KATHMANDU, June 2: Thirteen-year-old Chanda Shah, a sixth grader, wakes up every morning with hopes of a proper meal. But it all depends on others´ compassion.
“When I wake up, a meal comes to my mind,” says Shah. “But I wouldn´t know whether I´ll be having one or not.”
Shah and her friends at an orphanage at Sifal wake up in the morning uncertain what they would get to eat. “As for treats like sweets and fruits, we have to look to foreigners” she says.
Sixty-five of the children at the centre run under Nepal Children´s Organization (NCO), popularly known as Bal Mandir, hardly manage to get a simple meal of rice and vegetable curry twice a day.
“Due to a grim financial situation, we have not been able to give these children a proper morning meal for the last three months,” says Lokendra Kumar Oli, chief of NCO´s Sifal Center. “We provide them rice only.”
Meat, a major source of protein for growing children, is a distant prospect. It has been seven months since the school last had meat on the menu. “We sometimes get well-to-do folks to celebrate their birthdays at the center,” Oli says. “And they buy meat, eggs and fruits for the children.”
Nani Shova Shakya, a dietician at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, says the amount of food provided to the children is not enough for their proper physical development. “Children need protein-rich items like milk, meat, eggs, fish, sources of energy like, rice, pulses, bread and protective foods like fruits and vegetables for their growth,” she says. “Children should get such foods at least four times a day.”
But four feeds a day is virtually impossible, says Oli. According to him, the Center owes Rs. 180,000 to the individual who supplies the foodstuffs.
“With the supplier stopping the foodstuffs since three months, the Center has had problems feeding the children,” he said wryly.
The severe financial crunch has affected not only the children´s daily bread but their education also.
Though the Centre has enrolled the children in government schools, it has not been able to pay their admission and exam fees, and this could hamper whatever schooling they are receiving.
“We have to pay Rs. 104,000 in student fees from last year alone,” says Oli. “And we have not been able to pay the fees for the last six years, which amounts to more than Rs. 600,000.”
The Center managed to persuade Boudhanath Gumba recently to pay for new uniforms for some of these children. And, upon request from the Centre, a foreign donor has paid for the school ties and belts.
However, due to lack of money for admission fees, books, copybooks and other accessories, the children have not been admitted to school even though the new session began a month ago.
The wish list for the Center is long. Rajesh Shah, who is 11 and a fifth grader, says he cannot sleep because of mosquitos. “With temperatures rising, atop the wish list is mosquito coils,” says Oli. “The children have difficulty sleeping. It would be a big help if some kind soul could provide us the coils.”
The regular health check-up for the children has also been affected. The Centre cannot afford doctors, and it has yet to pay Rs.30,000 for last year´s treatment.
Apart from this, the Centre needs Rs. 50,000 for electricity and water. Using cooking gas cylinders is far-fetched.
“We don´t have a single rupee to pay utility bills,” Oli says. “If we do not find financial support soon, our electricity and water will be cut.”
NCO Sifal Center is not the only one facing financial crunch. The future of 411 children living at 11 centers is grim. This has forced NCO to reduce the number of children.
It sent more than 300 children back to their relatives in the last three years.
“We have been forced to change our policy and are now starting to seek out the children´s relatives,” director of NCO Ramesh Bhumi says. The organization would continue to support the children´s schooling even after they return to their relatives.
But NCO has its hands full just trying to take care of the children living at the center.
This non-governmental organization used to receive grants from the erstwhile royal palace, in addition to a regular government budget. But the government support ended with the abolition of monarchy.
Another major income source was inter-country adoptions and this has also been hit by the indefinite suspension of child adoptions from Nepal by European countries and the USA in 2009, following allegatoins of malpractice and corruption.
“The accumulating dues and declining financial resources have compelled us to take drastic measures,” Bhumi says and gave as an example the closure of two centers in 2010.
“We are buying food on credit,” he says. “We owe more than Rs. 15 million to various schools and food suppliers.”
There are some foreign donors and Nepalis abroad who have sponsored a few children but others are living in deprivation.
The employees at the centers have not received their salary since nine months while those who have quit are yet to be paid their dues.
The organization has knocked on government doors many times and even met President Ram Baran Yadav for help.
“How long can the government keep assisting the organization?” was how the legal officer at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Sher Jung Karki, responded, when asked about the plight of the centers.
Acknowledging that the organization has approached the ministry for financial assistance, Karki argued that the government has no policy of assisting NGOs.
Despite all the difficulties, the NCO officials say they are ready to shelter needy children if the centers opened to help the helpless receive financial support and do not become helpless themselves.