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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Kabuga: a Tiny School Equipping Street Kids

On a little dirt road halfway up a little hill sits a tiny little school—two classrooms and a supply closet—with hammers and tape measures, screwdrivers and a circle saw, and 16 students training in the areas of mechanics, electricity, masonry, carpentry, and welding. Many are former street kids and/or orphans due to the loss or imprisonment of their parents following the 1994 genocide, and are between the ages of 15 and 22—although there is no age limit, simply a stated need for skills.

This is where we hung out for a couple of days.

Kabuga Vocational Training Centre is ALARM’s response to street and orphaned children who were living without education and other basic needs in a small village outside Kigali after the 1994 genocide.

My dream is to be a good electrician and get a job with a company to help install electricity in my village.
-Mikali, age 16

Student

I want to be a good mechanic so I can take care of my family and help my community.
-Kinongisse, age 22

Jeff and I visited the students, teachers and graduates of the Training Center to learn more about life and work in Kabuga. The first day we spent at school with current students, and the second day in the field with four different working grads: a welder, a carpenter and two moto taxi drivers, and two auto mechanic interns. Of the students we met, two grads are former street kids, two are orphans, one is a father of five, and all are primary earners for their siblings/family members. We were also greeted and accompanied by the school’s two teachers who receive their pay via in-kind donations (like soap) totaling less than $20 monthly.

Moto drivers and teachers

The school runs on a budget of $0, and relies solely on support that comes through ALARM, donations sent by places like Home Depot, or spontaneous gifts left by traveling visitors. Teachers receive no salary, and, in fact, sometimes pay transportation costs to and from school each day.

Why would teachers do this?

Emmanuel“I have a gift of helping kids without hope,” says teacher Emmanuel, father of three who quit his paying job five years ago to teach at the school when he felt called to help ‘those who are weak’ as he has read in the Bible and has been taught in church. He was recruited by Celestin (founder of ALARM), and says he answered the call to serve.

My salary is not physical,” he says, when asked how he makes his living and supports his family. “It is spiritual. I can’t explain it. It’s a mystery how we are cared for. Visitors give gifts and we survive from them. You can’t imagine how God provides for my family. ALARM helps us get basic tools to the kids at school.”

About 180 students have graduated since the school was founded in 2004, and more than 90% have been able to get jobs, and create co-ops and associations.  Twenty-one students are currently enrolled in the Center this year.

The entire vocational training program takes about 18 months, with one year in the classroom, and six months in the field. Many students found the school through word-of-mouth, or from graduates who had been through the program. Some were simply living on the streets and saw the school, or saw others walking to the school. Every student we encountered reports they were warmly welcomed by the teachers when the approached the school to ask how they could become students.

Students are able to select one of two vocational tracks: mechanic and electricity, or masonry, carpentry and welding.  At the end of their fieldwork, they are provided with certificates, and they can go find jobs.

ALARM has proposed a budget to pay the teachers a small salary of $200/month, and hopes to raise those funds this year. In addition, ALARM hopes to purchase four motorbikes per year to allow the students a sort of rent-to-own system for those embarking on moto-taxi careers. Currently, students have to rent motos from private owners at a cost of $5000 RWF per day, and the rental fee comes from their earnings. To put this in perspective, a typical moto ride costs between 500-700 RWF.  Slow days can sometimes mean no food, and the drivers live within this rent-work-pay cycle indefinitely, because most can never earn enough to purchase their own motorbikes. One motorbike costs about $2,200USD!

Testimonies of Students who have graduated:

Martin T (pictured above) is the 26 y/o single “husband” of the family to his mom and sister. He graduated in 2009 with skills in carpentry, electricity and driving. Before he joined the vocational school, he had dropped out of secondary school because he could not afford the school fees. He describes this difficult time in this way: No job, no money, no life, no future. However, when he discovered the school, he found the teachers to be kind and helpful and he was accepted into the program with no questions. He is now earning his living as a moto taxi driver with aspirations to become a truck driver some day. He continues to care for his sister and mom.

Mark M (pictured above) is a 25 y/o who graduated from the Training Center in 2009. He was living on the streets as a teenager after he lost his parents, and he had never been educated, even at a primary school level. After learning about the Vocational Center from other graduates who had been provided with an education at no cost, Mark walked to the school and was welcomed in to the program. He is now making his living as a taxi driver.

WelderDavid N is a 27 y/o welder, the second-born of five orphaned kids, who, prior to David’s ability to find work as a welder, lived under bridges and on the streets, feeding his brothers and sister from dustbins. When he joined the school, his education gave him the opportunity to earn an income, and he now works as a welder. He is able to rent a small home, buy food, clothing and shoes for his siblings, and send the two youngest brothers to secondary school. His older sister takes care of the house and siblings with hopes of one day being able to study, too. David has been a welder for five years and aspires to one day purchase his own welding equipment to operate his own business.  David says, “The school has trained me, educated me and changed my street-boy behavior. I am so thankful for this school and my teacher. I can’t describe how to thank my teacher, Emmanuel.”

CarpenterJuvenoli B is a 38 y/o husband and father of five kids who works as a carpenter. He was previously in agriculture, but due to erosion and poor soil, he could not generate enough income to provide for his family, pay rent and send his kids to school. He was accepted into the vocational center and trained in carpentry. He now makes and sells beautiful chairs, headboards, doors and other items.

We were so inspired by these guys, by the teachers, and by our time with Kabuga peeps- it was one of our best couple of days in Rwanda!

Entire photo album is here.

For more info on other grads and/or how to get involved, check out: this page, and the June issue of World Next Door magazine :)