Travelling with the kids is more than just doing and seeing amazing things. It is as much about experiencing other cultures, whether this is through food, religion, language, lifestyle or any other way.
The place we are staying at in Pokhara is called the Butterfly lodge. It is basically a place set up to subsidise the Butterfly Foundation just up the road.
Nepal is recently out of a terrible peoples war which savaged the country and the people. It was rife in the villages and the Maoist rebels caused untold damage to families. They were ripped apart and many had to flee. Now that things have settled down families are still reeling from the war. There is no welfare system in place in Nepal and the reality is if you have nothing then you die. Nepali employers are willing to exploit this fact and so the people at the bottom of the social scale are forced to accept difficult, backbreaking work for about a pound per day. Out of this money rent must be paid and food bought. Families with children are unable to find work due to childcare issues and few poor children are able to attend school despite their being a free education system in place for children up to grade 5 – 11/12 years. The reason behind this is that schools charge extra mandatory fees such as food, books and furniture costs. This puts education out of the reach of many people.
Govinda the owner of the Butterfly Lodge decided back in 2003 he would try and make a change. He set up the Butterfly foundation. The foundation gets hundreds of applicants per year and can only take about 30 children. They are taken from the age of two until five and provided a child care facility for the day. They are educated and taught in both Nepali and English. This care means that the families can go out and work and earn more money.
The help does not stop there, the foundation provides for the education of each child up until they leave school at eighteen years old. Additionally the foundation offers support to the families by means of micro loans intended for the families to purchase things to start up their own business – Usually this is in the form of buying land and farming it. Everything is provided for the children such as uniforms, meals and even transport to the foundation.
The motto at the very heart of everything the foundation does is simple “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat everyday” The foundation is working from the bottom up in its efforts to try and eradicate some of the extreme poverty Nepal suffers. It is easy to forget Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and education is key to that change.
We were invited to the foundation for a number of reasons, primarily so Charlie and Abi could interact and play with the children, but also so word can spread of the foundation, the good it does and the need for donations. It is a charity and not for profit and so relies entirely on donations. We did our bit staying in the Butterfly lodge but the foundation welcomes volunteers and donations however small. More info can be found here: http://www.butterflyfoundation.org/about.php
One thing I noticed as Charlie and Abi played with the children was how carefree those young children were. Completely unaware of their plight they laughed, ran, played and were happy. There were children from Mongolian, Indian and Tibetan backgrounds and they all played so well together completely unaware of the problems they would face in later life. In Nepal and indeed India if you are dark skinned you are referred to as ‘untouchable’ and are practically unemployable. This is deep grained in tradition and so as I watched the dark skinned little girl with pigtails in her hair race up the slide the wrong way I foresaw a future she could not, a future filled with segregation, lined with misery and a life harder than imaginable. But here she was accepted, the foundation had given her a leg up, a good start and she was experiencing a happiness that would probably not last, she could not have any idea of what lay in store for her.
Many of the kids were wearing old clothes, some were quite obviously donated from the west. There was a young boy wearing small pink crocs, he had a smile that would melt any parents heart, piercing brown eyes that hid the torment, pain and hunger he would suffer at home.
As Charlie and Abi watched the young children sing and dance, as they played football and on the swings and slides, as Abi hung from the monkey bars, race, background, social status was irrelevant. It was just kids having fun without a care in the world.
If ever there was proof that we are all born equal and that hatred toward other races is not normal and not a state of mind from birth this was it. Seeing children look at not the colour of their skin, but reading each other’s emotions through facial expression and actions is touching in a way I can’t describe.
Seeing the children at the foundation from a parents point of view was difficult, but knowing the hard work and dedication that is going on behind the scenes to ensure they live fulfilled lives and that poverty can be eradicated within their family was encouraging. The butterfly foundation is one of many organisations around the world that is working to help those suffering poverty. It is actually surprising how little it takes to give a child an education, so the next time you are hammered at the pub and are considering whether to get another pint or not – Don’t. Donate it to one of the many organisations trying to put the world right: Give a child an education – Give that child a life.