2010 Student-Faculty Fellows: Susquehanna University
Street Children in Nepal
Mentor: Ranchana Sachdev
Students: Christina Harrington, Stephen Hyde, Garth Libhart, Blake Mosser
During our time in Nepal, we visited five non-governmental organizations: Shangri-La Children’s Home, APC-Nepal, Sath-Sath, Jyoti, and CWIN. All of these organizations are located in the greater Kathmandu area, except for CWSN, located in Pokhara. These organizations work with marginalized youth in Nepal, largely street children, but also with at risk youth, abused children, and trafficked children. We worked with these organizations to gather research materials, conduct site visits, interview at risk children and staff at the NGOs working with them, and to observe NGO activities and programs. Observations of children were made in urban and suburban Kathmandu, the large city of Pokhara, and a smaller city, Lumbini. We also hiked to several villages in the Kathmandu Valley in an effort to observe the rural life from which many street children have fled. We were surprised to find few panhandlers or children in obvious states of abuse and neglect and attribute this in part to the intervention work undertaken by NGOs.
My research focused upon how NGOs utilize art, music, and culture to help street children and youth who are at risk. The director of Sath-Sath noted that in order to change street children’s lives, the children have to change the way they think. All the NGOs I visited utilized the arts, sometimes in quite ingenious ways, as a means to re-socialize youth, help create bonds between themselves and others, and to heal past wounds and to create new positive memories. Drawing is a form of therapy at APC Nepal, dancing and singing classes at CWIN heal and entertain, and Sath-Sath uses radio and drama programs to educate. One objective sought through these mediums is simply to enable street children to just be children again.
I conducted several open interviews with various workers at the different NGOs that we visited mostly to determine the different ties that street children develop with one another and with persons in the NGOs that sponsor them. My research suggests that about half of young people regarded as street children living in Kathmandu still live with their families but choose to escape each day to the streets. As for the other half, the NGOs make concerted efforts to contact and befriend them and build bonds of trust with them. I plan to analyze the role a traditional family plays in social development and then ascertain how the NGOs try to mimic this role in re-socializing children.
My research focused on investigating the interactions between the so-called “East” and so-called “West,” and how the cultural imagery of each region is shaped and manifested within the context of Nepal’s NGOs. One aspect of this study was to discover whether the NGOs are entirely funded by countries in the West and where exactly that funding comes from (individuals, governments, organizations). This leads to the need to analyze the tensions that exist between local people and the Western-funded NGOs. Leaders and staff at NGOs were candid in discussing the limited resources provided to them by the Nepalese government and the challenge of finding adequate funding. They also disclosed that many locals despise street children and are critical of foreigners who seek to aid them. Clearly, certain elements of the cultural imagery present in NGOs reinforce perceptions that there is an East/West dichotomy in which cultural perceptions are reduced and essentialized. This, in turn, limits the potential for genuine cross-cultural understanding.
My research focused upon the vocational training programs offered by NGOs in Nepal. Though my interviews with NGO personnel, I sought to determine the skills taught, the reasons these skills were chosen to be introduced by the NGOs, and the promise provided to the youth introduced to this vocational training. The range of skills taught to children is quite varied. At the Shangri-La Children’s Home they include: tailoring/sewing, computer training and pottery making. At Sath-Sath children are introduced to carpentry, electrical trades, plumbing, auto repair, radio repair, electronics repair, and how to operate a food stall. APC-Nepal has training in carpentry, auto repair, furniture making and gardening. CWS teaches computer training, electrical trades, plumbing and caregiver training. CWIN focuses on paper crafts. All five organizations allow vocational training program participants to choose their skill set, regardless of gender.