From a local newspaper...
Mount Everest, the tallest peak on earth and the anchor of the massive Himalayan range, rises majestically above the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, an image that attracts countless tourists to the region annually.
But North Country resident Elizabeth Bailey has seen another side of Nepal, images not readily available for tourists but much more representative of what it really means to be a child growing up in this extremely impoverished region of the world.
Bailey, a registered nurse and professor of nursing at Clinton Community College, recently spent almost a month in Kathmandu Valley as a volunteer for the Global Volunteer Network, an international organization that brings community-related support and services to 21 nations.
"As a nurse, I was assigned to a children's home in the Kathmandu Valley," Bailey said of her visit, which stretched from shortly after Christmas 2008 to the day before classes at Clinton resumed in January.
"I had decided that I wanted to do some travel combined with volunteer work," she said. "I chose the Kathmandu region particularly because of the services they needed but also to experience the culture of the region."
Nepal recently emerged from a bloody civil war that began in 1995 with the Maoist uprising when Communist supporters initiated one of the most successful post-Cold War communist takeovers in the world.
An estimated 9,000 deaths were recorded during a seven-year stretch that saw the bloodiest action between Maoists and nationalists. In fact, nearly 70 percent of rural Nepal was under the control of Maoist guerrillas at the peak of the conflict.
In 2006, Maoist rebels began peace talks with the government, and within two years, the Maoists had gained political power. Sporadic violence has continued however, and the decade-long conflict has left its mark on the impoverished nation as a whole.
Bailey's work brought her into the teeth of the affected regions.
"The home I was assigned to had 31 children ranging in age from 4 to 19," she said. "Some were orphans but most were from very poor areas in the Humla District, a region that had been ravaged by Maoists.
"During the Maoist uprising, corrupt traders went into the poor districts and promised parents that they would take their children to places where there was no guerilla violence," she added. "They took money in exchange for taking the kids to Kathmandu."
Families sold whatever they had to raise the money to send their children away, she explained. The traders took the money and the children but then placed them in poorly kept dwellings where they were all but abandoned.
Even as the conflict ended, families had been ruined financially and had no means to take their children back — and so the Global Volunteer network has taken that situation under its belt.
"Their idea is to make these homes sustainable, to train managers to run the homes for the benefit of the children," Bailey said. "Volunteer Services now owns two homes in the Kathmandu Valley."
Bailey traveled daily from where she stayed with a host family in Kathmandu to the small village of Bistachhap some 30 minutes away. She rode the bus, which was little more than a family van with seating for around 15 people — typically, it carried 30 or more riders on most trips, she said.
The children — seven girls and 24 boys — were always happy to see her arrive each morning.
"They were very willing to form bonds," Bailey said. "They were used to having volunteers come and go. The youngsters came from all sorts of backgrounds. Many had been abused or neglected in homes they had been in previously.
"But despite all that, they were very loving children," she added. "They were dedicated to school. They didn't need discipline. They accepted their responsibility and did their chores to keep the house going. They were incredible kids."
The children slept in three separate rooms, one for the girls, one for the older boys and one for the younger boys. They'd eat their meals on the floor of a terrace on the building's roof.
The manager of the house, a 32-year-old man, had an older-model computer and would bring home movies that the kids could play on it. They would also play games like ping-pong, shuffleboard and marbles.
They also had two pet rabbits and, though it was the middle of the Nepal winter, worked regularly in a vegetable garden.
"The nights were very, very cold," Bailey said. "Although the temperature reached as high as 70 during the day, it dropped down into the 20s at night."
HOPING TO RETURN
Most of the youngsters were bilingual and spoke fluent English, though few of the adults Bailey crossed paths with had the same ability.
The main house the nurse was working with was fairly well organized and managed, but a second home she spent time with offered a much sadder presentation.
"This home was being run by two college students, and they were doing the best they could, but they didn't really know what to do," she said.
"Volunteer Services will not just give money away. Spending the money has to be justifiable, and I just don't think this one home is going to make it."
With the political situation in rural communities less explosive, there is discussion of sending children back home to their families, but there is not a lot left at home for them to return to.
"A lot of these families are just not ready to care for their children," Bailey said.
"There's no infrastructure, no health care. Many of the fathers have had to go elsewhere to find work. There is just such a need for significant care in these rural communities."
Bailey, who is a clinical nurse specialist with a master's degree in nursing, spent much of her time healthwise caring for minor ailments and trying to alleviate lice problems that were quite significant in children.
She believes a lengthier visit would help strengthen the region's health-care needs.
She said she would return in a second to help educate both children and adults in the communities. She has hopes that she will be able to spend a more extended period in the region one day.
"What I did wasn't sustainable," she said. "What they really need is people to educate the public on health care."