i was on a school bus yesterday with miss shailaja from esther benjamins memorial fund. the sun was glowing orange in the evening as the bus rolled down the purano baneshwor slope and she spoke with such vigor and frustration. about what? the country’s situation, of course.
the bus groaned and rumbled as we took in the stench of the river. “the people here can’t feel the smell anymore,” she throws her voice into the empty bus…”there are nice houses here…” it trails off. i keep on wondering about ‘feeling the smell’ when i get off at gaushala to switch buses and thank her for the long lift all the way from Godavari. you can’t ‘feel’ smell but…it somehow made sense.
gaushala is where she picks up rice for the children. “because of the bandhs we are getting extra stock because we live far,” she explains. once a week they go to get vegetables at kalimati and other essentials around the city such as cooking gas. “we use the school bus for all this.” the school bus used to drop children to school but most of them have been admitted to a local school nearby and are not in the city anymore.
i was at EBMF with my friend, who helped to set up a fund for the girls there. girls who were rescued from circuses in india. girls who were trafficked by their relatives, their parents, their ‘so-called’ uncles…and more. girls who’ve been abused, underpaid and exploited – physically and mentally. girls who are back from the circuses but don’t have a home to go to. a lot of the girls are tamangs, says shailaja. here, the girls go through rehabilitation, join school, receive vocational trainings and have a chance to rebuild their lives.
there are boys too…and a two-month old child. she’s tiny and i am too scared to hold her in my arms. i watch as my friend does. the baby was born underweight and the doctor says that her condition isn’t too good because there is no growth in her brain. what’s even sadder is the fact that the baby was rescued from a hospital, where she was abandoned by the parents and left under the hospital bed. aditi, they’ve named her…
adi is a cute little boy. he too was born an unwanted child. there’s more than 100 children here from just a few months old to teenagers. after grade 10, they move out of the hostels but are provided with living allowances and education. one of the girls aspires to study law, some want to join nursing and some want to become health assistants. a boy wants to become a doctor. and there’s another boy who is a really good gymnast..a skill that remains with them from working at circuses. they have big dreams and why shouldn’t they?
the wedding fund will help to sponsor the marriage of the girls. my friend gave a part of the money she received during her marriage to start the fund. this has been her wish ever since she worked for the Fund. i was glad to be there with her, her husband and two other friends, even though i didn’t have anything to offer from my own pocket yesterday. one day, i will.
“the girls..they choose their own husbands,” shailaja laughs.
she’s dressed in a simple shirt and cotton pants. her home is kerala, in india.
“nepal is so much richer than kerala,” she pities the waste of our resources. she’s been working with EBMF for a long time. a former teacher, she’s been to several rescue missions and has gotten many traffickers jailed. i feel inspired and ashamed in front of her. inspired because i am sitting next to a strong woman. ashamed because she’s not even a nepali and has sacrificed so much to help these children.
shailaja is a wonder woman, i think to myself, when i reach home exhausted around 7 pm. and i am glad i met her.
EBMF is looking for a music teacher to teach children at the home on saturdays. godavari seems far but if you are free, love music and are looking to volunteer for a good cause, here’s your chance. they do provide allowance for travel.