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'Both India and China must help Nepal, more so India'

By Rashme Sehgal
June 23, 2015 14:51 IST
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'Right now, people are living under plastic tarpaulins and tin roofs'

'More than assistance, Nepal needs good understanding and support from the international community'

Siddhartha Kaul, president of SOS Children's Villages International that has been involved in earthquake relief work in Nepal, speaks to Rashme Sehgal.


Image: SOS takes care of 1,000 children in 12 Child Care Spaces. Photograph: SOS Children’s Villages International

Siddhartha Kaul, president of SOS Children's Villages International, has been at the forefront of organising relief work for the earthquake-affected in Nepal. In 2004, when Asia was devastated by a tsunami, his organisation had helped in the relief and reconstruction work for tsunami victims in south India.

Kaul has had a long association with SOS Children's Villages. He met Hermann Gmeiner, the founder of SOS Children's Villages, in 1964 at the age of 10, when his father was entrusted with the responsibility of establishing this organisation in India. He has not looked back since, and has worked with them for over three decades..

His work in Cambodia and Vietnam brought him accolades and in recognition of his work in these countries, he has received prestigious friendship awards from both these countries. Kaul, image, left, spoke to Rashme Sehgal about the work SOS was doing in Nepal.

SOS is helping unaccompanied children separated from their families. How are these children being traced and how is SOS helping these kids find their families?

These children come to us through hospitals, from government agencies, sometimes from people in the villages and communities. Children are traced through authorities, leaving messages with hospitals or in the relief camps that were set up outside hospitals in the first three weeks after the (Nepal) earthquake. We also have many direct contact points through social workers in the streets, social centres, SOS villages and the communities we work in.

I understand SOS at present works with 20,000 kids in reaching out to their families. What interventions are being taken to ensure that families welcome their children back? I ask this because there have been some news reports of increased trafficking of young children from some parts of Nepal following the earthquake.

That figure is not accurate, it’s more like 2,500. In the weeks following the earthquake we had 22 Child Care Spaces that were attended by approximately 2,500 children on an average. Currently there are 12 CCS.

SOS Children’s Villages help families provide their children with education, food, and medical care. We also provide what we call ‘home in a box’ which contains the most essential articles for a family, such as basic utensils, pillows, bed sheets, blankets, and dry rations.

In the second phase we want to work more with families to see what their livelihood is and how they can continue to provide for their children. But for this we first need to undertake a baseline survey within the community. This survey helps in assessing the families and their needs in terms of child care, education and livelihood development to ensure the sustainability of the families in the long run.

SOS Children’s Villages aims to build the capacity of the families so that they can take care of themselves and ensure their children grow in a protected and caring environment. 

Our past experiences show that communities need assistance in capacity building, education of their children, nutrition and housing where families have lost the roof over their heads.

About the reports of trafficking, it is important to remember that many children have relatives on both sides of the border and that no paperwork is required to cross it. Therefore, while it is imperative that every single missing child is tracked down, some may be with relatives in India. However, we want to highlight the fact that Nepal has had extremely high numbers of trafficking of children, especially of girls for many years, regardless of the earthquake. SOS Children’s Villages is extremely concerned and conscious of this and have trained staff to identify and be vigilant to enable the stopping of such a heinous crime.

Niraj Ranjitkar, 10, walks along the debris of collapsed houses as he heads towards his school, a month after the April 25 earthquake, in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

SOS is creating child friendly spaces. I understand 14 are already operational. Can you elaborate on how these spaces are located, what is their function and how are they operating?

We had 22 child-friendly spaces that took care of approximately 2,500 children in the weeks following the earthquake and currently there are 12 CCS operational. However, they are being phased out because schools are reopening.

What the CCS offers is a protective environment for the children during the day time. This enables the parents to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and rebuild it once again without having to worry about the safety and well-being of their children. And for the children this is a place where they can remain children -- play, read, sing, dance and generally get away from the trauma of the disaster.

The CCS offers one full meal and two snacks per day, ensuring adequate nourishment for the children. Agreements with hospitals are made for conducting regular health check-ups and counsellors are brought for psychological support. This service is extended to both children as well as adults.

A vast majority of parents are day labourers who need to find work to feed their children and they have to go looking for work to survive.

There are also educational activities. The children are divided into age groups. Activities include basic writing, reading, play acting, singing. All this is done with volunteers, generally young people from university who are paid a small amount to cover their expenses. Such volunteers are taken from within the community so that parents to trust the CCS with their children. They receive very basic training (one and a half to two days) on how to interact with the children, child protection issues, and mostly work together with teachers deputed from the schools of SOS Children’s Villages.

SOS Nepal is presently taking care of 11,000 kids in 14 child care spaces and also adults, senior citizens and lactating mothers in these spaces. Who is taking care of the children there and how are the elders being taken care of?

At present we are taking care of a maximum of 1,000 children in 12 child care spaces. However, the programmes of SOS Children’s Villages Nepal cater to over 11,000 children and young people.

During the initial phase after the earthquake, we also helped lactating mothers because we saw a gap in the immediate relief provided by various organisations. Since these mothers were not in need of being hospitalised, but were unable to stand in line for hours for food, and need specialised care, it was provided directly by SOS Children’s Villages. Similar type of assistance was offered to the elderly during the initial phase up to three weeks after the quake.

SOS Youth Clubs are reaching out to families and visiting camps to lend emotional support. How are they doing this? Can you elaborate with specific examples?

Yes, during the initial phase our youngsters wanted to help doing all kinds of things, serving food and water, helping injured people move around, carrying the injured to and fro the relief camp and the base hospital. SOS mothers provided emotional support -- they were just there and listened and comforted the injured people, while other mothers took care of their children in the SOS Children’s Village.

Image: Child Care Spaces offers one full meal and two snacks per day, ensuring adequate nourishment for the children. Photograph: SOS Children’s Villages International

SOS is also looking for support to help rebuild government schools. Who are you looking for support and how much funding have you received so far?

We have given our commitment to the ministry of education to rebuild schools that are destroyed. We need support from the state government and the ministry in identifying these schools in areas where the need is most. We ourselves have identified two schools and have contacted the ministry with our offer. Not all organisations are as fast as SOS Children’s Villages. We have been operational in the country for the last 40 years and receive support and co-operation from the government. Further, there are 10 SOS Children’s Villages in Nepal and they offer a strong base for the emergency relief activities.

What feedback have you been receiving from children who have lost their near and dear ones in the earthquake? What immediate help is required to improve the situation of children in Nepal?

The most important thing for children after such a traumatic experience is stability, for some sort of a normal life. For example, to get back to school. We are looking to convert CCS to daycare centres where children can go after school and receive adequate nutrition for their healthy development. We can also ensure parents have a livelihood, a roof over their head. Right now, people are living under plastic tarpaulins and tin roofs. The monsoon is here and winter is coming soon, making living conditions harsher for the families.

SOS is running social centres in Sindhupalchok to help 100 families. What is the nature of help being provided there?

It is a child care space and we are planning to run a very comprehensive programme in three communities that have been identified.

BBB is the mantra -- build back better. The devastation has offered the natural possibility to assist the communities to get back not only a life but a better life than before. And towards that is child care – education, hygiene, sanitation, capacity building, livelihood development and healthcare.

All this should lead to improvement in the quality of life of these people who have lost everything to the earthquake.

We also care for children and make sure every child goes to school, is well-nourished. In the day-care centres we feed the children and educate families on nutrition, help develop their livelihood by turning unskilled or semi-skilled workers into fully skilled workers, create programmes for women, especially in family planning and finance planning, educate about child protection.

In the communities, we provide basic hygiene and sanitation, drinking water, support the reconstruction of houses by putting the members of the community to rebuild as there are many semi-skilled and skilled people living there.

Do you think the international community should have provided more assistance?

Let’s remember that Nepal is one of the least developed countries in the world. More than assistance, it needs good understanding and support from the international community. So I would say yes, all help is welcome.

Do you feel Nepal's immediate neighbours should step up their assistance? What are the gaps in the assistance provided so far and how can it be bridged?

As good neighbours both India and China must extend help to the people of Nepal, more so India because of the religious and cultural affinity that exists between the two countries.

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