We just completed our time volunteering at an orphanage in the small rural village of Bhakunde, 1 hour outside of Pokhara, Nepal. As we knew it would be, it was a meaningful, heart-opening, and perspective-expanding experience.
We stayed with a local family across the street from the orphanage in their home. The family consisted of the mother, father, 3 children (age 21, 19, and 14), husband and wife of the two oldest children, 2 grand babies (6 months and 3 months) and the grandmother and grandfather. A full household, to say the least. A beautiful family that really welcomed us into their home and made us feel like a part of the family immediately. They offered us one of the 4 bedrooms and all slept in the other 3. We shared cultures and found similarities, taught each other English and Nepali and tried to connect deeply with their way of life. Life in this farming village is hard work, since everything is done by hand. Wealth is measured by the amount of land you own in order to grow food and how many animals you have. They had many chickens, 2 goats, 2 water buffaloes, and grew everything from rice, potatoes, garlic, onions, cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower, beans, peas, spices and herbs, etc. We spent our days cooking, cleaning, planting, watering, and harvesting the vegetable garden, stacking fire wood, churning ghee, milking the water buffaloes, and anything else they needed help with. It was nice being settled for a while, not moving around all the time, and feeling like we were part of the family.
We helped the family during the day and spent our mornings and evenings with the children at the orphanage. There were 80 kids in total, mostly coming from poor families that couldn't support or feed them. Some had been abandoned, some were willingly given by the family, and some were taken by the state from neglectful or abusive parents and brought to the orphanage. What was meaningful to see was that although these kids had come from less than ideal "home" situations, they somehow seemed truly happy. They had found their home at the orphanage,... a safe place, ...a place where they were deeply loved and taken care of... and with that they created one big family. It was beautiful to see these children thrive with so little. No toys, no T.V., no music players, no X Box, no sporting equipment, no stuffed animals, no fancy clothes ... no material things. They had their school supplies and 1-2 changes of clothing that had been donated and handed down from the older kids, and that was it. Being so removed from the western world, which creates the illusion that we need "things" to be happy, they didn't seem to "want" for anything other than love and affection, as it should be. Happiness comes from within, and they modeled that so perfectly. Interesting for us since we were there during Christmas time... quite the dichotomy to being in the states for the holidays. More to come on that later.
The orphanage itself was exceptionally well run and organized. Originally founded and now funded by a group of Germans, so I would expect nothing else. The children were divided into 4 houses, with a range of boys and girls, aged 3-16, and 1 house mother. 5-8 kids in each room... bunk beds lined the walls and there was 1 small closet to hold their few personal items. Each child had their daily jobs, (pulling weeds, sweeping, cooking, washing dishes, etc) and were responsible in keeping their rooms clean and clothes washed. The older kids looked after the younger one's, and everything seemed to really flow with a very detailed but relaxed schedule. They learned all the normal subjects like math, science, reading, writing, etc., as well as English language, art, drama, music, dance, and world religions/traditions. They had a very detailed schedule of classes, with times built in for play, meals, and homework (which is normally done in a dark classroom, because of the lack of power for most of the day). The children stay at the orphanage from the time they arrive until they complete their studies through class 8. Class 9 and 10 are completed in Kathmandu where they are set up with an apartment and taught to cook, shop, garden, clean, pay bills and all basic skills to be self-sufficient. After class 10, they complete an "internship" of their choosing to learn a trade and then are helped to get a job. It seemed like a well rounded education that really sets them up for survival and success.
While we were at the orphanage, we helped with homework, made art, told stories, taught English and played games like football (soccer), hangman, a Nepali version of 4 square, and other made up games that require nothing more than some sticks, string, rocks or other found items. The kids were very affectionate and we were always smothered with hugs and walked to and from the gate, hand in hand, when we came and left every day. They sang to us, made us cards, drew us pictures, and were always eager to learn about our families and lives back in the U.S. They were such sweet, respectful, well-mannered children, full of life and grateful for everything they had. Of course, we came to the orphanage wanting to help the children and they ended up helping us in so many ways as well.
Children are such teachers... what a blessing. Pure, innocent, creative, grounded, honest, unique, ...with such joyous abandon... and that's universal. It's like they've had less time to develop limiting views of who they are and how the world works. Less conditioning that we are all different and separate... less self-importance... less consciousness of the self. A direct link to source, as we all do, but more awareness of the connection of all things. It was truly a blessing to have had this experience and hopefully we will be ever changed by it.
Thank you to everyone who donated money for the orphanage and helped make this happen. Much gratitude!
Temples in Kathmandu. We met back in Kathmandu for orientation for the orphanage stay.
orientation meal... special dal bhat. mmmmmm......
Colin and Durba, our homestay father
Me and Sita, our homestay mother
most of theThapa family (Sita, Durba, Sagar (youngest son), Rosale (oldest son's wife), and Esore (oldest son) and their child.
view from the house balcony... harvesting the rice
Rosale and Puja... the sisters ... they loved dressing me up in makeup and fixing my hair. Not MY thing, but they had fun... I was a good sport
saree time! They even painted my fingernails (one hand of course, because they don't paint the hand they eat with. )
me and grandma
the two babies!! I was in heaven
Colin playing dad Very sweet
Little Daisy was so light skinned, everyone thought she was OUR baby. The family actually offered both children to us many times during the stay for us to bring them back to America. A bit awkward, but a generous offer.
milking the water buffaloes and bringing the goats back home for food
water buffalo looking for food
Sita and me working hard in the garden
Colin helping to break gender roles by helping washing dishes
the kitchen (a hut out back that is also a shared space for the goats)
I helped cook everyday... Sita and I became very close. We called each other "Didi" which means sister in Nepali
mmmm... dal bhat. Delicious. Good thing we liked it, because we ate this exact meal every day 3 times a day!! After being in India for nearly a year before this, ... I think I've had my lifetime fill of rice.
rice harvesting... a family job
the lake at sunset
having a good time with the family... we laughed a lot.
since there is no water inside for most of the day, everyone baths and washes clothes at the cold water communal outdoor spigot on the main road. Interesting in a culture that is so private
helping out around the house
churning buffalo milk for lassis
Yay! The orphanage! I only brought my camera a couple of days because having the camera created quite a distraction, but I still got some good photos.
the boys LOVED Colin and swarmed him every time he was around. He was so much taller than them, it was cute to see.
I mostly hung out with the younger kids
sweeping, washing clothes, helping in the garden... some of the many daily jobs they have to help out
i helped the younger kids with their homework everyday
I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but this little guy stole my heart immediately! so sweet
Colin mostly played games with the older kids
dance is a big part of their culture... boys, girls, young and old. I love it!
Dancing makes you happy!
another one of our favorites... beautiful little girl
you mean Angry Birds?? Ha ha ha
Christmas program! It was really beautiful to be at the orphanage through Christmas time. Since they learn about, celebrate and honor all religions and festivals from around the world, they spend the month of December learning about the story of Jesus and his teachings. They sang Christmas songs (with such spirit and soul), decorated Christmas trees (made of twigs and paper), and wrote Christmas cards.
Exchanging Christmas cards. I got so many! Thoughtful kids!
the kids sang, danced, and gave Christmas well wishes to each other.
They even practiced and performed a play on Christmas eve depicting the Christmas story. They sang, danced, and even made their own costumes and decorations. This is Mary writhing in pain giving birth to baby Jesus... full on moans and all... hilarious. I don't remember that part from our school play when I was Mary.
shepherds and sheep
3 wise men
Colin gave the closing speech at the Christmas program and then they had a dance party around a big bonfire. It was great fun. We presented each child with a small Christmas gift of 2 colorful pencils, an eraser, a sucker, and some stickers. They lined up and patiently came through to receive their gift.
They each looked at us in the eyes and with two hands (it's disrespectful in Nepali culture to give or receive anything with one hand) gently and graciously received their gift with such gratitude and joy. It was really beautiful.
We presented the school with presents provided by all of your generous donations. The school was very well funded for school supplies, but they really didn't have any sporting equipment, so we bought them badminton rackets and birdies, hacky sacks, sidewalk chalk, basketball, soccer ball, ping pong rackets and balls (they played on a cement table with a row of lined up bricks as the "net"), and extra stickers and pencils. They were super excited!
We also donated some of the money to our host family, who almost seemed more in need of it than the orphanage. We bought them gifts with your donations as well. Kitchen supplies, games for the family, and warm winter clothes like gloves, hats, baby booties, shawls, socks, etc. We also printed out over 200 photos and made a picture album for the family (since they didn't own any photos of themselves), as well as photos for other people in the village. Most of the people had no photos of themselves, so it was magical handing them out. A highlight of the time for sure. One of many.
We also inspired and partially funded the family to build a kitchen in their home. They painted cabinets, put in counters, sink, tile flooring, etc. The whole family pitched in and helped which was nice... brought the family together. It seemed to raise spirits and bring life to the house.
We left before they finished, so we have no photos of the finished product, but we talked to them recently and they said it looked "derai ramro" (very beautiful)
Again, a big thank you to everyone who donated $ for these beautiful children and this family, They were very deserving and so grateful.
Beautiful place, beautiful, people, ....amazing experience
Sita gave me a new sweater dress (Nepali style) that matched one she bought for herself, so we wore them together the last day. Twins!
Our last day with the family was a sad tearful one, but we rallied and made it a fun one by taking everyone to the street festival in Pokhara for the day. We all got dressed up and ate good food, got our faces painted, and rode rides. All new things for them. They had a blast.
We decided to say goodbye to Pokhara and Bhakunde with a bang and went paragliding! Thanks mom for the Christmas present
It was beautiful flying over the lake and having the snow capped mountains surrounding us. Wow
Thanks Nepal for such a beautiful and meaningful experience!!! We will be back!! Jam jam India!!