Cared For: In which tiny kids out me, emotionally

*This post was written while on assignment with World Next Door: a digital social justice travel magazine. Check out our website (www.worldnextdoor.org) for more information and download our most recent issue! All of the Nepal content can be found here.

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It was about halfway through our time with Tiny Hands in Nepal that I discovered a sweet spot tucked away their ministry. I was so dazzled by the anti-trafficking work detailed in the previous article—the border stations and interceptions, maps, analytics and all things undercover—that I sort of forgot about everything else, like how the ministry started in the first place: children’s homes.

Before we were scheduled to visit one of the homes, I flipped through a stack of old newsletters and magazines produced by Tiny Hands throughout the years and read that the founder, John, had originally established Tiny Hands as an organization caring for orphaned and abandoned street children. He launched the ministry after he noticed a stark contrast between street kids in Kathmandu and the smiling, laughing, singing, dancing kids of a local organization’s family-style children’s home. He determined to find those who need help the most—vulnerable orphaned or abandoned kids on the streets—and use the best strategies, the most qualified people, and with a “do much with little” philosophy.

Tiny Hands opened their first children’s home in 2003 as a family, not an orphanage, which I thought was interesting. My image of a children’s home had always been a gaggle of stray kids collected together and organized by age and sheltered until they were either adopted or turned 18. But kids in Tiny Hands’ homes were not waiting for adoption or shoring up dreams of a future family—the home in itself was a family. They had two parents who were called to serve them attentively and individually, a quality education in both Nepali and English at a nearby school, spiritual nurturing, health care, protection, solid nutrition, games, laughter, fun and on-target development.

So that was the plan. Tiny Hands opened that first home, and then grew a handful of additional homes in Kathmandu,  Pokhara and Chitwan caring for Nepal’s orphaned and abandoned kids.

It was only through the work with vulnerable kids, however, that John became aware of a more desperate injustice: sex-trafficking. Girls and kids were harvested from villages and streets all around him and taken across the Nepal/India borders for the purpose of sexual slavery. Quickly, victims of trafficking moved to the top of the list as “those who need help most” in addition to orphaned or abandoned street kids (who are themselves at risk of being sucked into the feeder system of the sex trade simply by being vulnerable) and the organization began specific anti-trafficking initiatives.

Ultimately, I understood, it wasn’t about the specific issue. The entire vision of Tiny Hands follows a few commands of Christ: love your neighbor as yourself, and whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. If you found yourself alone on the street or without parents, would you be desperate for someone to help? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to help. If you were kidnapped and raped, would you be desperate for someone to find the courage and conviction to save you? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to find the girls and save them.

Tiny Hands is living this philosophy out, in addition to their sex-trafficking programs, within their ten children’s homes serving a total of 138 kids.

How could we have overlooked this?!

But I imagine it happens all the time. There are no blockbuster movies starring Liam Neeson about children’s homes. The injustice and responses aren’t as dramatic as trafficking. It’s not so glamorous, raising 14 kids that aren’t your own for life. And what would the title be called? Cared For.

This movie would feature early morning wake-ups, preparing a ton of breakfast, wetting down rogue hairs on an eight-year-old, morning prayers, packing book bags, socks and uniforms and bow ties and ponytails and braids and shoe-tying, walking several kids to several different schools, laundry, parent conferences, more food, homework, lots of math and spelling help, playtime, singing time, devotions, dinner, teeth-brushing, hair-undoing, night time prayers, uniform ironing, sock pairing, shoe-lining and several deep breaths.

Riveting.

The thing is, it was riveting when I saw it in action. And the tiny little faces that welcomed me into Tiny Hands’ Bethany Home are just as valuable, precious and deserving of attention as their counterparts at the borders with equally as desperate circumstances. All these vulnerable kids are just trying to make it in Nepal, and Tiny Hands is doing everything they can to ensure they more than make it, that they are loved, cared for, protected, educated, healthy and successful in the process—belonging to two parents and a handful of siblings for their entire lives.

Bethany Home kids posing in the play room on our first evening
Bethany Home kids posing in the play room on our first evening

BETHANY HOME

We—Jeff and I, along with a Tiny Hands staff—arrived at Bethany Home one evening during play time, and noticed about a dozen kids ranging in age from three to 12 playing on a colorfully carpeted floor in front of an entire wall of toys and games. The room was painted purple and green, decorated with construction paper handprints, photographs and crafts from each of the kids.

We were pummeled with hugs and kisses and laughter and tickling and displays of ABCs and number counting, and we were eventually serenaded with several songs that included coordinated dance moves and hand motions. They also waited expectantly as Jeff and I struggled to come up with an equally as impressive impromptu song with coordinated dance moves—Father Abraham was brilliant we thought, until they all joined in. Old news, Father Abraham.

Singing and dancing
Singing and dancing

We met the youngest kids, three-year-old Samuel and Sudin, who are not brothers, but were inseparable and off-the-wall silly, inciting monkey noises and matchbox car races and wresting moves from Jeff and the other staff.

Samuel and Sudin
Samuel and Sudin

Samuel and Sudin were typical three-year-old boys in every way possible—rambunctious, playful and full of energy. I looked at the house mom, who was acting as base for several other young kids who would run back and forth from her lap to the toys, and shook my head. How does she do it? And why? She and her husband have two healthy biological kids in the mix somewhere in the room and could surely be making more money for an easier life. But she smiled back and wrapped one of the boys in a bear hug, patiently redirecting the other who was break-dancing on top of another kid’s puzzle.

We wanted to hear their stories—the kids and the parents—but we’d have to come back. Being an attentive mom to 14 kids under 12 doesn’t really allow for efficient side conversation, so we enjoyed the tea served by one of the older kids and jumped into the playtime scene around us.

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Because it’s a law in Nepal that foreigners can’t spend the night in children’s homes, we made arrangements to sneak in the next morning for breakfast just to see what a typical morning is like in the home. We also hoped to visit the kids’ schools and spend some quality time getting to know the house parents.

We arrived early the next morning to sleepy faces and hot breakfast! The kids lined up at the table, prayed together and gobbled up their steamy platefuls of lentils and rice. We had such fun watching the little and big girls do each other’s hair, the older kids fix the uniform neckties of the younger kids, and little feet everywhere pulling socks on and off as they found the right sizes and matches. You would never believe the effort it takes to find and fit 14 little feet into shoes, but they did it, and the entire family gathered for dad’s morning prayer before leaving for school. I was in awe. Throughout the entire getting-ready-for-school process, I never felt tense or overwhelmed. The house parents emulate a feeling of peace and patience throughout the house, and it’s impossible not to just soak it up. When was the last time you spent a few hours with 14 kids under 12 during those hectic morning hours and walked away feeling peaceful?!

Girls getting ready before school
Girls getting ready before school
The girls all lined up and ready
The girls all lined up and ready
A little prayer over the kids before school
A little prayer over the kids before school
14 kids finding their school shoes at the same time :)
14 kids finding their school shoes at the same time :)

We walked with the family hand-in-hand to three different schools, including the two youngest—Samuel and Sudin—who attend a Montessori playgroup. Montessori playgroup. Such opportunities afforded to these two little guys! I wondered if a Montessori playgroup would even have been a possibility in their other lives prior to Bethany Home. Where had they come from? Why were they here?

Questions were piling up as we walked with the parents back to the house, and I patiently sat, sipping my tea and visiting, until the conversation lulled and they asked if we had any questions about the kids or the house. Finally!

“Tell me everything,” I said. “Beginning to end, front to back, yourselves, the kids, the entire story!”

I’d heard from Tiny Hands staff that Bethany Home was a special place, that the parents have a unique story, and that some of their youngest kids had the greatest margin of growth despite desperate beginnings. I wanted it all.  So we sat cross-legged on the floor of the colorful playroom over Nepali tea for several hours, and the Gurungs shared their own story, and the stories of how several kids had become their own.

[Read the rest of this story and how it relates to our own journey of unparerenting here…]

*This and other stories like this are be featured in the December issue of World Next Door Magazine, featuring Tiny Hands Nepal. Download it for freeeeee!

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Our Paranormal Bike Adventure

Sometimes you hop on the bike and everything in the world is normal. Other times, these things happen:

It’s just you and the open road… And some cattle.

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…And some kids. Following you down the road in the middle of nowhere.

When out of the corner of your eye, you see the cattle again. PLAYING VOLLEYBALL!

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You shake your head and keep riding.

Shortly after, you are led by a local to a magical oasis of bamboo huts over a pond!

The huts are free to use, and a waiter comes up to take your order.

You look around and notice everyone picnicking. You are surrounded by music and laughter and fishing and napping. Nice!

You order a coke.

Suddenly YOUR coke arrives in its own picnic basket!

You kick back with your coke and your husband and your little picnic basket and discuss dreamy things like freelance writing and photography gigs and pizza shops.

You hop back on the bike and notice this duck holding avocados in the middle of nowhere.

Then you notice a sign for another picnic area. You’re curious. You follow the signs down the road until you can’t go straight any further, and follow the arrow left. Then you go straight until you can’t go any further, and follow the arrow right. Then you go straight and right, and straight and left, and straight and right for half a mile, through an alley village lined with kids shouting, “hello!”, and you find yourself at another pond!

Only this one has a VIP hut.

You are escorted to the hut, hop on to the swinging hammock, and order a couple of Angkors. You ask for peanuts, which are usually served with beer. The lady looks confused. You try to act out peanuts, and when that doesn’t work, you say “Snack!” A look of recognition crosses her face, and she says, “You need snake?”

THIS is what comes out.

Not peanuts. Potentially snake.

“The men here eat this when they drink beer,” she says. “It’s free for you.”

You drink the Angkor, Jeff tries a couple bites of the slimy-looking thing and throws the rest into the pond when no one is looking. You thank the lady, pay and hop back onto the bikes.

You continue riding and come across this little dude scratching his name in the sand. Cute.

You visit for a minute, snap a pic, turn around…

and THIS guy is coming toward you with a giant snake trying to scare you!

You escape the snake. About ten minutes later, it starts to pour. And ten minutes after that, you hear the crunching of gravel on your rim.

Your tire is flat.

Fortunately, you’re in front of a bike shop! They give you a brand new tire and fix Jeff’s brakes for a total of $2.

While you’re waiting, at least 40 minutes from home and in the pouring rain, the security guy from your house pulls up. He is on his way to work- TO YOUR HOUSE! It’s 5p.  You’ve been gone for four hours.

You pay the bike guys, say goodbye to the security guy, and take off again in the pouring rain towards home. You turn a corner…

…and run into THIS guy!

What are you doing here? What are YOU doing here?!

You book it home just in time for dinner, the security guard arrives, and you ain’t even mad at the rain.

All in all, a spectacular day!

Insomnia, Insanity, and the ‘Bode

So far today: I woke up at 3a, then 4a, then finally got out of bed at 5a to do I-Candy, which is my own personal version of Insanity. I named it Brooke-CAN-ity (because I CAN do it, right?), then changed it to I-CAN-ity (to make it universal), and then shortened to I-Candy (because this is what everyone thought I was saying). It’s a little cardio/resistance circuit that represents my new attempt at routine and consistency in life, and it usually feels awesome. But today I lost half my weight in sweat during the first 20 minutes since it was 94 degrees at, like, 6am.

Oh yea. Which reminds me: WE’RE IN CAMBODIA! We made it safely here via Seoul after about 30 hours of travel to embed with our host ministry Center for Global Impact [http://www.centerforglobalimpact.org/]. We spent today doing things like eating tropical fruit, Thai noodles and Vietnamese coffee, visiting a riverboat village, meeting Tavi of byTavi(!), getting chopstick lessons, setting up all the phones and data stuff, banging my head against the wall when the phones and data stuff wouldn’t work, sweating, trying not to nap, singing If you’re happy and you know it with a bunch of kids at the children’s home, and listening to the kids sing a song back to us in French which none of us, not even the kids, knew the meaning of. We also visited the Phnom Penh programs each of us will be working with this summer: byTavi, Imprint Project, and the Enzo-tina Children’s Home.

From here our team will divide between four different programs in two cities to work alongside and document CGI’s mission for justice within the sex trade industry.

Some basic info:
Sex trafficking is transportation across international borders for the purpose of sex.
Sex slavery is when someone (usually kidnapped, tricked or coerced) is held against her will for the purpose of sex within the borders of her own country.
CGI deals with both.

The sex trade is divided into 4 categories: prevention, rescue, recovery (safe houses), and reintegration. CGI works primarily with the prevention and reintegration pieces. CGI believes that poverty + crisis = risk for trafficking. The solution to poverty in some families is to sell their daughters for weeks at a time to feed the family due to the high economic value of young girls. In this way, girls can be sold over and over as a source of income for the family.

One of our interns is embedded with ByTavi, a prevention program that empowers girls and young women to earn an income in safe ways by first learning how to sew bags and purses, and then being provided with an international market to sell the items they’ve made. A talented team in the US sells the product, and this allows the women to earn 4x the poverty level income in Cambodia. They are then able to provide for their families outside of the sex industry. ByTavi was named after Tavi, one of the women workers who was formerly trafficked and now able to provide a legitimate income for her family. We met her today! ByTavi info here: http://www.bytavi.com

Another intern and one of the other year-long fellows are embedded at the Green Mango in Battambang. There, orphans, girls-at-risk, and formerly trafficked women are enrolled in a two-year culinary training program that will prepare them to work in high-end restaurants all over Cambodia. http://www.greenmangocgi.com/

Our third Intern is embedded with the Daughters Project (currently being renamed the Imprint Project- girls who can’t read or write use their thumbprint as a signature, the program is named after that imprint). The Imprint Project is a two-year residential program pairing high-risk or formerly trafficked teenage girls with social workers who provide life-skills training, education, health care, money management and professional seamstress training. Initially the program was aimed at developing the girls inside the residential program and after the two years, the girls would return home. However, after discovering how the families adapted to life without the girls at home and how quickly marriages were arranged once the girls returned home, the program is has shifted to include the entire family, even providing them with land and a house to go through the program as a family. http://www.cgidaughters.com/about

Jeff and I will be living at the Daughters/Imprint house at night, but embedded with CGI Kids during the days. In Cambodia, the most educated and most successful students are given priority in school with front row seats, attention, and encouragement while the poorer, less successful, struggling students are ignored and fall behind. CGI partners with a children’s home down the road and goes into the schools, asking each teacher for a list of the least-performing students to work with, encourage, develop and come alongside. CGI also works with the younger siblings of the girls from the Imprint project who are living at the children’s home. This is all I know about CGI kids, but that’s our job. To find out more! I know one of GCI’s goals is to engage kids in the US to get involved helping kids all over the world.

Some photos from today- meeting the Imprint/byTavi girls at the shop, the WND dudes at the pattern-cutting table, and the riverboat village we visited:

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MAGAZINE!
We are so excited, because this week or next (we’re not sure when it will be released) the June issue of World Next Door magazine will be available to download and JEFF AND I WROTE THE ENTIRE ISSUE! This is our first content for World Next Door, and we have seen some of the article designs. Our graphic designer continues to be *awesome* and we can’t wait to see the whole thing. Hope everyone loves it :)

So. Thanks for following along. Updates from our trip will at http://www.brkwilson.wordpress.com, and you can click “Rwanda” for the last trip or “Cambodia” for updates on this trip from the menu along the right side of the screen.

Direct links to those categories are here:
Rwanda- https://brkwilson.wordpress.com/category/world-next-door/rwanda/
Cambodia- https://brkwilson.wordpress.com/category/world-next-door/cambodia/
World Next Door- https://brkwilson.wordpress.com/category/world-next-door/

FOR THE FUNDERS:

You guys are the best. Once again- THANK YOU for your support of Jeff and I with World Next Door. The sharing of your resources is what allows us to continue to do this work, and there are no words for how grateful we are!

I have received some emails with questions about how to maintain your monthly giving amount and want to try to help clarify! If you set up an automatic bank payment, you should be able to choose this to be a recurring check sent out from your bank account to WND each month on whichever date you choose just like a regular online bill payment. That’s one way.For those mailing in hand-written checks each month, we have an office staff of 1 (the graphic designer) while we’re out of the country, although we are desperately trying to hire an office manager, so we do not have a system that distributes reminders or bills or invoices, so sorry about that :( If you have committed to supporting us on a monthly basis, please be sure to send those in each month (or whichever interval you checked on your pledge card) and Tara, our graphic designer, will collect and deposit the checks. We will be reviewing the total amounts collected quarterly to evaluate the total amounts coming in.

The third way is to do an online paypal payment at the World Next Door website once per month. All giving instructions/directions are here: http://www.worldnextdoor.org/join-us/give/

Thanks again guys! Miss ya’lls…

Grapefruit-o-lanterns. They Exist.

Well, there I was feeling all homesick for some fall in the Midwest—pumpkins, leaves, jackets, football—or at least a little Halloween fun in New Orleans, when lo and behold, I walk into the kitchen and they’re all carving  grapefruits.  They did it just like a pumpkin: cut a little hold in top, reached in and pulled out the insides, then very carefully, using gigantic knives with no handles and teeny little fingers and grapefruits, carved out spooky little faces. Then they put a candle inside, tied some ribbon to either end, and hung them on the doorknobs to greet trick-or-treaters, who don’t come on October 31st. They come on November 1st and 2nd for All Saints and All Souls days.  They even have a creepy little version of trick-or-treat: Eshpasha pa la calabera, si no me das te da cagalera.

Translation: Special porridge for the skull, but if you don’t give me, it will give you loose stools. Usually, then, the villagers give the kids some porridge and sweets, realllly wanting to avoid those loose stools.

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grapefruit 5

On All Saints Day, they light little candles for the kids and babies who have died, and place the first plate of food they cook on the table next to the candles and wait for the steam of the food to go to the souls of the babies. After about half an hour, they say, “Okay. The souls are finished eating. Now it’s time to eat!”

They also place one plate of food and one little black candle on a chair for the anima soula: the lonely soul.  Each person gets a plate of food, including kids who come to the door, and a special plate is always set aside for the lonely soul.  The very next day, on All Souls Day, they do the same thing for adults who have died.

Also, we’re out of water again. The water went out Friday night, and by Sunday night—with no clean dishes, no reserve water in the drum and nothing to bathe with, people started asking around.  Apparently a pipe broke. I suggested we try to wash some dishes with the maybe 5 liters of water we had left in the drum, but Antonia said it wasn’t clean.  She said we have to be careful because these are the times when people, especially ones with babies, are desperate to use any water they can find to wash and cook and bathe, and people start getting sick from the unclean water.  Point taken. Taking a shower now costs $2.50 in 1.5L of Crystal water:

water

Update: it poured all day. Everyone ran outside with soap and shampoo and bathed, right there in the front lawn. I really wanted to lay all the dishes out on the grass, too, but I didn’t think of it in time.

Crawfish guy

Well. I realized two things today:

1. No matter how many years I’ve been doing this, or how many stories I’ve heard, or how many hurt kids I’ve seen, or how well-trained I am, or how supportive an agency is: some days will just be hard. There will always be thirteen-year-olds committing suicide. There will always be live-in boyfriends beating little kids up. There will always be caregivers dying and overwhelmed teachers flying off the handle. There will always be anniversaries of deaths and seven-year-olds whose first response is to stab someone with a crayon. Kids will always make fun of other kids’ teeth and shoes, even if their mother has just died. Even if the kid is an excellent singer. There will never be enough resources. I will never go home and feel okay about it.

2. In New Orleans, sometimes a crazy guy will run after you with a boiled crawfish and say, “Good mawnin! Good mawnin!” moving the crawfish’s little mouth up and down like a puppet, and you won’t know it at the time, but at the end of the day, you’ll feel overwhelmed and discouraged and crawfish guy will make you smile.

The Great Snow of 2008, and other silly stories.

I think you probably heard, but it snowed in New Orleans.

This was not just a little dusting; it was a full inch. School was canceled. Businesses pushed employees outside to run willy-nilly through the yard and throw snowballs. The entire city fell apart at the age line and turned six-and-a-half, simultaneously.

I’d heard there might be snow on the North shore, so when my mom woke me up with a text that said, “snow?” I turned on the TV and rolled over. I only jumped out of bed when Good Morning America and the Today show were preempted by local news standing at Audubon Park frantically and joyfully screaming about how blinding it is when it falls heavily. And white! I waited patiently for Geraldo to show up and walk sideways into the wind.

Kids were rolling around and spreading snow all over their bodies. Adults were sledding on suit coats and building thousands of teeny, tiny 6-inch snowmen, and then adorning them with full-sized hats and scarves and carrots and sticks. We were encouraged not to venture out if we didn’t have to, because the roads were very, very bad. The bridges and overpasses were closed, and government offices closed in two parishes. I ran outside to take pictures, and found clumps of people gathered all over the sidewalk and streets staring up at the sky. Most had their tongues out.

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I called the Red Cross to make sure they were still open before I ventured out in the snow that wasn’t yet accumulating, and they asked me if I was comfortable driving in “this”. I told them they could count on me. They said good, because Orleans parish was in a Level One snow emergency and they were in the midst of pulling together staff and volunteers for two standby cold weather shelters.

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All day stations played, “Let it snow” over and over, and it has since been referred to as the Great Snow of 2008. If you go to Tulane’s website, you’ll see an entire photo album and slide show documenting happy students playing in the lawn with scarves and hats to lure prospective students into thinking, “See? We have Christmas, too!”

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It was a joyous and happy Christmas miracle. It melted by dinner, and the next day was 65 and sunny. Just how I like my snow—beautiful, then gone.

Here are some pics of the Christmasy city yesterday-

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Santa and His half-brass Band

When right in the mall there arose such a clatter, I got up from the food court to see what was the matter.

Only in New Orleans would Santa and half a brass band saunter around the mall singing.


Finals Week

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As of now, I am one-quarter Master Social Worker.
(You can call me Master for short.)