Two years ago, as an English teacher in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I met a woman who introduced me to something that would change the next few years of my life.
I was sitting in a bare, concrete space on the second level of my favorite open mic venue, just finishing up my first enneagram reading with Johanna– a woman with a reputation for instigating transformation.
I sat there on the floor across from this small, cheery blonde woman with deep eyes and my path, indeed, did shift. Not only was the enneagram reading a powerful insight, but it was in introduction to the Happy Kids Center, a “peter-pan land,” bamboo structure she, and two othersbuilt in response to the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
We sat across from each other, sharing ideas and plans and inspiration — and a few weeks later my bags were packed, head exploding with naive plans as I boarded the plane for Nepal.
First day back: December 10, 2017 – Right out of the cab from the airport.
“One of our girls has been married off in the night. We think she’s in India.”
I was thrust, not so gently, back into the reality of life here in Bhaktapur, a city still crippled by the earthquake. It’s been two-years since I arrived in Bhaktapur in March 2016, becoming the turnover for the Happy Kids Center at age 23. In those two years, I have fallen in love with these kids and started on the journey of understanding and unlearning from this community.
In the month and a half that I’ve been back, my partners Joyce and Ellen, and I have been working tirelessly on our many projects.
What started as a semi-permanent bamboo space where “ A Child’s Imagination is Endless” has since evolved into a place where journeys begin– a resource that provides outside programming to the families that come to the center who need a little extra help in breaking the cycle of poverty.
For two years we have watched our little ones working in the streets collecting plastics to sell to the government instead of going to school. We’ve seen our girls getting married, and sat at their weddings as they cried in our laps. We’ve hugged boney bodies with growling tummies.
After two years of watching, we’ve finally been invited to be a partner in solving the problem.
In the past 6 months, in partnership with the mothers of our kids, we have successfully launched a scholarship program, built an anti-child marriage initiative, and started a health fund. Each of these programs takes a great deal of care and hard work to get off the ground and running sustainably.
The Happy Kids Center was born as a place where achild can escape the responsibility of simple survival, and enter the life of a child– the life of play and color. From 4-6 you can find us at play, nearly drowning amongst a sea of jumping children and playing cards.
Outside the center, you can find us riding a local bus to Kathmandu to visit a 16 year-old sister that was married last year who is pregnant, scared and needs a friend. You can find one of us sitting in the hospital waiting to hear back if Krishna can get surgery to fix his degenerative eye disease. You can find us sitting with the principal, discussing strategy for getting more of our kids off the streets and into school.
We have a full and busy life here but an important one. This year, we’ve been able to do what we’ve never done before. We’ve launched projects in collaboration with the parents of the kids we are serving, built a website, received our legal non-profit status in Nepal and continued to unlearn and build relationships with the community.
In the two months that I’ve been back here in Nepal, I have ridden my bike only three times– far less than anticipated. Working with these kids, has prepared me for my journey in another way, however. It has filled me with motivation and purpose. It is my job to keep these dreams alive by fundraising along my journey.
It has given me the motivation to keep pedaling. Because this isn’t just about my dream, but the dream of 80 others– the kids at the Happy Kids Center.