Perched atop sand bag steps that lead up to her doorstep, the lady beckoned me. With my eyes fixed on the ground, I maneuvered my way up to find her hands stretched out to support me. Nurturing 21 orphans with hands that serve and a heart filled with compassion, an epitome of love, inspiration, selflessness and simplicity, and an unflinching confidence no, this enigma is not a foreigner as one generally expects where it comes to charitable work but a simple and modest Nepali housewife, Mrs. Rita Rai.
Married at the tender age of 15 with her childhood love of a different caste, Mr. Nirmal Rai, and a grandmother in her mid-thirties, Rita ushered me into her cozy cottage-style home in Nalkhudole, two kilometers away from the Ring Road on the way to Bhaisepati, and opened her hearth and heart to me.
Since early childhood she had the inclination to help others, at times even at the risk of the wrath of her parents. A child in need always exerted on her a magnetic force that she could not deny. Her driving principle is that we owe a lot to the society and hence should give back something in return. Asked about the inspiration behind setting up this orphanage, she revealed that one day in 1995, she came upon “Bandana” crying because she was unable to appear for her examinations as her parents were unable to pay her fees. Rita then decided to support the girl¹s education, and a few years later the child did brilliantly well. A deep sense of gratification engulfed Rita, and thus began her journey to become “mommy” to more and more needy children. She now has a happy family of twenty-one adopted children from the age of 13 months (brought when he was 2 days old) to sixteen years old, in addition to her own two sons, who are the eldest.
Her journey was not an easy one. But like a true mother, she sold all that had material value to fulfill the basic needs of her children. She sold her house in Jawalakhel and moved to Bhaisepati for cheaper housing. When leaner times came, she sold all her jewellery. With heartfelt gratitude she recounted how she felt when Sahinidhi an organisation headed by Dr. Sunder Mani Dixit extended support towards the education fees and school snacks of all the children for three years. “Now the three years have nearly come to an end, but I’m sure we will manage somehow” she said, looking hopeful. She also acknowledged the voluntary help from two young girls from the neighbourhood. “I did not know what it meant to serve until I came here, and now I want to come here all the time,” said one of them. Mr. Rai, an electrical engineer by profession, has given 8 annas of land to the orphanage, hoping that one day they can build a house that will better meet the children’s needs. But the dream is still a distant one. The orphanage is currently running a pig farm on that land, with initial support from a local NGO to supplement that income.
Rita’s children hail from far off Rukum and the mid-western districts to the nearby villages. They are of all castes, including some from the dalit (untouchable) family. Owing to this, she was denied an already negotiated piece of land providing access to her house, and was scorned by friends and relatives. But her head is held high as she says “I don’t let these things bother me, and I don’t even like to go around asking for help or give interviews. The best ambassadors of what I am doing now will be my children- only that will give me a sense of pride and satisfaction.”
All her children are identified with the name “Himali”. Nineteen of them study at nearby Deepkunj English School in classes ranging from nursery to six. Some of them are quite talented, as revealed in their singing and drawing. Rita herself is an ardent lover of dance and music, who believes in her young charges and works to hone their talents and develop their potential. Like every caring mother, she wants them to become successful and responsible citizens and contribute meaningfully to the society.
Rita laments that her children lack facilities due to inadequate resources, but proudly adds that she gives them the best from what she has. “Sometimes we just eat ‘jwaulo’ but that is also nutritious, isn’t it?” she asked me.
Mrs. Rita Rai is truly a champion, whose work, dedication and determination lift her from the ordinariness of life. Behind the simplicity is a woman of substance, who inspires trust and faith. Providing hope and life to abandoned children from her own society, she beckons a new frontier in a nation often disillusioned by its leaders, in much need of hope and generosity, because her home is built on earnest toil and sweat, and is a place where love, care and sharing reside in abundance.
I was so thankful that Dr. Arju Deuba (a friend and herself a longtime advocate for women and children) had advised me to visit Rita Rai. I recalled her words: “it is almost unbelievable and too good to be true, and I¹ve asked friends to check her out.” This friend climbed down the sand bag steps, overwhelmed by the deeds of Rita Rai and feeling small in comparison. As she stood waving goodbye to me, I reflected that she was rightly poised on top of that hill lofty not only in geographical position, but even more so in words and action.
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