World Pathfinder Children’s Fund Inc.
April 19, 2010
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
The day after my visit to the Shree Ambika Secondary School in the Hemja valley, my partner in the Pathfinder organizations, Basanta Poudyal, and I decided to bike around Lake Phewa. The date was December 31st, and we were desperate to leave the decadence of the annual street festival in Pokhara behind us. Normally, the Lakeside in Pokhara is a quiet village; however, during the last week of December, the village is imperialized by tourists, street performers, day trippers, and military personnel.
The lake around Pokhara is beautiful, clean, and pristine. The lake basks in the foothills of the Annapurna Himalayan Range with mountain peaks more than 8,000 meters. Lake Phewa appears to be 2.5 kilometres in distance from the largest adjacent points, and no motorized boats are permitted on the lake. The lake sustains abundance of wild life, large coniferous trees, and on the south side, a stupa sits on the top of a hill. From the stupa, one can see the beautiful mountain peaks with the picturesque lake below. On the west side of the lake, wild horses chase each other on the uninhabited land while buffalo roam freely. Although from afar, Lake Phewa appears to be from the Laurentians of Quebec or Cottage Country in Ontario; however, one central difference exists, many of the inhabitants in the surrounding areas are severely impoverished.
As we quickly make our way west through the streets around Lakeside toward the wild horses, the paved street turns to a dusty road as the homes begin to disperse. As the dusty road turns to potholed covered gravel, we enter the rural area with farmhouses and herds of buffalo scattered along the sides of the makeshift road. After 45 minutes of riding and six kilometres from where we started, the road ends.
We park our bikes and decide to investigate our surroundings. As I return from relieving myself behind a mud fence near farming land, I walk back to my bike. In the rural areas of Nepal, washroom facilities are often difficult to locate, and if they are located, most people wish they hadn’t. In general, the washrooms are a hole in the ground, sustain no running water, and appear to have never been cleaned. Although I have yet to see an outhouse in the rural West, I assume they are parallel in cleanliness. So as many others, I urinated outside, and as the old rural Nepalese adage states: if one is sitting around a campfire and the smoke perpetually goes in one’s face, everyone begins to laugh to emphasize the fact the person with smoke in his or her eyes has been urinating outside.
As I walk back to Basanta, he is talking to some children, and as they notice I am a Westerner, they come running over. The children begin dancing and playing to attract my attention. Although extremely cute and happy, the appearance of the children is pitiful. They are wearing tattered clothes, have no shoes, and although they are laughing, their faces are covered in dirt.
As the children become somewhat settled, Basanta asks me if I have any candy left, and luckily I do. I learned a long time ago to carry extra candy when visiting the impoverished world; children always ask tourists for candy. I pull my last candy cane from my bag and break equal pieces for the children. As I give the last piece away, I notice another child running toward me; this child was the youngest of them all; he could not have been more than three. Regrettably, I told the child through Basanta I had no more candy; however, he was not disappointed as he smiled and walked away. I thought this child must be well-accustomed to rejection. Thankfully however, the child did not go without candy; another child took the candy from his mouth and gave it to the boy. My heart sank as the children ran back to play on an abandoned piece of construction equipment in the field. This heart wrenching experience illustrates the unselfish nature of people in the developing world. Although they have no possessions, whatever menial charity they are offered, they are always willing to assist another.
In a small tea shop nearby, I asked Basanta if those children can afford to go to school, he told me they cannot. As we sat watching the children and drinking tea, a parent came over to a child and began scolding her in Nepalese. As Basanta listened to the exchange, he started laughing. After I inquired, Basanta explained the girl had taught her younger brother a naughty trick. The younger brother pleaded to his mother he only did the naughty deed because his sister taught him. When confronted by her mother, the child cleverly rebutted by saying “I only taught him to do a naughty thing; however, I did not actually do it. Therefore, I was not naughty and his actions are not my responsibility.” As Basanta finished, we both began laughing hysterically. I told him that child would be a good lawyer. Basanta agreed and added a good politician or business executive as we retired to more laughter and tea. Regretfully, the intellect of that child will be wasted as a labourer in a field as so many children before her, and if unchanged, will continue.
This Nepalese experience reminds me of two separate occasions I encoutered in the impoverished world. Even though povery exists in every country, the problem is most prevalent in developing countries. Although some people can easily ignore homeless adults in industrialized nations by rationalizing the idea they should find employment or refrain from resorting to substance abuse; however, when a homeless child is upon us, ignoring the situation becomes all that much more difficult.
New Delhi, India
After my visit to Nepal, I landed in New Delhi and took a taxi from the airport to my hotel. As we approached the first intersection and every intersection thereafter, we were bombarded by child beggars. The children would tap on the glass and ask for money to buy food; the driver would yell at them to scare them away, but they would continue begging until the taxi continued down the road. At subsequent traffic lights, the ritual would continue, begging, yelling, and driving. I sat in the backseat ashamed and embarrassed with my head bowed.
Although I have been welcomed to every developing country I have visited, I feel embarrassed when I arrive. I feel embarrassed because I know the poverty of the impoverished nations of the world can be directly correlated to the actions of the rich (Clark, 2002), and considering I am a child of the industrialized world, I am responsible. As I sat in the back of that taxi numb and desensitized, I thought what can I do? I thought if I travel through every street in New Delhi giving money to the thousands of homeless children, I would accomplish nothing. In fact, as I give my last dollar away, I would have to exit the taxi at the next intersection, and start begging myself, which is an unsustainable initiative.
Four years prior to visiting Nepal, I travelled to Egypt. One afternoon as I was walking from my hotel to a market in Luxor, a child beggar stopped me to talk. As I learned from numerous experiences, I decided to ignore the child. The child started to speak English and I pretended I did not so he would leave me alone. He kept following me, and I thought he would not be capable of understanding French, so I told him in French I had no money. However, to my surprise, he was fluent in French. The child also spoke Spanish in addition to his native Arabic. Although the child was impoverished and uneducated, he was able to speak four languages. As stated in a previous article, although the children from developing countries are clever and happy, they are hungry for knowledge and food (Overall, 2010).
As I walked further toward the market, a child around the age of six asked me for money. The child began pointing to his bare, dirty, and wound-covered feet communicating he needed shoes. As I grew weary of seeing child beggars, I decided to do something about it. So as I walked to the market, I thought I would do something; I will buy that child some shoes. An hour later as I returned from the market, I found the same child. As soon as he saw me, he ran to me and started begging; I reached into my bag, and handed the child a pair of shoes. He looked surprised, smiled, and thanked me numerous times in Arabic. I walked away with a feeling of self-gratification; however, as I looked back, a group of older children surrounded the child and stole his shoes.
Although like many others, I wanted to do something, but disappointedly, I accomplished nothing. The primary reason for the failure was the strategy was unsustainable. How does one implement a sustainable system to end the cycle of poverty in developing countries? I think we need not look further than a grassroots approach toward educating the children of impoverished nations.
Clark, C.M.A. (2002). Wealth and poverty: On the social creation of scarcity. Journal of Economic Issues, 36(2), Retrieved July 21, 2009 from ProQuest database.
Overall, J.S. (2010). A glimpse at the issue. World Pathfinder Children’s Fund Inc., April(2010, Retrieved April 20, 2010 from http://pathfindernepal.webs.com/aglimpseattheissue.htm