Saturday, December 10, 2011

Our friend in Kathmandu

Bishnu and Marc in deep discussion.
Our good friend CA introduced us to Bishnu (via email) when we told her we were planning a trip to Nepal and were interested in organizing a trek. CA, a colleague of Marc’s is very involved with the new medical program in Kathmandu and travels there often. She met Bishnu on a trek several years ago and they have been friends ever since.

In Nepal, no one, we have found does just one thing. Bishnu, an industrious young man, is a trained mountaineer, trekking guide and in his spare time founded and helps run an orphanage which cares for 15 children either without parents or from very difficult family circumstances.

Day in Paton

Our initial contact with him was to identify and organize our trek. It was clear to me from the first email, that this was one special young man. By the second or third email, Bishnu had outlined a trek that fit into our schedule, and although he would not be able to accompany us on our trek, he promised to have his cousin Dhana, who he trusted completely, be our guide. With Bishnu there are no empty promises, and this is true of everything he does.

Day in Paton

Cousin Dhana met us at the airport and as you already know from our descriptions of the trek, took extremely good care of us along with Sitra, which it has come to light is not a cousin, but is also from the same village as both Bishnu and Dhana. Bishnu also arranged for Dhana to orient us on our first day in Kathmandu and show us the sights. And upon our return to Kathmandu, He himself took over being our personal guide for the remaining two days we had free in Kathmandu.

Day in Paton

He treated us like family from the first moment we met him. He has a magnificent smile that makes you feel at home immediately. On our second day with him, after a wonderful afternoon in Paton, we were able to visit Sonrisa Orphanage and see for ourselves the really important work he is doing.

All of the children aged six to 14 greeted us with “Namaste sister and brother”. They had just returned from school and were sitting down to do their homework with their tutor. (They usually have two tutors each day for two hours after school, but today only one was available.) We sat with them and helped where we could. Some were working in math workbooks, while others were practicing penmanship and grammar exercises in English as well as Nepalese. We were taken immediately by their concentration on their studies, and how well behaved they all were.

The Orphanage also provides music, dance and vocal lessons for the children. After their homework, they also have time set aside for practicing their instruments, dance routines and choir. We also got a taste of their expertise when they performed a short concert for us as well as some really energetic and well-choreographed dance routines.

There are two women that live and work with the 15 children full time. They care for them, cook their meals; make sure they and their clothing are clean. It is a huge job, and they do it extremely well.

It was soon dinnertime, and Dal Baht was served on silver plates around an L shaped table. Children took their places, some crawling around us, or under us to take their places. None of the children began eating until everyone was seated, and they had said their prayer, which ended with bon appetito! Then there was silence as all 15 of them dug into their rice, dal and potato feast. Their caretakers took turns adding dal or rice or potatoes to their plates until each child was satiated. Not a grain of rice left on any plate. Bishnu explains that he has taught them that many children in Nepal are hungry and it is important to finish all of their food and not to be wasteful.

These kids have been given a second chance, and they seem to realize it. They love and respect their uncle Bishnu as they call him, and justifiably.

Behind the house they rent for the Orphanage, was an empty (actually not empty, but full of trash) lot owned by another landlord. Bishnu negotiated with the landlord to have access to the property if they cleaned it up. With the help of CA and her volunteers and the children and others that Bishnu has managed to round up, the property has been cleaned up and transformed into a greenhouse on one side, to grow organic vegetables for use in the Orphanage, and on the other side, leveled for growing rice during monsoon season (one harvest is already under their belts and they have rice for this winter!). Bishnu is still figuring out how to get water to the greenhouse, as there is no running water available for gardening, but we know he will, because he always does.

Our best guess is that Bishnu is in his mid to late 30’s. So young — and the whole world on his shoulders. Yet he bares the weight without a complaint. To say we were humbled by what we saw is an understatement.

When we said our farewells that evening in front of the Courtyard Hotel, we knew we had truly made a life long friend. His final words to us were to be sure to let him know if we needed anything while we were in India. And we knew he sincerely meant it.

You can read more about the orphanage here, and about his trekking company here. If you are thinking of traveling to Nepal and would like a great experience, let us know and we will introduce you to our friend Bishnu Rai!


1 comment:

  1. Warmed my heart, especially the picture of Marc with Wonchu and Phula!

    love CA