Stephan Bailey – WNN Features
WNN – Women News Network journalist Stephen Bailey stops in Kathmandu to spend time and talk with Ms. Surya Kamari, one of the former ‘moms’, and later ‘grandmothers’, who worked with countless orphaned children through a very special program called SOS Children’s Villages Nepal. For International Women’s Day we are proud to share his story. . .
(WNN) Kathmandu, NEPAL, ASIA-PACIFIC: Surya Kamari has no husband in a place where an unmarried woman was an oddity at best. In her mid 30s when she lost her husband, she had to spend her life alone, facing legal discrimination and social prejudice.
It was the hardship of life alone that caused Surya to make a decision that was to change her life forever and the lives of the 37 orphaned youngsters who would become her ‘children’ and grandchildren.
She decided to join SOS Children’s Villages Nepal, a charity where women live in unique homes as ‘mothers’.
Her family tried to argue her out it. Single women, if they didn’t marry, usually worked in their family home, not in a public business or endeavor. But Surya pressed ahead and in 1972 she was in the first wave of women to become ‘mothers’ in the orphaned children’s homes.
Surya, as well as other women who were part of the SOS Children Villages program, lived with 10 children in each family home in an environment of protected villages. They slept in the homes, cooked in them, washed in them and became mothers to the orphans and abandoned children who came into their special and loving care until the children were old enough to join the SOS Children’s Villages youth facilities at the age of 16.
Working to provide all the children with a loving environment, Surya discovered that much of the things she had been denied, were also being denied to the orphans before they came to SOS Children’s Villages.
“The homes are not just good for the children but for single women,” said Sushan Pokherel, the assistant program director of SOS Children’s Villages Nepal.
“Single women used to face so many problems in the community. They feel safe and can look after children. They get a family environment,” added Pokherel.
SOS Children’s Villages in Nepal is a German based organization that looks after 76,000 orphaned children in youth homes and children’s villages that today span 133 countries.
The advocacy program continues to employ women like Surya, who is now well over 40-years-old. They have also gone against the trend in Nepal by seeking to recruit single women, not married women, as program ‘moms’.
In the last years Nepal has seen advances in many areas – life expectancy is better and has now reached 68-years for women and 65-years for men – but social and economic problems still persist.
The unemployment rate remains high though at 46 percent. Economic migration, both within Nepal and to the Gulf countries, has disrupted family life for decades but now is also facing a more positive trend, as Nepal’s developing approach to beneficial initiatives increases.
According to modern statistics the challenges still exist. Around a third of all children in the region who are 5 to 14-years-old still have to work.
As Surya became more involved in the SOS Children’s Villages program, she went on to have 37 ‘children’ and now also has 13 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Many of them are still regular visitors to their SOS moms.
“We looked after the children and now we know the children definitely love us,” said Surya. “We never used to think about this while doing our work but now we know the children have so much love,” she added.
Aarju Shrestha, one of the 19-year-0ld ‘granddaughters’ of Surya at SOS Children’s Villages sits closely with her ‘grandmother’ Surya saying: “I visit and help with the chores. We are like a family.”
After years of advocacy and work, Surya now lives in semi-retirement with other former SOS mothers at the national SOS headquarters in Sanothimi near city of Kathmandu, the place where Surya grew up.
She regularly gets asked if she can jump in and help by the present SOS mothers in the nearby SOS children’s home.
So, what’s her advice?
“Provide love to the youngest, advice and guidance to the oldest – and don’t run for money.”
This May 17, 2010 Youtube video release shows the impact, care and compassion that can change lives as orphans and homeless children in Nepal are given dignity, education and a place in society called “home.”
For more information on this topic:
“Who We Are – SOS Children’s Villages,” SOS Children’s Villages International, May 16, 2012;
“Adopting the Rights of the Child – A study on intercountry adoption and its influence on child protection in Nepal,” UNICEF, November 7, 2012;
“Streets Our Way (Masculinities Among Street Children of Kathmandu – A Photographic Essay By Kumar Paudel,” South Asian Network for Addressing Masculinities (SANAM), March 17, 2012.
News journalist Stephan Bailey is reporting from Nepal.
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