A Child in Search of a Welcoming Door

Features Issue 99 Jul, 2010
Text by Shilu Manandhar / Photo: ECS Media

Prix des Droits de l’Homme de la Republique Francaise 2009’ was the prestigious honor awarded to the non-governmental organization, Voice of Children (VOC) along with Enfants et Development (EeD). To mark the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the National Advisory Commission on Human Rights honored five organizations from all over the world with this award, regardless of borders or nationalities.

Applications were sent from all over the world to compete for this esteemed honor. This award was established in 1988, and an independent body from the National Consultative Commission of Human Rights Defenders from the French Republic selects the winners. Some of the people who were bestowed with this award were Shirin
Ebadi, also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 and Taslima Nasreen, a renowned writer.

Mr. Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the French Republic, presented the five winners from Nepal, Palestine, Kyrgyzstan, Argentina and Russia with the award along with a cash prize of Rs. 7,500,000 on 10th December, 2009 in Paris. The themes chosen for this award for 2009 were ‘Freedom of Expression’ and ‘Protection of Street Children’.

When you look at Mr. Krishna Thapa, the president of VOC, what you observe is the sincerity and deep dedication for the cause he has been diligently fighting for since 1995. He has had a humble beginning and climbed the ladder of success with determination and a vision, keeping in mind the street children of Nepal. When he speaks about the street children, he does so with such passion that one is overwhelmed. The bundle of knowledge and experiences he has gained from the streets are evident when he addresses the problems of street children.

Established in 2000, VOC has a unique way of working with street children, unlike other organizations. They do not work for the children but with the children and take suggestions from the children and include them in their programs. Thus, the programs are successful with a minimum number of children dropping out.

The program starts with the ‘24 hours’ Drop in Center’ located at Chhetrapati. The children come here to spend some time out of their own free will without being pressured to do so. This center has no rules and regulations. Instead, it focuses on personal hygiene and health. It also provides meals, clothing and basic medical services. Social workers walk the streets at dawn and dusk getting acquainted with street children and informing them of the center. These children have a bag of information about organizations that help them. Through good and effective networking amongst themselves, they are always present when and where food, clothing and other necessities are distributed by organizations.

Once a child becomes a regular at the center and is willing, the rehabilitation process starts. Each child has a personal file and is closely and individually followed by the social workers. No more a free bird, the center becomes an iron gate for the child as the liberal life on the streets are out of bounds and so are the pleasures of cheap drugs. This is important because outside the iron gates are streets with illusions and bliss that are alluring yet short lived. Keeping the children off the streets and in the children homes became a problem as the children could not adjust to a normal social life. Therefore, at the suggestion of the children, a transition place - the rehabilitation center - was created. Here, the children are left to socialize in a normal environment. Education and household chores take center stage as life becomes normal and the terrifying street life becomes a distant memory. This transition does not happen overnight; it takes years and regular hours with the psychologists. More the years spent on the streets, deeper the problems and consequently, longer the stay at the rehabilitation center.

Once they are prepared to go back to the society, the children are reintegrated with their families. But those children who are orphaned or do not want to go back to their families for whatever reasons live at the children’s home in Lubu. Children who pass their SLC are given vocational training as per their interests and are given job placements for sustaining themselves.

“The teamwork and support from EeD led us to winning the award and our responsibilities have now amplified. The recognition of the issues of street children worldwide is encouraging, and although it is a tiny step, I hope it will develop into something concrete,” says the humble Thapa.

EeD, an NGO established in France in 1986, was initially a donor for VOC. The relation soon evolved into partnership as EeD believes in working in close collaboration with the local bodies. They assist VOC in capacity building, management and vocational training. Alessandra Tomirotti, the coordinator for EeD in Nepal said, “We got to know of Thapa’s work from word of mouth and decided to work with him. He is a committed person and he genuinely feels the children’s problems. He has really made a difference in many children’s lives.”

H.E. Gilles-Henry Garault, Ambassador of France, gave a reception to congratulate VOC and EeD for winning the French Human Rights award on 15th December, 2009. He spoke on the need for economic and family welfare. “Every person is entitled to Human Rights. It is a must for every nation and we should be a voice for those whose rights are deprived,” H.E. stressed.

In 1995, Thapa met one of the many boys who were sexually abused. The boy was 15 years old back then and was deeply traumatized. An orphan and with no solace, he sought refuge in drugs. He led a difficult life and one without hope on the streets. Irregular at the drop in center, he died of a drug overdose in 2005, sadly a fate faced by most children living on the streets. Thapa, in his small ways, attempts to change the fate of these children for whom most doors are closed.