Have you ever noticed how helpful strangers can be when something fantastic is happening? It’s as if somehow they know your secret.
So, today was my birthday and I was going to be lucky enough to buy all 17 orphans an outfit. Wow.
Spring in Lumbini, Nepal, is gorgeous. Trees festoon themselves with blossoms while their perfume floats on the air to mingle with frying samosas and clouds of dust. Birds of every size call out to one another and fields stretch on forever, dazzling the eyes with large swaths of fluorescent yellow mustard flowers.
After walking half an hour, my feet met the dusty strip of road that would carry me to the orphanage my mother, Liesel, and I had been working with for years. Our little non-profit, Hands of Hope, provides books and basics for kids in India and Nepal.
Here, it has put window glass in rooms, bought blankets, bought food and done all manner of other things. They call mom “grandmother” and me “sister.”
Money being the first necessity of any shopping trip, I’d entered the shiny bank, juxtaposed so strangely with the dusty strip of road. There I met a taxi driver who insisted on driving me to the orphanage, for free.
Life isn’t easy for Nepalese taxi drivers, and they often circle unsuspecting patrons like sharks. But here was this guy, spontaneously generous – just because.
He smiled and repeated the offer. So off we went, bumping along the road in his taxi. He explained he was also going to Bhairawa and would be happy to wait at the orphanage while I gathered the house – mother and girls who would help with our shopping.
Some days are just perfect, and then they get better.
Walking along the street in Bhairawa, Nipa, one of the orphans we’ve helped, turned to me, eyes full of wonder.
“Didi (sister), do you know what day it is tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow we graduate: Didi, me, Rohit and Meena. Last night I felt so sad that I have to wear old clothes. I asked myself why my life is so hard, and why I even have to wear old clothes to graduate. But then this morning you phoned.”
We found new jeans and shirts for each of the boys, and new outfits for all the girls. Nipa, Meena, and Rohit’s outfits were a little fancier but would also work for everyday clothing after graduation. Some kids also needed shoes.
Piled high with clothing, and bags of fruit and candies, we finally boarded the last bus and made it back to the orphanage just after nightfall. We were exhausted, and it was too late for me to return home, so I lay down on a bed at the orphanage and dropped into sleep.
But the day wasn’t over yet. With up to 80 hours a week of power outages, life is sometimes arranged around electricity availability.
Nipa is a talented singer and had been selected to sing at the graduation ceremony. When the power came on at midnight, up we jumped. The karaoke song was cranked and Nipa sang her heart out until she was confident she was ready for the big day.
Graduation was a terrific success, but, for the orphans, it was also a frightening time. Grade 10 signifies the end of high school. Kids are not yet skilled to enter the work place professionally, but are no longer permitted to stay at the orphanage.
Will they have to work at some task that won’t even pay enough for food and rent? Will they have to sleep on the street or beg? How will they survive? How will they stay safe? These are big questions for a 15- or 16-year-old, but that is reality.
Nipa, Meena, Rohit and Rohit’s older brother Busha all have dreams. This is exciting.
Once Nipa informed me that it’s better for kids just to do what needs to be done and not to dream. Dreams are problematic, for who can hope to strive for one’s dreams?
Unfortunately, she is right. Too often, there simply are no options in Nepal. Finances and the hardships of life don’t allow it. In the West, most of us have choices.
There are organizations and there is even financing that will help us make choices and meet dreams. How are we so fortunate?
My mother and I encouraged these four orphans to start dreaming. And they have.
Nipa wants to sing and be a nurse. She has already sung on Nepali television. Meena also wants to be a nurse.
Rohit loves numbers and hopes to win scholarships to study science and math. Busha reads voraciously about current events and also wants to study science and math.
Hands of Hope is supporting these four in their post-secondary studies so that they can keep dreaming and realize their goals.
There will be more orphans graduating this year and subsequent years, but we don’t yet know if we will be able to help them dream.
Before we left Nepal this year, Busha made a special request: “Grandmother (Liesel) and Didi, will you please buy me two science textbooks and write in them for me?”
His face was radiant when we passed him the texts with our messages carefully scribed inside. I flashed back to Canada.
My face never glowed when I received a university text-book and I never wanted one signed so I could always remember who gave it to me. No, I took education for granted and sighed deeply that I was in for another year of hard work.
I guess I lacked some perspective. And I couldn’t imagine what it was like not to dream….