There are few places in this world filled with as much joy as I felt during my time at Orchid Garden, a day care facility for single parents in the heart of Kathmandu. Prior to leaving for Nepal, a past client of mine saw that I was planning for this trip and passed contact information to me for the woman who runs and maintains an NGO called Orchid Garden Nepal in case we would like to visit and tour the location while we were in the city. It worked out to be a perfect opportunity, as Orchid Garden not only wanted to give us a tour, but the staff there were also eager to have some of the attendees of The Beyond Workshop come to volunteer time and work with the kids. We had many volunteer opportunities as part of the workshop, but every day I found myself returning to Orchid Garden because these kids filled me with so much happiness.
Nepal is a third world country. Try and understand Kathmandu's infrastructure, or lack thereof, and you'll start to see why. Thinking of a third world country also prompts thoughts of poverty, and less than satisfactory living conditions. Orchid Garden was created to be a safe place for the young children of Kathmandu to come during the day while their single parent worked. While the custom is that women don't work, many Nepali families have only a single parent caring for the children and trying to maintain a household, so many mothers must work. As these children's parents work to keep the family housed and fed, the kids get to attend school at Orchid Garden. Kids aged one through the early teenage years are welcome at Orchid Garden, and as a certified NGO, there are no fees involved in the children being able to attend school here. From the age of three on up the kids line up each morning with their classes, recite pledges and prayers, review the morning news from around the world, work on standard class work for young children, and they also get a healthy dose of recess time.
The kids at Orchid Garden are so happy. Smiles were plastered across their faces and when we arrived for our first morning of volunteer work they were already practicing a dance routine that we got to observe. During the day the children eat hot meals together - which are funded by donations to Orchid Garden - the young kids share nap time together, and the older kids take on some pick up sports in the yard together. We were lucky enough to be at Orchid Garden at the same time that a team from UNICEF came, providing free and important vaccines to all of the younger children.
We were impressed with Orchid Garden right off the bat, but when we stepped into a classroom of three year olds we were surprised and delighted to see what the kids were learning. Their teacher had posters all over the room that were in English! Three year old children, in Nepal, were being taught English. Shapes, numbers, colors, and more. The caretaker for Orchid Garden explained to us that the children are taught to be tri-lingual - Nepali, English and Spanish. The morning announcements are read from the local newspaper by kids at the center and the older kids translate from the newspaper into English as they read aloud to the rest of the school. The things that we saw these small children learning surpassed what so many of our young kids learn here at home! We met kids that were working on their English writing skills - and I can safely say they write better than most American adults that I know (myself included). It was quite clear to us on our first morning at Orchid Garden that these kids don't just come here to pass the time. They are here to get a quality education so that they are set up for success as they grow. This is an incredible blessing to so many families in Kathmandu that would otherwise be unable to financially support schooling for their children. The work being done here is inspirational and heartwarming.
On our last day at Orchid Garden we grabbed as many kids as we could to take informal portraits of each of them along with class portraits of the kids that they shared a classroom with. During our first day we asked what Orchid Garden was in need of. The clear answer was balls, yard toys, books, anything that the kids would be able to use immediately that cost to much to ship to Orchid Garden from overseas, where a lot of their donors live. We pooled our spare funds together with the rest of our workshop friends while we were in Kathmandu that week and bought as many balls, books, and other toys on Orchid Garden's wish list as we could. It was the least we could do!
If you are moved in any way by these images, the information about Orchid Garden, or want to help I encourage you to visit Orchid Garden's website: https://orchidgardennepal.wordpress.com/
There you can make donations, learn more about this organization, and find out additional ways to assist and support. These kids deserve the same quality of life that all kids in Nepal have, and we are so grateful that programs like Orchid Garden exist to provide support, safe places and education to so many. Your donations fund their meals, clothing for children in families that need more assistance, school supplies, and more.
I hope that I will have the opportunity to return to Orchid Garden some day to see more young kids learning to love life. It is so rare to be around young kids that trust you so freely and openly like these beautiful children do. If you ever find yourself headed to Nepal, please get in touch with OGN to plan time to volunteer. I know they would love to see you!
Visit Orchid Garden's website and make donations to assist the kids here: https://orchidgardennepal.wordpress.com/. Any donation is valuable, but just $250 USD provides enough resources and staffing to fun the education of a child for an entire year at OGN. Even a $5 or $10 donation goes a long way in assisting these amazing kids and the team that supports them.
At the end of the day our volunteer work was hardly work. Being around these kids enriched our lives just as much as could have possibly enriched theirs. We were able to make a difference by helping with some cleaning and maintenance projects, directly support the purchase of some new items for the play yards the children can all enjoy, and spent time with them practicing their lessons from class. Thank you again to Orchid Garden Nepal for being such amazing hosts and for letting us spend so much time with so many wonderful children.