Universal Children's Day in Nepal
by Karma Loday
Kathmandhu, Nepal: Universal Children's Day was celebrated on 21 November instead of 20 November due to disturbances in Kathmandu city. The theme of the day was highlighting the human rights of street children, and to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and poverty. All these messages were reflected in plays and songs performed by the former street children of Prayas ('effort'), now going to school.
Prayas is a local NGO which supports glue-sniffing children in the streets of Kathmandu, giving them opportunities to educate themselves and lead a glue-free life. This event was an initiative of Prayas with funds provided by UNV.
The event started off with Mr. Suren Lama, Programme Officer of Prayas, giving a speech on the importance of Universal Children's Day and how all the children around the world mark this day to voice their needs and concerns through events such as plays, arts, songs etc.
The children of Prayas staged a play touching upon poverty, substance abuse and human rights violations, and sang songs of their lives as to how they got where they are right now. Children who are still sniffing glue and begging sat and watched gleefully as the former street children performed on the stage. However, later these children stormed the stage and started singing their own songs. The atmosphere was filled with laughter and fun at the end.
There are two types of children at Prayas. There are those who are still living in the streets of Kathmandu and time and again they come to have breakfast and lunch at the drop-in centre in an area called Samakushi. The few others are the ones who are completely off the glue and now going to school. They eat and live in an area called Gaushala where they lead a boarding life.
These are mostly boys within the age range of 8-16. Either they are homeless or circumstances have led them to the streets begging and eventually taking up glue-sniffing, in order to fit in the gang. They operate in gangs and have their own territories where they beg from tourists. Should you not be part of the gang then you are vulnerable to harassment and bullying by other members.
Glue-sniffing eventually becomes a means of survival even in the streets. Talking to some of the children, they say sniffing glue keeps them warm during the winter months and their minds off the hunger for a while.
The Samakushi area drop-in centre allows the street children who are still sniffing glue to drop in at any time of the day and have breakfast and lunch with a condition that they stay at the centre till 17:00 in the evening and during that time no glue-sniffing is allowed. For those who wish to sleep at the centre they are required to stay glue free for as long as they eat and sleep at the centre.
When they eventually give up on sniffing glue then they are transferred to the Gauchala centre where they are given the opportunity to go to school; meals, clothes and beds are provided by Prayas.
Prayas is still young and needs a lot of guidance and assistance. Recently UNV has managed to introduce them to other international volunteer sending agencies in Nepal and also to well established local NGOs.
For the upcoming International Volunteer Day on 5 December 2008, UNV along with other international volunteer sending agencies, Governmental bodies and local NGOs have planned a street cleaning campaign in Kathmandu to highlight environmental issues in Nepal.
Children from Prayas will be taking the lead in participating in the campaign. The idea is to have the children contribute to community for the assistance they receive from Prayas and others who support Prayas.
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