Monday, 31 December 2007
In my post of 25th July "The Last Resort" I rejected the politically correct statements being made by ideologists like Gillian Mellsop, the Country Representative of UNICEF in Nepal, who at the time had gone on the record as saying that international adoption should be the last resort. Challenging these hollow, fawning viewpoints at the time I gave a short overview of the other options that were infinitely worse for the unwanted, unloved Nepali child - like ending up in a grim orphanage, on the streets, being trafficked or early death. Professor Conn's review complements this analysis, albeit in a much more erudite commentary.
That said, he does remind us that the process of adoption is always accompanied by "disruption, loss and mourning". In the midst of the joy that we new adoptive parents are revelling in at the moment it is appropriate to remember this and give a great deal of early thought to the future needs of our new sons and daughters who will have to cope with these sentiments. I can imagine how in the light of how the recent international adoptions have been so abysmally mismanaged by the Nepalese authorities some, if not most, parents may wish to have nothing more to do with Nepal. The reality we have to accept and work around is that the adopted child, teenager and future adult will always feel an affinity with their homeland. They may even fantasise about it as some kind of Shangri La - which it certainly isn't. As far as my daughter Alisha is concerned, we will be very open with her in the future about her background (what little we know of it) and of the ongoing situation - and desperation - of Nepal. She should never be made to feel "grateful" for what was an act of love on our part, but she should be given every opportunity to understand the pain and hardship of Nepalese society and the context from which she was adopted. Maybe one day she might even feel inclined to follow in our footsteps and put something back; I would be delighted by that but ultimately this will have to be her own choice.
The Esther Benjamins Trust now has a major Indian circus in its sights for a rescue operation within the coming month. Our field workers have already gone to the southeast of Nepal to research the families of children who have gone to that particular circus. Predictably, it seems that the circus has already been tipped off (doubtless by families who will receive a kickback for their collaboration) as I learned today that four girls have just been sent home to Nepal from that circus. Sometimes circuses do that in advance of a rescue to unsettle us or to improve their image. But once again our already acutely dangerous task will be made all the more challenging by tackling a circus that will be ready and waiting, having bought off everyone that matters in its locality.
Saturday, 29 December 2007
A couple of years ago a group of lads came over to Nepal from Ireland to take part in the annual World Elephant Polo championships. Led by the charismatic Graham Little the team did a lot of fundraising for The Esther Benjamins Trust during their training before progressing to success at the event. Afterwards Graham sent us footage to use in our fundraising and I thought you'd enjoy seeing it.
Friday, 28 December 2007
But then again, maybe they are right after all...
Thursday, 27 December 2007
Waiting around we speculated on what was going on around us, or not, as the case may be. The young Nepali staff member of Alisha's orphanage who had accompanied us suggested that all Nepalis were lazy. We quickly - and politely - disagreed. Anyway, this is certainly not the case. Bev and I continued the discussion over dinner this evening. She opined that from what she had seen there is a tendency (and let's try to avoid generalisation) for people who have a job to do here to get distracted so that they lose focus and don't achieve their work goals. There is certainly truth in this as you can see it happening in offices across the land, with visitors coming and going all the time, chats taking place and clerks trying to juggle everyone's interests at the same time. Objectives aren't achieved on schedule in this chaos and this is most definitely a land of lost opportunities.
However I have a different take on this. I often reflect on a pearl of wisdom that I read in a tourist guide book when I first came to Nepal in 1999. In a section of the book it stated something to the effect that "in Nepal time is an abstract philosophical concept" with people unable to time their arrival for meetings, meet deadlines etc. That's definitely true, but what I have seen is not just people losing a grip on their own time management but also their making a very good job of wasting the time of others. I wonder how many man hours are lost per week in Nepal through this inescapable and infuriating practice? Herein lies another problem that just cannot be addressed by the development sector - one of many that bedevil our attempts to improve society. Sadly no one seems to care in Nepal, just accepting this as being the norm, which is why this country is going to get left so far behind as its more tuned in neighbours recognise and seize opportunities with alacrity.
Before Christmas The Daily Mail, the leading UK tabloid newspaper, invited its readers to write in and propose their favourite charity for a prize. Generously, the Mail was offering a top prize of £100,000 with 90 runner up prizes of £10,000. I was very touched to read what some of our supporters wrote about us and we published some of these on our website:
I was over the moon to learn this evening that we have been selected as a runner up prize winner. That's a very welcome boost just as I was starting to worry again about meeting our rapidly growing commitments.
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
Yes, it's of course been fantastic with the news of Alisha's adoption being approved but this latter has involved us being in the freezing mausoleum of a Foreign Ministry building on Christmas morning trying to progress her paperwork. I watched, bemused, as a slob of a self-important official sat crouched over his desk literally pushing the paperwork around the table top, fingering and re-fingering it but doing little else. He was dressed in padded jacket and had an electric radiator trained on each leg, all contributing towards his general air of indolence. I commented to the chap who accompanied from the orphanage that a guy like this wouldn't last five minutes back in the West. He's clearly made a success of himself in Nepal.
Sunday, 23 December 2007
Friday, 21 December 2007
For the last couple of weeks we've had an appeal in place for the rescue of children and teenage girls who are trapped in the Indian circuses (see right). So far we have raised just £230 towards the £15,842 that we predicted would be needed to rescue 150 children from six circuses over the period January-June 2008 (a "planning assumption"). This morning I heard that the first circus on our list for January has no less than 200 trafficked and imprisoned girls so heaven knows where we are going to find the funds to raid that circus in January and to manage them post release. But the planning goes on regardless and the field team will be deployed next week to start collecting data and parents' statements/release requests. However I am sure that we will get a result and that 2008 will be for me a great year both personally and professionally.
Thursday, 20 December 2007
It seems to be a feature of history that after wars and civil wars nations out of necessity seem to feel the need to move on quickly rather than to risk self-immolation by addressing the crimes that have been committed on both sides under circumstances when peacetime law and order had been suspended. This expedient approach allows all kinds of psychopaths to escape justice, especially if they are perceived as having some short term residual value in the new post-conflict society.
Following a tip-off, evidence of a mass grave was found yesterday in the woods to the north of Kathmandu. It is believed that this could hold the cremated remains of 49 Maoists who were detained at a notorious Army barracks during the "People's War". The site is being investigated by forensic teams and by the National Human Rights Commission. But if it indeed proves to mark the final resting place of those who were tortured and executed it remains to be seen if anyone is brought to book for the crimes.
After Esther's death - almost nine years ago now - it seemed that in the immediate aftermath of that horror and tragedy beauty had also died for me. I turned all the pictures in our home to face downwards and stopped playing music; the house that had been the scene of her last desperate act became doubly grim. My reaction echoed the experiences of the general medical practitioner I had consulted at the time. It so happened that his daughter had also taken her own life just a month or two before Esther and that loss had followed the murder of her mother some years previously. He told me that after his wife's death all the beauty had gone and he would look upon say a rose as being just another object.
I recall how a couple of weeks afterwards I had a very profound dream in which I was painting a landscape - one that I saw in vivid colour, light and shadow with the sun playing on the early morning dew. In the dream I turned to someone beside me and said "Isn't it beautiful?". I awoke from that dream realising that the beauty was still there; it was merely my perception that had become warped. I decided to work hard at correcting that distortion and that day returned the pictures to their rightful position and started playing classical music again - very loudly. And that jolt seemed to work for me.
It struck me that maybe the other day, after spending years inside the grim Indian circus, Chameli may have suddenly seen her handiwork turning into something that was attractive rather than just an assembly of hand cut tiles. Perhaps she too had re-discovered beauty.
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
I noted in the papers recently that the local met office has said that the seasons are changing because of global warming. The end of the monsoon season (which used to be at the start of September) is now being delayed by three weeks. Given that the winter frosts are starting two to three weeks earlier than before that means that the traditionally pleasant autumn - the peak tourist season - is being impinged upon from both sides.
The other impact of the weather on our daily lives is the power cuts that kick in around this time of the year as the dry winter means the water levels in the rivers and reservoirs drop while demand rises because of the darker nights and cold weather. Today we were told in the papers that the present scheduled four hours of cuts per week will increase to six with immediate effect. By next February/March it is predicted that we will be enjoying eleven hours of cuts per day. Lovely....
Monday, 17 December 2007
I returned to the studio this afternoon to find Susma working on a mosaic of the world's worst football team's logo for a supporter in UK. Pictured right.
And I was delighted to receive a Christmas poem in my e mail today. A year ago I went on a research visit to Uttar Pradesh, north India, where I met a guy who clearly felt there was potential to secure some funds off the Trust for his local project (there wasn't and still isn't). He has since sent me a couple of tentative e mails to try and arouse my interest but now this:
My heart is warm, My heart
Strong with faith in you.
But I wish you came with songs to cheer
My lonely Christmas blue.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas,
Merry Christmas to you.
Sunday, 16 December 2007
Yesterday two Maoist leaders called at our Kathmandu refuge. They said that the Maoists are now conducting their own survey of children's homes, given that these have a reputation for mis-directing donor money. They wanted lots of information from Shailaja CM (our local Director), donations and even asked if some of their leaders' children could travel on our school bus. Shailaja spoke to them openly about our work and about my background and why I am here. But declined their other requests. I believe they were quite happy in the end but expressed an interest in meeting with me - the local leader apparently knows me quite well as he lives just behind my home! So I have suggested to Shailaja that we take the initiative and call them for a meeting tomorrow afternoon rather than wait for them to follow up their first approach. This should be an interesting exchange and we have nothing at all to hide. Quite the opposite; I will take pride in showing them our work.
Friday, 14 December 2007
Yesterday I went to visit our art workshop for child trafficking victims here in Kathmandu. I was delighted with the progress as I watched our UK volunteer ceramicist, Alex Hunter, teach the girls press moulding and pot throwing. In a classroom next door other girls were learning mosaic techniques.
When the course is over at the end of February I expect about half of the students to become employees at my new not-for-profit company "Himalayan Mosaics". The remaining girls will commence an advanced workshop. Ultimately all should enter good employment through jobs that we create and never again be vulnerable to poverty and the criminal intent of others.
There's a challenge!
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
Today I will be attending the premiere of a film about one of our circus rescue operations which is currently showing at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival. The 26 minute film was shot last January by Subina Shrestha and is presented by former UK Daily Telegraph correspondent Tom Bell. You can see a four minute abbreviated version of the film on this post.
After that rescue I wrote the following to Trust supporters:
“I returned yesterday from a circus rescue mission at the New Raj Kamal Circus which has been based near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, north India. This trip by our team has resulted in the release of 20 girls from that very abusive circus.
Our assistance had been requested by parents who had visited this small circus a number of times in failed bids to retrieve their children. Moreover, we had to act quickly as some recent evidence had emerged that children were being sexually abused within the circus. So our immediate aim was to remove all the children from the circus as quickly and safely as possible and to take action against the circus management for their crimes. This was always going to be a difficult operation not least because Uttar Pradesh is a particularly lawless state.
The team of local staff members was accompanied by 12 parents and in India we linked up with major local organisations including ChildLine India. Following our approach to the local police it became rapidly apparent that in spite of the small size of the circus it had indeed an extensive local support network. The police were totally uncooperative; in fact they were fully in collusion with the circus management and openly protecting the circus owner who had been raping and sexually abusing the girls. Faced with police collaboration with these criminals the team was left very exposed. At one point on Saturday our driver was abducted by the circus staff outside the very gates of the police station. This left us standing by the roadside being watched threateningly by circus thugs with sticks. After a very long hour's wait our hasty mobile telephone calls for reinforcements were answered and we were extracted as part of a seven vehicle convoy. Thankfully there are good and genuine people in India who are willing to help us in the fight against trafficking.
In the end and by going above local heads, 12 children were released to their parents and a further 8 (whose parents were not present or available) were sent directly back to Nepal where they were handed over to the Nepal police and from there into our care facilities. The work in India continues in taking evidence from the 12 girls prior to their return to Nepal in an effort to see charges filed against the circus owner.
This operation - which has led to the release of all the girls held by the circus - has cost in the region of £1,000 and more funds needs to be spent on the girls' residential care, rehabilitation and training/education once they are back in Nepal. Larger operations lie ahead so we continue to need your support. One girl who is 12 years old had been repeatedly raped. Another said that every day she had prayed to God that someone would come to rescue them. In the light of findings like this, our commitment to the project can only remain total in spite of the obvious dangers and difficulties.”
In The Esther Benjamins Trust Christmas Appeal we are asking you to donate towards more rescue operations like this one. Please visit the icon on the right and give generously!
Monday, 10 December 2007
News on the international adoption progress seems to be very difficult to read accurately. Things have been certainly moving, albeit excruciatingly slowly, and one or two parents have had children finally allocated. However it is quite impossible to distinguish between cases having been "considered" and "approved". I keep hearing stories of the pace of review being increased dramatically but I think it prudent to remain sceptical and not to book the pre-Christmas flights home just yet.
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Thursday, 6 December 2007
Saturday, 1 December 2007
Seven girls are now back in Nepal, waiting at the border before being transferred to our Kathmandu facilities. Of the seven, three are minors. Within the other four, one or possibly two are the agents involved in the crime and the police need to question the group further to establish the truth. Once identified the agent(s) will be brought to justice and face long prison sentences.
This good news coincides with the launch of our online Christmas appeal (see the link on the right). In the first six months of next year, alongside ChildLine, we want to retrieve approximately 150 children and teenage girls from around six Indian circuses. This follows our successful rescue of 280 children in the last four years from other circuses. This time the team will be tackling the most exploitative of the circuses and some very dangerous men, bringing these child abusers to justice through a dedicated lawyer. We need to raise £15,846 to undertake this mission, this covering rescue operations, repatriation and legal action.
Please give as generously as you can.