In suburban Kathmandu, Nepal, wealthy and upper middle-class children attend one of the country’s top private schools. But a fraction of these students—just twenty—do not fit the profile of the school’s usual suspects.
These unique youth attending the prestigious Gyanodaya Bal Batika Higher Secondary School are vulnerable and war-affected children from Humla, a poverty-stricken region of the northwestern part of the country.
Launched from their homes of pastoral poverty and carted into urban Kathmandu in the clutches of child traffickers, the children were sent by their parents to a hopefully better future than they might otherwise have found at home. These kids, aged three to nine at the beginning of their journey, could easily have wound up as child labourers or sex workers in dingy brothels if it weren’t for their discovery by former Coca-Cola exec Eugene Lane-Spollen and his wife, Maura.
Urged to travel to a charity of friends’, the Lane-Spollens heard of a group of children hiding in a local shed, hoping to get some help from the do-gooders hailing from Ireland.
The couple set up a charity to help guide the children, most of whom were illiterate, through the country’s education system. Eventually, with good nutrition, study and support, the children reached the same academic levels of their peers. Some even surpassed their peers’ accomplishments, despite their tough early years.
In Nepal, which may yet attain the Millennium Development Goal on universal primary education by 2015 if some policies are changed, most children attend and complete primary school. But there are still about 14 per cent of boys and 18 per cent of girls that miss out on this most basic right.
Participation rates for secondary schooling are substantially lower. Only about 46 per cent of boys and 38 per cent of girls attend high school on a usual basis.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Girls and dalits [the lowest caste] are more likely than other groups to be out of school in Nepal. For girls from some families, education is viewed as a ‘poor investment’ since daughters leave their family’s home at marriage and the benefit of their ‘learning’ is given to someone else.”
So, in many ways, though education is supposed to be free and compulsory in Nepal, the twenty children’s ability to attend basic schooling has been a stroke of good luck.
Indeed, it was the children’s remarkable progress in their studies that moved Mr. Lane-Spollen and his wife to see that university would be the next, natural step if the opportunity presented itself.
The children are in the top 10 per cent of their school. Almost all of them will likely attain excellent enough grades to attend university abroad, bringing life to a mission statement that adorns the home page of the organization’s website: “From young destitutes to young professionals.”
The children’s post-secondary education will be covered by a fund set up by the Lane-Spollens, who presently cover 70 per cent of the cost of the Humla Children’s Home.
The kids have big dreams, many of them hoping to one day return to Humla and help develop their childhood communities.