The Prison Story
Tuesday, December 5, 2000 Last E-Mail Adventure Journal IV: The Prison
This happened a few weeks ago in November (2000).
After trekking and visiting the rhinos in Chitwan, I was on my own. Joanne left for the United States and I continued the adventure. Well, I wasn't exactly alone. I was with hundreds of other tourists and thousands of Nepalese.
I befriended Sabine, a 23 year old woman from Holland, who had just graduated from college and was on a big adventure traveling through Asia by herself. She and I rented bikes one day and went to a famous Hindu Temple north of Kathmandu. A few days later she was on her way to India, stopping in Pokhara for a while. I decided to join her there.
While in Pokhara, it was Sabine's birthday. We celebrated in Sarangkot, at the top of a mountain on the edge of the city. It was only a day's trek to get there. On the way, a little dog adopted us and followed us to the top. We named him George.
The sunrise the next morning illuminated the Annapurna Mountains to the north in a dramatic display. George wagged his tail the whole time. He was so glad to see us, for he was not invited into the Trekkers' Lodge the night before.
Sabine continued on to India and I returned to Kathmandu. I thought I could finish my Adventure Journal, go shopping, and have a rest. Instead I met Rowdy, another amazing woman in her 40's, traveling alone. She was from Canada and we were instant friends. Her real name is Marian but 'Rowdy' fits.
Before going to Nepal, I received a letter from Joe Connaughton in Ann Arbor. He had come to one of my talks and was almost signed up to go to Nepal on this trip. His plans changed, however.
I opened the letter to find two fifty-dollar bills taped to the paper inside. In neat handwriting Joe wrote, "Since I am not going to Nepal at this time, maybe you can do me a favor. Please use this money to take some homeless kids out to lunch, or buy them some clothes or anything they may need. I just want to brighten up their lives in some way. If you don't have time, you can donate this to a shelter or something in Nepal."
I immediately called Joe when the letter came. He humbly said, "I try to do one good thing a month."
The whole time I was in Nepal, I was plotting and planning how to spend the money. I gave $50 to a British organization that was helping children in rural Nepal. They owned two Trekkers' Lodges that generated enough income to cover administrative costs. The literature said that 95% of each donation goes directly to the children.
But what should I do with the other $50? My mind kept returning to the Nepali prison. Often there were notes from western prisoners on bulletin boards in the tourist restaurants in Kathmandu. They requested visitors, a little conversation, powdered milk and good books.
In 1998, I went to the prison with my friend Michele. We met a Canadian prisoner who was in jail for staying in Nepal without the proper visa. His name (as written by a Nepalese guard) was "Cloud".
Cloud told us a little about the conditions inside. It was strange to see that he seemed happy. He smiled a lot. He said that there were about a thousand inmates. Together they shared a common area about the size of a basketball court. There were no cells, just hallways lined with wooden beds, one right next to the other. Cloud said that if the man next to him were sick, he was sick too.
The prison was overcrowded. The guards were nasty. Because they were so awful, Cloud couldn't mention the crimes he had seen them commit against other men and occasionally against women admitted to the women's prison next door.
Cloud said there were innocent children in there too! If a child's parents were in prison, and there was nowhere for the child to go, then they had to live in prison with their father. They had to share a bed, and they often had to share food. The fathers didn't want their kids there. Not only were they a hassle, they were treated horribly by the other men AND by the guards.
It was sickening to learn about this. Was there any way I could use Joe's money to help those children? Could I take them out for a day, go shopping, take them to the zoo?
I asked Rowdy if she would help me. She was great and even dedicated her last day in Nepal to this project.
The guards told us there were 28 kids in the prison. They said they would have to ask their supervisor if we could meet them. I told the guards also to ask if I could video tape the kids and take photos. They said if we wanted to take the children out of the prison, we would have to take guards with us. And if any of the children ran -- we were responsible.
Rowdy and I decided it would be best to buy them gifts. We had almost $2 for each child. The next morning, after we received approval, Rowdy and I went downtown to shop. For $50 we were able to buy SO much! We were very proud. This is what we bought: 28 pairs of socks, 28 pairs of gloves, 28 blank notebooks, 28 Nepali language workbooks, 28 kids' magazines with articles, games, and puzzles, 56 pencils, 56 pens, 28 sharpeners, 28 erasers, and 28 pieces of candy!
At the prison, the guards looked through all our gifts to make sure we weren't giving the kids metal files and weapons. Then, one by one, the children came out of the main door. Each walked across the dirt to where we sat under a tree. We loaded their pockets and arms with gifts. Many smiled. Some had no shoes. Rowdy commented on the fact that they looked considerably good. We didn't know what to expect. They were all ages. Some were only three feet tall.
We met seventeen children at the central prison. Then the guards led us to the maximum security section where there were three more small children. And finally, we walked around the block to the Women's Prison where, we were told, there were eight children. When we got there, the guards said that actually there were 21 kids! He said, some hadn't been "registered" yet. (It is common in Nepal to loose paperwork or never get around to it.)
Cloud told Michele and me in 1998 that he didn't know how much longer he would be locked up. "They probably lost my papers," he said. "No one really knows who is actually in here and who deserves to get out."
It was difficult dividing gifts for 8 into 21, but we managed. We gave the socks to the kids without shoes. We gave the magazines to the older kids. We gave pencils and pens to everyone and split the erasers and sharpeners. We tried to explain that they had to SHARE. (A word I didn't know in Nepali.)
As the little ones crowded back through the prison door with their new treasures clutched in their arms, we could see their mothers receiving them, smiling and waving to us.
The two guards wanted a picture of themselves when we were finished. The handcuffs were hanging on the wall next to them as they stood smiling. One had a rifle at his side with a bayonet attached. They wrote their address, "The Woman's Prison, Kathmandu, Nepal." I promised I would send a copy.
A few days later, after spending eight hours delayed at the Kathmandu airport, I was on my way home.
I stopped in Thailand for four nights. The busy streets of Bangkok filled my spirit. On one day, I was at the edge of the Gulf of Thailand on an unpopulated beach three hours south of Bangkok. I sat alone, smiling. I've never been happier.
Now I am home. Tomorrow I will give Joe Connaughton the video tape, photos, and a brochure about the British organization. He has inspired me. It's amazing what $50 can do. I want my company, my tours, and my trekkers to breed random acts of kindness.
I'll start "The Of Global Interest Random Act of Kindness Fund" today.
Sent Wednesday, January 24, 2001 Adventure Journal UPDATE!
E-MAIL ADVENTURE JOURNAL UPDATE:
I just have to tell you.
Remember my last Adventure Journal titled "The Prison"? I wrote the story about bringing gifts to the children in the Kathmandu Prison. One among you, Tom, sent the Prison Story to members of Habitat for Humanity who were soon on their way to Nepal to build homes for the Nepalese.
Soon after that, I got an e-mail from Maya Hamilton in California! She was on her way to Nepal with the Habitat for Humanity group and was SO inspired by the Prison Story, she was now determined to bring gifts to the prison children like I had. She asked me for directions and some other details.
I promptly sent her what I knew. It felt good knowing someone (so far away) had been touched by my story. Joe Connaughton, who gave me the original $50 to “do something nice for the children of Nepal,” not only inspired me to start the Of Global Interest Random Acts of Kindness Fund, but now Maya in California was involved.
A few weeks passed and another e-mail came from Maya. She said the authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul wanted to publish the story in their next book! Yikes. That alone gave me goose bumps for a week. And Maya also said that the authors of the book had given her $1,000 to help the children in the Kathmandu Prison. Maya's plan was to take the money to Nepal and 'see what she could do.' (!)
A few more weeks pass. I went skiing and was away from e-mail for a while. When I got back there was a pileup. Blaring on my screen were words like "Urgent --Media Event--Nepal Children being released from Prison" and "Your $1,000 released Children from Prison in Nepal!!"
It turned out, Maya did visit the prison and eight children (eight of the 41 that I had met) were released! And they will be sponsored for the next 5-10 years at a group home in Kathmandu run by Prison Fellowship International (PFI). This American based group helps innocent children caught in prison systems around the world. Adding these eight children to the home filled all the available beds. 17 children were already there.
Then Maya said she is now going to raise $129,000. Her plan is to build a second home that will house 25 more children. This money will also pay for the costs of supporting these children for the next 5-10 years.
The release of the children from the prison was filmed by a Dutch film maker, and there will be a press conference in Pasadena, California on February 22. Maya wants Joe and I to be there (though I will be in Nepal). A celebrity (TBA) will be there along with important people from the PFI organization in Washington.
Lastly, Maya wrote: Oprah's Angel Network is next.
One of many lessons here: Every action has the potential to become something unbelievable.
DONATIONS: If you would like to donate to the prison children, I will get the money to the right people. I plan to visit the home during my next trip. If you would like to sponsor one child, it is $40 to release a child from the prison and the cost is $40 a month for 5-10 years. If you want to give any sum to the effort of building a new home and the costs for raising these children, please call.
The Of Global Interest Random Acts of Kindness Fund may go toward the prison children in some form. I will also use this money as originally planned, randomly offering dinner, a toy, a pair of shoes, work (such as collecting trash around the sacred Bagmati River) to anyone in need.
Adventure Journal Part 2: Prison Children Released!
Remember the prison children in Kathmandu? Here is the latest. The first message is from Maya of Ventura, California and the second is a news article. The world is changing.
Subject: Great News---Children in Nepal Prisons to be Released!!! Hi all, In the past couple of weeks some major changes have taken place in Nepal--the government has made a new policy to release all the children from the prisons! In addition, the "shame" associated with being in prison (part of the caste system) is also being lifted.
Today, our friends with Prison Fellowship in Nepal have confirmed this great news and all the prisons are to release all the children by December 31st, 2001. Most will go to government funded and operated children homes--much like social services in the US. Many consider this a miracle as this practice has been in force as long as anyone can remember--and as long as there have been jails in Nepal.
Prison Fellowship's Peace Loving Children's Home will continue on with its care of the 25 children living there, so the sponsorships to get them through the next 5 years is still very much needed and appreciated. But beyond this, PFI Nepal will focus on . . . continuing with its prisoner rehabilitation program.
I thought you would all want to hear this great news and rejoice with those of us who are rejoicing!!!!!! All is well, Mary "Maya"
AND! In a message dated 11/20/01 7:09:21 AM, Philip Holmes writes: Dear friends, From today's Nepal news online: Children released from jails
Coinciding with the 12th International Child Rights Day, children were released Tuesday from jails nation-wide to the care of the Nepal Children’s Organization, an official announcement said.
Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare Rajendra Kaharel did not say how many children were released while inaugurating a cycle rally in the capital. Most of the children live with their imprisoned parents serving various jail terms because they have nobody to take care of them at home.
Tuesday marks the 12th anniversary of child rights adopted by the United Nations in 1989. Kharel said in a message the government will incorporate strategies in the 10th five-year-plan to improve the condition of children of Nepal. nepalnews.com br Nov 20
Best wishes Philip
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