Nine new students of Harbingers at the Mountain Children Home in Dadagaun, Kathmandu.
Meet nine Harbingers’ student journalists from Nepal’s ‘earthquake generation’
It’s been more than eight years since on April 25, 2015, an earthquake struck near the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu. It claimed 9,000 lives, 16,800 injured, and displaced 2.8 million people.
It destroyed and damaged as many as 600,000 structures in Kathmandu in nearby settlements, resulting in $5-10 billion in damages, roughly a third of the country’s GDP in 2015.
But the truth on the ground is that these three shocks – with magnitudes of 7.8, 6.6, and 6.7 – had changed the lives of thousands of children.
Countless families were destroyed, and the social and economic fallout reached every corner of the country. The importance of institutions supporting orphans and children whose families are unable to provide for them – the ‘earthquake generation’ – is now more important than ever.
Earthquake damage at MCH | Picture by: Pradeep Raj Dahal
Now 17 year-old, Emma Chua from Hong Kong, who works and fundraises for the house since last year, and managed to organise and fund English lessons three times a week for two groups, one for younger kids and one for the older kids.
Thanks to her, I met young people living at the Mountain Children Home (MCH) in Dadagaun, just outside Kathmandu.
This is one of the places affected by the earthquake. Walls, tables, ceilings, chairs and windows collapsed into a pile of chaotic mess. The children and adults had to build tents for 32 kids and their caregivers. It took almost six months to rebuild the broken areas of the orphanages, and most of the adults had to work for hours and hours over the piles of broken walls and ceilings.
Now rebuilt, the MCH is a home to 32 minors, five dogs, and a number of chickens. It is run by Ramesh and his wife – Geeta, who are referred to as Father and Mother, who are further supported by a team of caregivers, mostly alumni of the house.
When I visited the house, Emma, as well as Laura Tokarska from Poland, were working on a set of schemes which would allow both children and caregivers to have better education – including vocational training -and to find good employment.
One scheme is planned to create a motorbike repair shop, the other to launch a cafe and bakery. Each will create employment opportunities and generate income for the house, making it less reliant on charity.
Emma and the children
Emma's traditional henna tattoo to represent their love life
It does not mean that the house’s future is secured and the kids will keep their open-air classroom and breathtaking views.
The house’s land lease is extended year by year, and government officials visit the MCH for a yearly check up, always demanding improvements.
“This year, they said that everything is good but they need to build another room for the girls, because they think [the current one] is too cramped at the moment,” Emma explained.
Combined with the land lease situation, this creates a vicious circle. “The donors are not willing to donate because they know that the land is not really guaranteed,” Emma said.
Lloyd (left) in conversation with Jefferson He
Lloyd Martin is a good example. This retired British national and a friend of the house visits as frequently as he can to teach English and support Ramesh and Geeta in their efforts.
He explained to me that he has already decided to put his property in England in his will as a donation to the MCH. He even considered selling the property now, to support the house sooner, but it is not an option as long as the house may be forced to relocate at any given moment.
“I would feel uncomfortable investing in something that might not be here in ten or twenty years. In the UK, you cannot get a mortgage on a leasehold with expiry hold shorter than 80 years,” Mr Martin explained.
Truth be told, the people in Nepal are even better than the county’s stunning views.
At the house, I spoke to young people who eagerly shared their bold hopes and dreams. They all like different things – singing, dancing, football, playing mini games – and when they grow up, they would like to be singers, footballers, dancers, teachers, doctors and nurses.
As journalism or being a journalist has not occurred to them, it was my privilege to introduce them to the idea.
On July 26, they met with Paavan Mathema, the chief of Agence France-Presse (AFP) bureau in Kathmandu, The New York Times’ correspondent Bhadra Sharma, and The Himalayan Times’ journalist, covering politics and human rights, Bal Krishna Sah.
From the left: Bhadra Sharma (New York Times), Paavan Mathema (AFP) and Bal Krishna Sah (The Himalayan Times) at the MCH
This was the very beginning. During my two-week stay in Kathmandu a programme which will allow older inhabitants (aged 16 and above) to develop their English and secure internships with professional journalists and hopefully also permanent employment in the future.
And, as the younger children (11-15) still have several years of education ahead of them, I pitched a project that will last at least a year or two to improve their English and journalistic skills.
This will allow them to join Harbingers’ Magazine and possibly to achieve better education in the west when they reach 16 years old.
In early August, the project was accepted by the Oxford School for the Future of Journalism. Therefore, it is my pleasure and honour to introduce nine future journalists, the first Harbingers’ Magazine journalism class in Nepal.
“Football” and “math” were the answers from 15 year-old Suraj Tamang – who was born in 2008 in Makwanpur – to my questions about his favourite sports and subject at school. He already plans to become a journalist in the future – as the only member of the newly established class, but hopefully not the last one.
“Singing and playing badminton,” said 15 year-old Kriti Tamang happily, when I asked what she likes to do in her free time. I had the pleasure of hearing her performing, when during a meeting with journalists she and one of her friends sang for the entire group.
Science is the favourite subject of 12 year-old Rakshya B.K., who was born in 2011 in Bajura, a region in northern Nepal.
She plans to become a nurse, and loves dancing, playing volleyball and football. She also enjoys playing “Rumal Lukai”, a game during which Shiah kids form a circle and one person goes around the circle and hides a rumal (handkerchief) behind someone, and the players have to guess where the rumal is.
13 year-old Ramaita Chadaxa from Bajura told me she enjoys learning English the most and plans to become a doctor in the future.
She indeed spoke great English, and we share a passion for traditional Nepali cuisine – her favourite type of food is momos – a kind of steamed or fried dumpling served with a spicy soup.
Binita Nepali was born in 2009 in Bajura, and enjoys science, reading and singing. She plans to become a teacher or a singing instructor.
11 year-old Kalpana B.K from Surkhet, a region in the west of Nepal, plans to become a singer and possibly a songwriter. She likes all things artistic and cricket, the most popular sport in Nepal, is also her passion.
A footballer-in-the-making, 11 year-old Laxman B.K, born in 2012 in Bajura, unsurprisingly answered “football” to most of my questions – about his favourite sport, activity and passion.
He also likes to play volleyball with other kids and to “grab a pizza” – the whole family at the Mountain Children Home has pizza on some days.
Samuna B.K from Bajura is 12 years of age and desires to become a nurse. She likes momos, badminton, playing with the dogs in the house, and science is her favourite subject at school.
Born in 2009 in Sindhupalchok, a region in north-eastern Nepal, 14 year-old Santoshi Gurung likes to learn maths.
Her ambition is to become a doctor, and she enjoys dancing and playing badminton with her friends. Her favourite food is Chowmein, a Nepali version of a traditional Chinese fried noodle dish.