Please allow me to ask you a simple question. What thoughts come to you when you see a homeless man or woman on the street? Maybe you think that they are drunk or that they lost everything they had by gambling. Often we wonder why a person is in such a situation.
Now, here is a second question. What would you think if instead of a man or woman it was a little girl or boy, aged around five who was sleeping on the street, collecting rubbish to resell and fighting for survival every single day? That’s a whole different ball game, isn’t it?
Children just like this live on the streets of Kathmandu and thousands are added to their number every year. They are the “street kids”. We are working with these children. Along with my wife, our main focus is to try to help children in this dire situation and try to prevent this from happening to even more children.
Do we stand a chance?
But we have decided to try to impact as many of these small children’s lives as possible.
Many of these children share similar stories. Perhaps their mum died and their dad remarried but the new stepmother doesn’t like them so sends them to work in the fields or in the house. Does this remind you of Cinderella? In some ways, but this is not just a story. Here in Nepal this is the sad reality for many kids and it doesn’t have a fairy tale ending.
Or maybe both their parents died in the recent landslide or other natural disaster. Their relatives aren’t bothered or perhaps are unable to support them. Many of these children face the threat of starvation so they leave their village to chance their luck in the capital, Kathmandu. What awaits them in the big city is not what they hope for. All too often these children are picked up by organised gangs, who exploit their begging potential. Leaders of these gangs have no qualms about increasing the begging capacity of a child by maiming them so that they generate more income from sympathetic donors, particularly western tourists who visit Kathmandu on their way to other trekking destinations in the country. These people give, believing that they are helping; little do they know that most of the money they give will end up in the hands of the gang leaders and will be spent on glue and other substances for older members to inhale. Some children are sold into slavery or become sex workers over the border in India. Sadly, there is a market for such activities and these vulnerable children are a mere commodity.
It is very easy to identify children in Kathmandu who could fall victim to these crimes. They are usually under the age of six, very dirty, sitting somewhere in the tourist area or a busy area of the city where they beg for money, with a plastic plate on the ground in front of them. As they grow older, they move on to collecting collect plastic and paper items for resale. Sometimes they will tell very sad stories to foreigners, along the lines of them needing 2000 rupees to buy a baby sibling some milk. Once they have the money, they will sell the milk back to the shopkeeper and with any left over cash, they often buy glue to sniff.
I once met a five year old girl, carrying a bag, eyeing up some fruit, the likes of which she had probably never tasted before. It was a heartbreaking scene.
One day, Leena and I were distributing food to some of these street children when we met three young brothers.
I will tell you more about them next time.
God Bless You