjacent films.

Nepal girl trainingMeantime ChoraChori has been tracing families and preparing the way for the reunification that took place on Saturday. Parbati is one of two girls from our refuge who were successfully returned to their families. You can see from the title picture that Parbati’s return to her village caused quite a stir. Especially when she proudly showed off a screen print shoulder bag that she had made. Parbati is welcome to return to the refuge next year to continue her training, if she so wishes.

ChoraChori finds more displaced Nepali children in India.

Nepal, children, ChoraChori, charity

After this reunification, the ChoraChori team moved across the border into the neighbouring Indian state of Bihar. There they visited a girls’ shelter and a boys’ shelter. Through interviews it is important to confirm nationalities as ChoraChori would be unable to offer reunification of Indian children to their families. And it can be difficult to establish nationality given that ethnic Indian people live in south Nepal and ethnic Nepalis live in northeast India.

Following the interviews ChoraChori determined that four little girls and eight boys can be returned to Nepal and to our transit refuge as their first port of call. Unfortunately this could not happen straight away due to the local Child Welfare Committee being involved in other business and given that a forthcoming Nepal election will restrict movements in the country. So ChoraChori will now have the added expense of a return visit later this week to bring the children home.

ChoraChori rescues young women too.

Rescue operations often deliver the unexpected and this trip has been no exception. For at the girls’ shelter the team found an 18 year old woman who is three months’ pregnant. She told Shailaja our staff how two women had drugged her in Nepal for her to awake in India and enter a forced marriage. Therefore this is a human trafficking case. The woman is keen to get justice and she knows all the people involved in her abduction and subsequent rape. ChoraChori will help her pursue the case.

A deaf Nepali woman and her child found at a girls’ shelter in Bihar

ChoraChori’s field team has brought this woman back to Nepal along with another woman that they found at the shelter. She is 23 years old and both deaf and dumb. She has with her a three year old boy who looks severely malnourished (pictured left). The woman told the team that she too had escaped from an abusive relationship. ChoraChori’s Nepal staff has very good experience in working with hearing impaired people and we should be able to help this woman (and indirectly her child) with some income generation training.

Needless to say these two adult cases will add significantly to our long term care and training costs. This expense is over and above the immediate transfer, and short/medium term care costs of the 12 children we will bring home later in the week. Please help us now with a donation by clicking on the logo below. Under the Big Give Christmas Challenge which runs until 12 noon on the 5th December all gifts can be doubled in value. Thank you for supporting our wonderful reunification and rescue staff in this way.

 

 

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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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

 

Son of The Thief

ChoraChori rescues former street kid with a story to tell

This is the story of Ramesh, a former street kid in both Nepal and India. ChoraChori rescued him in March this year after Ramesh completed a tough journey, both literally and metaphorically.

Gulmi

Gulmi District

Son of The Thief

Ramesh was born 17 years ago in Gulmi District, 350 km and 11 hours’ drive west of Kathmandu. As you can see from the adjacent picture, it’s a beautiful hilly area, well known within Nepal for coffee growing. But Ramesh’s upbringing was far from idyllic. For his father was a notorious thief who robbed many of his neighbours before eloping with another woman. Ramesh was so young at the time that he doesn’t even remember his father’s name. His mother, Sita, remarried but Ramesh’s life was no happier. His mother and stepfather argued constantly and in the eyes of the villagers Ramesh was stigmatised as “The Son of The Thief”. Eventually at age 10 Ramesh had had enough. He ran away from home and headed for Butwal, a dusty bustling major town that lay 100km to the south.

Life as a Kawadi

Butwal

The streets of Butwal

In Butwal Ramesh became a street kid, working as a “Kawadi”. This is someone who collects and sells garbage – usually plastic bottles. He earned £1.50 per day but this wasn’t enough to get by on. So after three months he started working as a kind of agent for the local bus service, earning 30 pence commission for every passenger he procured. By day he stayed at the station, by night at a local night shelter for street children. This led him into smoking and abusing glue like the other kids. However he made friends with some of the station staff and three months later a bus driver gave him a lift to what Ramesh hoped would be the excitement of Kathmandu.

In Kathmandu he became a street kid again. During the day he was a Kawadi, at night he slept on the steps of a temple in Basantapur Durbar Square. He’d become vulnerable to bullying and older children stole his money. But his safety improved when he found a night shelter that was prepared to admit him. He spent the next five years in Kathmandu passing through two more children’s shelters. These helped him to reduce his smoking and glue-sniffing. He received some education and even training in Taekwondo. His confidence restored a little, his thoughts turned to his family.

Basantapur Durbar Square

Basantapur Durbar Square

Homecoming

When he was 15 Ramesh returned home for the major Hindu festival of Dashain. He looked forward to sharing his exciting stories of city life and “success” with his family. But, to his dismay, he discovered that his stepfather had also abandoned his mother. Depressed at her circumstances, Sita had descended into alcohol abuse, eking out a living by breaking stones to make gravel. She and her two children were living in abject poverty. Ramesh decided to leave home again and find the money his family needed.

He returned to Butwal where he worked first as a truck driver’s assistant and then as a bus conductor. After that he moved to Pokhara and eventually north into remote Mustang. Here his work was to load stones and boulders onto a trailer. He tells how one day the stones moved on their own as the first of two earthquakes struck Nepal in 2015. Soon afterwards Ramesh decided he would never find his fortune in Mustang and headed south for India.

India travels

India travels

Crossing the border at Bhairahawa, Ramesh’s first job was as a housekeeper and childminder to a doctor in Gorakhpur. With a smile he says that his tasks extended to ironing the doctor’s underwear. He quit two months later and his travels really began. First of all he spent a fruitless three days looking for work in Delhi, once again sleeping on the streets. Then he went to Mumbai where he found three months’ work on the busses. That didn’t pay enough so he crossed India to Chennai.

Two days later he was in Bangalore where his job-hunting came to an abrupt end. The Indian police are on the look-out for stray children at railway stations and they picked Ramesh up as soon as he stepped off the train. They took him to a children’s shelter in Bangalore where he spent two months before the authorities transferred him to a dreadful home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Six weeks later ChoraChori rescued him in its major child rescue operation last March.

Future plans

At the ChoraChori refuge in Kathmandu Ramesh has been a gregarious lad who, thanks to his non-formal education, even speaks some English. He says now that he would like to learn a trade so that he can provide for his family properly. Specifically he wants to become a motorcycle mechanic – an option that would offer plenty of work in Nepal! This would require a six month course followed by a further six months of vocational training. A full year of support from ChoraChori comes to £1,250, including his living expenses.

If you feel you can help Ramesh to realise his dream of returning to his family with money in his pocket then please donate using the button below. The site accepts donations in any major currency. Many thanks!

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ChoraChori returns first group of rescued Nepalese children to their families

ChoraChori conducts medical checks on rescued Nepalese children at its Kathmandu refugeRescued Nepalese children returned to families

On the 17th March 2017 ChoraChori brought 33 trafficked and displaced Nepalese children back to Nepal. See this link. Working in conjunction with Nepal’s Central Child Welfare Board, we freed them from captivity in dreadful conditions at two children’s shelters in Bihar, north India. Since then we have been conducting basic medical checks on the children and, where necessary, providing essential medical care. We’ve also been finding out more about the children’s circumstances and how they ended up in India. And this past week we’ve successfully reunited the first nine of the returnees with their families.

Nepal’s Musahar community – the rat-catchers

These first nine children are from the Musahar caste. This word means “rat-catcher” or “rat-eater”. This caste lies within the “untouchable” community and the Musahar population straddles the border between India and Nepal. See this description of the Indian Musahar from Wikipedia. The 2014 Nepal census records 234,490 Musahar as living in Nepal. Their name stems from the belief that the people were so poor that they caught rats for food. That may not longer be the case but the Musahar still lead tough lives and experience terrible discrimination. As untouchables they are kept at the margins of society and may not share the same space as higher caste people. They undertake the most menial work and that includes, like their Bihari counterparts, going to north Indian States to find agricultural labour.

Caught in a trap

The nine children we returned to their homes in Siraha District told us of how, ironically, Musahar children find themselves in a trap. They have to attend separate schools, segregated from other children. Their school offered classes only up to the 5th grade. Further education would have involved transfer to a mixed caste school and that wasn’t allowed. So in desperation the children set off as a group to work  in a pizza shop in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Relatives who were working there already promised them a salary of 5,000 Indian rupees (£60) per month. The children left home with their parents’ permission but en route the Indian police intercepted them. The authorities placed them in Darbhanga children’s shelter where ChoraChori eventually rescued them.

Now these reunited children have no interest in education – it’s not available anyway. Instead they want to find work in Nepal or, when they are older, as migrant labour in the Middle East. One of the nine even wants to return to India once his citizenship papers are complete.  However bleak their prospects in life might be, at least these Nepalese children have the chance of a fresh start after their appalling experience as captives at Darbhanga children’s shelter.

Child trafficking

We are still researching the circumstances of the other rescued Nepalese children. Already there seems to be a significant child trafficking element involved. For obvious reasons we’ll not share anything on this while our investigations are underway. Also, two children are runaways from a Buddhist monastery in south India. They allege that they were being thrashed by the monks. This is not the first time that we have come across this allegation arising from a most unlikely place and this too requires our further research.

ChoraChori in the Nepali Times

Nepalese children captiveYesterday the Nepali Times published a powerful report on our joint operation with the Central Child Welfare Board. You can read this article and view the associated film by clicking on the image to the left.

Support one of the best small charities for Nepalese children!

It’s as easy as clicking the button below. And just now we badly need your support to allow our vital work to continue. We have to rescue, rehabilitate and reunite many more Nepalese children from India. And there’s so much follow up required from this operation alone, including finding Nepalese child traffickers.

Donations can be made in through this secure system and in any major currency (BT MyDonate back converts £ donations into the donor’s own currency). And if you are a UK taxpayer Gift Aid can be added on automatically. U.S. donors can make tax efficient donations through GlobalGiving. Many thanks!

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