Friday 9th November 2007
Ok, so update on the situation so far.
I went to meet with James X at the Umbrella Foundation, which is an amazing organisation with 6 orphanages and over 300 children in their care. They have been running in Nepal for over 20 years and have a LOT of experience with this kind of thing.
I’ve looked around two of their orphanages and they are fantastic – really properly well run and funded – all the kids have beds, clothes, go to school, get well fed etc.
James is a lovely frenchman, who’s Irish wife Vivienne set up the foundation, and he’s got greying-whitish dreadlocks that make him look rather like an ageing fraggle.
Anyway, he was very nice, but also quite tough. He said there are a million problems with the situation we’re facing, they’ve tried to help literally dozens of orphanages in similar situations and it ALWAYS goes wrong and the kids end up worse off. I think he was a bit jaded too, having seen too many awful people doing awful things, but he’s worked closely with the police and the CDO and has been responsible for putting quite a few child traffickers behind bars.
He said that there’s no point in us paying rent two years in advance, as landlords here have to pay a special tax if they rent out property, which most don’t bother to pay, but when the government catches up to them they can simply throw you out, regardless of how much rent you’ve paid – and you won’t get any of it back either. So there’s effectively no way for us to ensure the kids a permanent roof over their heads without meeting a decent trustworthy landlord.
James also said that once Daniel is in charge, his family will find out he’s got an income and will come flocking for handouts, that happens a lot here.
Another thing I wasn’t aware of is that if Daniel takes over the orphanage, he’ll be considered responsible for Ram’s debts by the village, as they’ll know Ram no longer has an income and can’t pay them, but Daniel will be expected to deal with that too (and there’s no way any of our money is going to pay off bloody Ram’s debts).
All these things with the landlords and debts in theory shouldn’t be legal, but in a country where the government aren’t even sure who’ll be running the place next month, there’s no-one to enforce these smaller laws, with all the bigger issues going on (like people tying children to trees and stabbing them to death, and all that maiming and killing going on).
It’s hardly surprising that no one’s going to care if a bunch of orphans get evicted or some poor kid ends up trying to pay off his dad’s debt just because he has an income.
However, James said that they could easily take on some of the kids at Umbrella, provided we can sponsor them.
It takes $750 (US) to keep a child properly cared for for a year, and we can take 6 kids at my orphanage, so we’d only need to pay for 5 kids to go to Umbrella. With the money Alan’s already raised and the money I’m hoping to raise, we could easily do that, and these kids would literally get not just better care, but THE BEST care available in Kathmandu. I’ve looked around their orphanages, and honestly, I highly doubt most children with families in Kathmandu are living to the same standard as the kids at Umbrella.
The $750 covers rent, food, clothes, school fees (ALL of their kids are in school – another amazing feat really!) medical costs etc for a year, and in my opinion, this is exactly what we need to do.
Even if we could provide Daniel with rent and food, we can’t afford to send them to school (even the kids at my orphanage can’t afford school) and we haven’t been very successful at putting together a support network for him. Ultimately, I’m very aware that Alan and I are very inexperienced, and the most we could do is provide a mediocre solution for these children, which seems crazy when someone’s just handed us a golden opportunity on a platter. In my opinion, if we really want what’s best for the kids, we have to take this opportunity, because this really is what’s best for the children.
However, the decision isn’t mine to make, and Alan’s been in the middle, as Daniel still desperately wants to do it all himself, and it’s his decision. I was a bit worried that we were all starting to move in different directions and were going to argue about what’s right for the kids, but luckily Alan went through the finances again, and has realised how unrealistic it is for us to single-handedly try and run an orphanage – he had calculated for rent and food, but when they looked at a new premises to move to he realised they’d need to buy curtains and hundreds of little things that we simply can’t afford.
So, they came back to meet with us again, and discuss bringing some children to our orphanage, which Aamaa and Priya are fine with. Alan and Daniel have met with Gyam Badhur Lama, the head guy in charge of child welfare at the CDO who’d going to help us do the paperwork involved with moving the children, and we’re going to go back to Umbrella next week so Alan and Daniel can look around and we can discuss what will happen to the kids there. (James also offered to give Daniel a job if he wants one – how nice is that?).
In the meantime they’ve finalised everything with the lawyers, so Ram formally signed over the orphanage to Daniel as legal owner, and as far as Alan was concerned Ram is no longer in any way connected with these kids or this orphanage.
However, immediately after signing the papers, Ram had some urgent business to attend to and left. Alan and Daniel stayed to collect some photocopies, and then Alan went back to RCDP, where he’s been staying while we sort this all out. He walked straight into the office, and bumped into Ram on his way out, having just collected the next two months rent and project donations from them!
Priya’s husband has also done some more digging into Ram’s past and says that he used to have lots more children at his orphanage, lots of whom had parents, but either they couldn’t afford to care for them or else Ram persuaded them the kids would be better off with him. A number of parents had subsequently discovered that their kids were not in fact being treated well, and asked for their kids back again. Ram then extorted large amounts of money from these people – essentially sold them their own children back again to pay some of his debts.
I don’t know how he got away with that – or why these people didn’t go to the police – maybe Ram persuaded them not to, or that they somehow owed him this money – he seems to be a real con-artist and very good at convincing people how wonderful he is – after all, he runs an orphanage doesn’t he?
Anyway, one mother had to sell her family’s buffalo in order to get her kids back – and gave Ram close to 20,000 rupees to do it.
I told Alan yesterday I’m actually quite glad I’ve never met Ram, because I don’t think I could avoid slapping him hard and repeatedly. Alan also lost it as Ram apparently came to the orphanage yesterday acting as though nothing had happened! He seemed to think that although Daniel is now in charge, that he’s still the one in control and wanted to discuss what was happening to the children (he wants to keep them where they are and leave everything the same essentially). Alan said he never loses his temper, but ended up telling Ram to get the fuck out right now and don’t come back (or something similar).
Hopefully this guy Gyam at the CDO office can do his own research into Ram’s activities and ensure that he’s never allowed to open another orphanage again. Ram has also admitted to Alan that he used to have a very major drug problem- and whether he’s clean or not, I don’t feel he’s in any way a suitable guardian for any children, and if he’s not clean, well, that would explain where large sums of money keep disappearing to wouldn’t it?
So, things are moving along, slowly as ever, but I think we’ve now all reached the same conclusion, which is that it’s not practical or really possible for us to help Daniel by ourselves, but we can move the kids to much better places and close it down altogether.
Fingers crossed it won’t take too long to get it all cleared up, and as soon as I hear back from ICYE about the fundraising website I’ll be able to set that up for donations – I’ll keep you posted.
I’ve got lots of other lovely stories that are unrelated to all this mess, but they’ll have to wait for now, as I can’t be bothered to write any more and I’m pretty sure none of you want to read any more just now!
lots of love