FrontPage Mission News Trip reports The children About Us Donate 2017 Sundarís Move to Kathmandu Sammar in Damak Sammar with his Sister in Damak
Important Note:  It is important to understand that all trips to Nepal are self funded and no money donated to help the children will be used for travel expenses incurred by organization staff. This is explicitly specified in the bylaws of the organization.
There were a number of developments since my previous trip that will help set some context. The first event was Sundar’s mother travelling to Khandbari during Dashain (October 2016). She arrived and was initially not allowed visit her son. She had to bribe the cookmother to visit. When she did gain access she found Sundar had a bad rash on his arms and legs and a badly infected wound on his back. I told her to ignore any objections and bring Sundar to the local hospital for treatment. Around this same time the school where Sundar was attending opened a hostel. I told Sundar’s mother to take Sundar from the orphanage and bring him to the school hostel, but not to let the committee know the plan until he was released. Sundar’s mother went to the committee and told them of her intention to take her son from the orphanage. Initially they said ok and told her to return the next day to take him. The next day they changed their story. They refused to allow Sundar leave the orphanage. I am sure this is illegal but during Dashain all government offices are closed and there was no place to complain. It is a prime example of problems with the caste system and corruption in some organizations in Nepal. What was a little unsettling to me is that Sundar’s mother returned to Kathmandu that day to celebrate the main days of the festival at home. The next disturbing event was the committee expelling three children including Sundar. First Santosh was brought to his mother and grandmother. They live in a shack in Khandbari and are no less capable of looking after Santosh now than they were when he was first admitted to the orphanage. They are both illiterate and were asked by the committee to provide a fingerprint on some document. They were not aware they were agreeing to take Santosh from the orphanage. After this event Santosh started skipping school regularly and was often staying with friends or places unknown rather than with his mother and grandmother. Sammar was the second child to be expelled. I heard from the local school that the committee had requested a school transfer certificate. Before I had a chance to intervene they brought him on a long bus trip to his sister in Damak, a town in Eastern Nepal near the India border. They enrolled him in a local school and told his sister it was now her problem. Even worse they made this move during second term exams meaning Sammar did not have an opportunity to sit  exams in either old or new school putting his entire year in jeopardy. I talked to Sammar later and he told me that due to family pressure he would be dropping out of school to go work in India. Sundar was the third child to be expelled. The chairman of the committee lives in Kathmandu and went to the house of Sundar’s mother. He shouted abuse at her, told her how bad she was for abandoning her son and told her to go to Khandbari immediately and take Sundar. It is funny how they wouldn’t release him a couple of months earlier and were now insisting she take him. At the time I sent a message to Sundar’s mother. I arranged with Sundar’s school that he could enter the new hostel for the remainder of the school year. I asked her to go take Sundar from the orphanage but rather than bring him to Kathmandu to bring him to the hostel. I told her I would arrange a new school in Kathmandu and travel to arrange everything once the school year ended. The boys who were expelled told me conditions had deteriorated drastically at the orphanage in recent months. The said there is a new warden, a girl of about 20 years old, who beats some of the children regularly. All of the boys and Kinari, the youngest girl, were beaten with bamboo. After these events I figured the committee must not have managed to raise any funds this year and were working towards closing. I sent Nabin’s cousin to release him from the orphanage and enroll him in the school hostel, as I had done with Sundar. The committee refused to release Nabin to his family. They heard my plan to place Nabin in the school hostel and it seems they are intent on blocking any move to help the children. One final event before the trip was the disappearance of Pujan, one of the young boys whose mother is still in Khandbari prison. The police brought a child from the streets to the orphanage. They asked for him to stay there a few weeks while they located his family. There is no water supply at the orphanage as the committee never paid the bill. Pujan and the temporary boy were sent to the well to fetch water. They never returned. It is now over two months since their disappearance. I hear there are cases filed with the local government against the warden and the committee. With the context set, the primary goal of my trip in 2017 was to secure a future for the 3 boys who had been expelled from the orphanage. The timing of the trip was to coincide with the end of the school year. One fortuitous event during the year was that CCRC, the +2 school that Rabin attends, purchased a regular Grade 1-10 school on the same street. Even better they were building a boys hostel that would be ready for the new school year. I arranged with DevRaj, the school director, that Sundar could be admitted to the school and that a place in the hostel would also be reserved. My trip this year was just 2 weeks due to work commitments. I arrived on a Sunday morning and Rabin was waiting at the airport. I recall my first year and how intimidating the airport was with scores of taximen and prospective guides trying to win your custom. Now it’s something to look forward to with Rabin waiting. That day I brought Rabin to the dentist. I asked what we needed to buy, clothes etc. He told me he was fine, still had what we bought the previous year and only needed a single pair of shoes. We also bought toiletries and then went for dinner. His tastes have expanded during his year in Kathmandu. Last year he was only interested in chicken fried rice but this year he wanted me to choose something more interesting. We went for Indian curry. The next morning I took the short flight to TumlingTar and a short jeep ride up to Khandbari. I wasn’t five minutes in the town when Kinari spotted me at Tejanath’s house. The kids are still on lockdown but she stayed to chat a while. She had one very swollen hand from being hit with bamboo. She is an amazing kid who is able to smile despite the current difficult circumstances. After Kinari left I went to visit Santosh at his mother’s house. Santosh was missing, hadn’t returned home the previous evening. I left word for Santosh to come see me once he returned. Next I went to visit Kopila. She had just returned from college. I told her to get her sister Kamala and I would bring them clothes shopping. One thing I needed to do was pay Kopila’s college fees. She told me the office was closed and I’d have to go by myself the following morning as she would be in class during office hours. Myself and the 2 girls walked the 20 minutes or so down to Khandbari Pokhari, the market are of the town. Sundar’s hostel is near the market area so we went there first to meet Sundar. I found Sundar was out playing with friends, not surprising since he’d be leaving Khandbari in 2 days. We went back to the market and I gave the girls money and told them to bring receipts for whatever clothes they bought. I walked the 20 minutes back to Tejanath’s house. I had only just arrived when I received a call from Kopila. She said Sundar was in the market area and looking for me. I went straight back downtown. I was nearing the market area and there was a gang of about 10 kids outside a shop. Some started saying Sundar, Sundar as I passed. I asked if they were friends of Sundar and they told me to sit and they would go fetch him. One boy went running downtown and arrived a couple of minutes later with Sundar. I was playing cool so as not to embarrass Sundar in front of all his friends. Sundar wasn’t, he ran over and gave me a monster hug, I thought he may never release me. Sundar told me he had checked out of the hostel and would stay at Tejanath’s. He had an oral exam he had to do the following day and on the Wed morning we would leave Khandbari. We walked back to Khandbari with his entire gang accompanying us. The next morning I got up around 7am. Santosh was downstairs waiting for me. We had a good talk about his future and attending school. I told him we would go to the market and get whatever clothes he needed. I didn’t know at the time that all shops in Khandbari are closed on Tuesdays. After some breakfast myself and the two boys walked downtown. First I had them accompany me to Kopila’s college so I could pay her fees. We then went looking for a clothes shop but nothing was open. We found a small shop where I could buy Sundar a plastic bag to carry his clothes and personal items from the hostel. Sundar left for his oral exam. Myself and Santosh walked to Naya Bazaar, another part of town where we found a shop that was temporarily open. We were able to buy the clothes that Santosh needed. He went back to his mother’s to change and then also had to go to school for an oral exam. After his exam Sundar came to Tejanath’s with a single plastic bag with all his belongings. His only personal belonging was a single photo of all the orphanage kids that I had brought a number of years earlier. He had a single pair of jeans that were a going away gift from his friends and 2 shirts that I had bought in previous years. He also had 2 of the jackets I had brought last year. It was a bit of an eye opener seeing just how little he had. I told Sundar we would go to the orphanage so I could see the other kids and so he could say goodbye. He didn’t want to go – he was scared of the warden and he hadn’t been there since he was expelled. I told him he would be safe while with me and it was just as likely I’d be denied access as him. We went to the orphanage and cookmother and the children were there, the warden was not. Cookmother was unusually friendly. She even offered that I take some photos as long as the committee didn’t know. Sundar was very happy to have the opportunity to see the other children there. After a couple of minutes there was some noise and some of the children spotted Santosh hiding in bushes on the hill above the house. I shouted at him to come down and he did. Santosh also had not visited since being expelled. All the kids were in great form. If you saw the scene you would have no idea how much trouble has occurred lately. We left the orphanage and myself, Santosh and Sundar went downtown looking for a barber to get Santosh a haircut. I suggested we visit Sundar’s uncle so he could say goodbye. We were approaching his uncle’s tea shop when another lady started talking and invited us in for Mountain Dew, the regular treat for foreigners. It turns out the lady is Sundar’s aunt, a sister of his mother’s. After chatting for a while we went looking for a barbers but it was late and nothing was open. We went back to Tejanath’s house for dinner. Santosh and Kopila hung around for the evening. The next morning we were up at 5am so myself and Sundar could take a jeep. We were travelling to Damak where Sammar is now living with his sisters. First we took a jeep with 16 others. It’s a bumpy dirt road over steep hills. We were stopped by police at one point. One passenger had three sacks full of yak tails on the roof. He had some paperwork saying how many he was carrying and that he had paid whatever is due to the government for transporting these. The police emptied each bag and counted the tails one by one. In the end they confiscated about half of what was there. We were stuck at the side of the road for a couple of hours while all this happened. After about 8 hours we got to Hile, a town where the dirt road transitions to a tarmac road. We switched from the jeep to a microbus (hiace van) with about 26 passengers. The microbus took us to Dharan where we would take a local bus to Damak. We arrived in Dahran pretty late so found a hotel to stay the night.We also went shopping to buy one change of clothes, underwear and shoes. We were travelling with Iran, a masters student from Khandbari who was helping us  with buses and hotels, he also came shopping to help deal with negotiations. Early the following morning we took a local bus for the last few hours of the journey to Damak. Local buses are cheap, just $1.20 each. The downside is they are incredibly uncomfortable and slow. A local man sat beside me and invited me the school where he works and to his family home. When I told him I did not have the time he asked would I fund the school. There are many in Nepal who simply view foreigners as a potential source of income – it can be painful when you’re stuck on a local bus beside such a person. When we reached Damak I asked them to drop us at the Gorkha department store rather than going to the bus park. I wanted to avoid the touts at the bus park. I phoned Sammar to come meet us at the store but he was some time away. We sat outside a bakery and bought some snacks. As we waited it got pretty frustrating with a mix of teenagers, street children and crazies all hanging out of me and wanting to take selfies with me. We moved inside the store to escape the chaos. After about an hour Sammar arrived and we took a tuktuk to a hotel. I had found a nice hotel on facebook before the trip and it turned out to be a very good place. It was modern, clean, had AC and a good restaurant. Sammar decided he would stay with us at the hotel for the couple of days in Damak. We had lunch in the hotel restaurant. After lunch I told Sammar we needed to go visit his family so I could persuade them to let him stay in school. We bargained with a tuktuk who said he would bring us for 200rs ($2). We went a couple of blocks when the driver pulled up beside another tuktuk and told us to transfer, said his battery was almost drained and he couldn’t make the trip. The 2nd driver started but when we had to turn from the main road he argued he could not bring us for 200rs. He said the original location Sammar stated was much closer and it was a 9km trip. After some time we agreed 600rs. I usually wouldn’t have paid the higher price but it was stinking hot and Ijust wanted to get moving. When we reach our destination we started walking down a dirt track from the road. It turned out to be 30 minutes walk from the road. We reached Sammar’s house and had tea. He lives in a corrugated iron clad house with 11 people, 2 sisters each with husband and children. Sammar’s mother is in India and the family were putting pressure on him to drop out of school and go work in India. Using Sundar as a translator I negotiated that he will continue his studies if we cover his living expenses. I also gave money to cover school books and for himself and his sister to travel to Khandbari to arrange his citizenship. Sammar’s sister asked if we could wait some time for the 2nd sister to return from the market to meet me. Myself and the boys went for a walk to a tea plantation to kill some time. They had a lot of fun hiding in the tea plants. We returned to the house as it was getting dark. We took some pictures and then took a taxi directly from the house back to the hotel in Damak. We ate again in the hotel restaurant. That first night I ordered a number of curries that we shared. My plan was to show Sundar different food each evening. In the orphanage they only ate rice and lentils so it was interesting to watch him experience new tastes. They both enjoyed the curry. The next day I wanted to bring Sammar clothes shopping. We discovered that all shops in Damak are closed on Thursday’s. After some searching we were told some shops in one area would open at 5pm. We also found a stand to buy microbus tickets for myself and Sundar to travel to Kathmandu. It cost $15 each for a reserved seat in a good microbus that would take about 12 hours, ½ the time of a regular bus. We then spent the day killing time around Damak. I don’t feel the need to ever visit that city again.. On Friday we got up to take a 6am bus to Kathmandu.I gave Sundar a couple of Dramamine and we set off. The first part of the journey is along the Terai on a completely flat and straight road. It was still rough as the road was packed with cows, bicycles, buses, trucks and everything in between. The bus was constantly accelerating and jamming on the brakes. After a number of hours we stopped at a roadside ‘café’ for some Dal Bhat. After lunch we turned off the main east-west highway to take a shorter route through the mountains to Kathmandu. It now became a slow windy journey up and down steep hills with huge drop-offs to the valley below. We hit a major traffic jam as part of the road was destroyed by a landslide. There is a temporary one lane bypass. I had brought a roll of 50 trash bags from the US expecting Sundar would have difficulty with the travel. He filled one bag while we were in the hills and then tried to sleep as he struggled through the rest of the journey. The bus dropped us on the outskirts of Kathmandu and we then took a taxi to Thamel. It was late when we arrived by my friend Dev Raj was waiting to organize hotel. The next day we took a local bus to Bhaktapur to meet Sundar’s mother. We had Dal Bhat at her house and then we spent the afternoon with his brother and sister in the old part of Bhaktapur. They were preparing for the Bisk: Jatra so we got to see the chariots being prepared. Sundar had a fun day with his siblings but he made it clear to his mother he did not want to stay with her. We returned to Kathmandu that evening.   On Sunday morning we went to visit Rabin in his hostel and Sundar and Rabin were reunited. They are like brothers and Rabin is now taking care of Sundar. That evening myself and Sundar went to Bhaktapur for the start of the Biska: Jatra, a week long celebration at the time of Nepali New Year’s. On that first day they have a tug of war with a giant chariot. There are hundreds of people pulling the chariot in opposing directions and whichever group gets it to their side of town brings blessings to that part of town. It was an amazing event to see. We had a very busy week buying everything Sundar would need for the year. I brought him to dentist. This was his second time to a dentist as 2 years ago I gave Rabin some money to bring Sundar to dentist in Khandbari. He had a cleaning but didn’t need any other treatment. We also went to a tailor and got him measured for his school uniform and ordered that. We went to Hebron, Sundar’s new school. Sundar had to sit an entrance exam before admission could be finalized. Arun, the principal, and DevRaj, the director, are extremely helpful. We arrived at the school and they let Sundar sit the 2 hour entrance exam thre and then. He had missed the official exams. DevRaj grabbed a few chairs and we sat in the school courtyard chatting while Sundar completed the exam. They corrected the exam and then gave me all the paperwork required for admission. I asked Sundar’s mother to come to Kathmandu the next day and we went to the school and completed all formalities. It was a little surreal that his mother was there yet I was the person producing his birth cert and filling all the paperwork. I presented his mother with original of his birth cert that day. During the week we did manage to visit many of the major sights in Kathmandu. We were up at 6am each morning so managed to visit some of the significant sites before they were overrun with tourists. In Pashupatinath Sundar saw a boy making bracelets with names. He wanted one, seems his friends in Khandbari had them. The boy making them was very interesting to talk to. He had been in an orphanage that was closed by the government. He was amazed when I guessed the name of the organization. He was already a teenager when the orphanage was closed and no other institution would take him at that age so he ended up on the street. He managed to avoid glue and even finished school by himself while living on the streets.  Thursday was New Year’s eve and Rabin had a few days break before his next exam so I took him from the hostel for the evening. Myself and the 2 boys went to Bhaktapur to see some more of the festivities there. We had a great evening` The following morning we returned Rabin to his hostel and myself and Sundar carried on with more chores. Saturday was my last day in Kathmandu and I had a crazy list of things to finish. I needed to get hold of documents from Sundar’s school in Khandbari, submit that paperwork to his new school, buy his school books, collect his laundry, bring Sundar to his mother in Bhaktapur to spend a few days there and I had a dinner appointment with DevRaj, the school director. Tejanath collected the documents for me in Khandbari and brought them to TumlingTar airport. He found a passenger willing to ferry them to Kathmandu. We went to the airport in Kathmandu to meet the plane. We spent hours there but due to weather the plane never left TumlingTar. We heard the flight was cancelled so returned to the hotel to get Sundar’s belongings. As soon as we got there word arrived the plane had indeed departed and now we would have to meet the passenger in a different part of Kathmandu. We wasted hours but eventually got hold of the paperwork. We then rushed to buy books, bring all Sundar’s belongings to the hostel and then visit Rabin one last time. I then brought Sundar to Bhaktapur.  Sundar was very sad when I left him with his mother, not because of staying there but because he knew he wouldn’t see me for some time. He was also extremely nervous about staying there but knew it was for just a couple of nights. The next morning I was up early and headed for the airport. My flight home was the first time I have ever managed to get a half decent sleep on a plane – guess all the running around caught up with me..
All Photographs (c) Michael Fingleton
Rabin Waiting for Me at Tribuvan Airport Rabin's 2017 Dentist Visit Kinari Minutes After I Arrived in Khandbari Kopila in her College Uniform Sundar with his Gang of Friends in Khandbari Santosh Clothes Shopping with Santosh Nabin Came to Say Goodbye To Sundar Visiting the Orphanage with Santosh and Sundar Sundar Leaving Khandbari With All His Belongings Our Jeep from Khandbari to Damak, Nice Tyres !! Sammar with his Sister (Red Top) The House Where Sammar Lives With His Sisters Sammar with his 2nd Sister Sammar's New School in Damak Clothes Shopping with Sammar Sundar and Sammar Trying New Food Sundar not Impressed by Banana Milk Shake Tea Plantation in Damak Microbus to Kathmandu, a 13 Hour Journey Taking a Tempo to Sammar's House Sundar Reunited with Rabin in Kathmandu Sundar with his Brother and Sister A day in Bhaktapur with Sundar's Family Sundar's Visit to the Dentist Shopping for Everything Sundar Would Need Sundar and Rabin with DevRaj, the Director of CCRC First Day of the Biska: Jatra Sundar Tasting Newari Food, Showing Friends in Khandbari Sundar at Tailor Haircut Saying Goodbye to Rabin New Year's Eve With Sundar and Rabin Buying School Books Leaving Sundar with his Mother Sundar Settled in his New School Saying Goodbye to Sundar Rai Mero Bhai