New Hope in Nepal: Education Transforms Lives

In the aftermath of Nepal's earthquakes, my first concern has always been for the children. A million children affected by the earthquake need homes. They need to be cared for and protected from very real dangers such as trafficking.
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Last week, I was sitting with Anuradha Koirala. Someone popped into her office to tell her that her organization, Maiti Nepal, had just rescued a girl at the border. The girl was about to be trafficked to India. It happens all the time.

Photo courtesy of BRS

Long-term relief efforts, the kind that answer problems and bring benefit without creating new complications, are like solving a puzzle. You need to look at the problem from every side, so you can understand the implications of any given action. As we work on ways to help the people of Nepal, I have been talking to many people who are actively helping the earthquake victims. I have travelled around Kathmandu, visiting clinics, schools and hostels where children are staying. I've learned the challenges, from red tape to the uglier sides of human nature. And I have seen firsthand evidence of problems we knew existed but hadn't actually encountered -- problems such as human trafficking.

2015-06-17-1434576372-4026598-20100322_Bhutan_0155.jpgPhoto courtesy of Dede Pickering

In the aftermath of Nepal's earthquakes, my first concern has always been for the children. A million children affected by the earthquake need homes. They need to be cared for and protected from very real dangers such as trafficking. Since April, Buddhist Relief Services has discussed setting up orphanages. But the Nepalese government stopped issuing licenses for new orphanages -- so now we need a creative solution. We are talking about starting safe houses.

In these, we hope to help two types of children. Primarily, of course, we need to help the children who are lost, who have no parents and no home. We will identify them because we have already established a close connection with people in the villages, as well as with key government officials. The truth is, despite all the roadblocks and self-centered people, there are always those who have the ability and the heart to make good things happen. That is very encouraging. It is also very helpful.

2015-06-17-1434576695-8539008-20100308_Bhutan_0361.jpgPhoto courtesy of Dede Pickering

These orphans need a home, which we will provide, along with food and clothing and emotional support. They also need an education. If the home is close to our existing school, the Trungram International Academy, the children can go there. Otherwise, we can arrange to send them to local schools. Our plan is to care for them throughout their childhood and adolescence, until they are old enough to find jobs.

As we have developed this idea, we have realized that there is another category of children who need help: teenagers living on the streets. They are a little different. They also need financial and emotional support, homes and education. However, they may never have been to school and are considerably more hardened than the newly orphaned children. We won't be able to engage them in normal schools. But we believe that if we can teach them skills that will help them earn money, we can interest them. Our hope is to keep them for one or two years -- in which they will be living in a home-like environment, off the streets -- then graduate them with training that can transform the rest of their lives. This is an example of something good coming out of tragedy.

Photo courtesy of Dede Pickering

Of course, we will be working with the government to help make this happen. In all our aid efforts thus far, we have been careful to take the middle path. While we distribute aid ourselves, we work closely with the authorities, filling out all the appropriate paperwork, inviting government officials to bear witness, even asking them to give speeches as we give aid. So far, this has worked extremely well.

Going forward, we believe we can convince our government connections that these safe houses and educational programs are good work, and that they deserve support. In tandem, we will also team with village leaders and the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, groups that can help us maintain ground reality, educating us on what is happening in real time.

In the long-term, the answer always goes back to education.

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