Hundreds of children work in the brick factories in the suburbs of Kathmandu. Together with a group of volunteers, father Joe Thaler tries to give dignity, hope and a future to many of them.
The children shyly show their hands and follow the instruction of the teacher, dressed in a coloured sari. Only when the soap works up into lather between their fingers, does a quick smile appear on their faces. Jyoti Devkota is not a dance teacher, even if the movements she makes to show how to wash are fluid and graceful. Jyoti is a nurse and takes care of the workers in the brick factory in the suburbs of Kathmandu, Nepal’s most populous city, which lies at an altitude of 1,400 metres and is surrounded by the highest mountain massif on Earth, the Himalaya. The labourers working in the more than 120 brick factories are several thousand and what they earn is a trifle. Not only adults impair their health with this exhausting work. Also children, barely 6 years old, drudge in the factories. Jyoti teaches the children how to wash their hands accurately. In this way they can at least avoid infections. Nira Lama attentively follows the hygiene class, but she is often forced to stop because of heavy coughing fits. Nira is four, and she suffers from a chronic infection of the respiratory system. Jyoti’s cough syrup gives her some relief but it does not cure the illness. Jyoti puts an arm over the girl’s shoulders and smiles to her. Sometimes the only means she can use to help the inhabitants of the suburbs of Kathmandu are affection and warm-heartedness.
Arati Basner, the founder of the Nepal Care and Development Organization (CDO) thinks that there are still many things to do. She put Jyoti in charge of hygiene lessons. Apart from hygiene, the commitment to improve living conditions includes health, nutrition and prevention aimed at pregnant women, the introduction of better working conditions for children and their school education. “It is the only way for us to mitigate their sufferings”, says Arati, who once was a migrant. Her family was driven out of Bhutan in 1990. Arati then attended the school run by the missionary sisters of Saint Philomena in the Darjeeling region. There she developed her deep sensitivity towards the weak and the outcast. “After school – she says – we went with the nuns in the nearby villages bringing the essential to the poor”. Arati wanted to study welfare at any cost. Today, together with father Joe Thaler, the founder of CDO Nepal, she can fulfil what she learnt with the nuns in north-eastern India. Father Joe Thaler is a Maryknoll missionary and he has worked in Nepal since 1977. Arati met him after finishing her studies. It was father Thaler who helped her in building the charity, which now operates in close contact with the Catholic church. Father Joe deals with financing, using his network of contacts all around the world. Many children working in the brick factories are given assistance, so that they can attend school and the nearby kindergarten, founded by the CDO. Arati Basner never tires of saying that education is the key to open a future of hope and allow children to have a better life than their parents.
A better future is also what Suba and Saili Lama – a couple living in a brick hut with no running water or sanitation with their five children, Raiu, Rajan, Hira, Meera and the little cough-affected Nira – wish for themselves. A gutter and a pool in front of the hut where clay is moulded are used to wash dishes and for daily care. The hut is narrow, window-less. Inside there are a rice-straw mat, a couple of objects and a fireplace. In the best periods, the family manages to eat twice a day. In this area of Nepal 90 children out of 100 are undernourished. The burning heat at this altitude causes skin damages and mycoses even in the little ones. Per capita income is around 25 euros a month and most of the time it is not enough. That is why, to face everyday expenses, many families fall into debt. Drug abuse and human trafficking are unfortunately something almost “normal”. Every year 20,000 girls between 8 and 18 years of age are sold as sex slaves in India. The statistics on marriages between adult men and teenage girls are also alarming. In recent years, the number of girls forced by their families to marry before the age of 15 has risen to 3 million. Meanwhile, the Nepal Children Network denounces the exploitation of about 1.8 million children employed in brick factories, commercial activities and prostitution. Of these, about 21% do not attend school. The association also signals the increase of denunciations of sexual violence on young people under 18, they are the victims of about 49% of the cases of rape, abuse and the sex market.
That is why the work done by Arati and father Joe is even more important. Thanks to their commitment also parents like Suba and Saili might give a better future to their children.
When the school bell rings, pupils exit their classes in a rush. They say good-bye to their teacher shouting “Tashi delek, Tashi delek”. This ancient Tibetan greeting means “I hope you are well”. This is what Arati wishes to all her children.