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Three Months in Nepal: A Story of Travel, Teaching and Child Labour Paperback – 15 May 2008
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During the trek she fell behind the others because of her asthma, and already you feel her determination not to be beaten and her stout heartedness as she struggles to finish each hard day's walk.
Throughout the book we go with her on visits to parks, to friends, and around Kathmandu; buying a bike, dodging serious water bombs while cycling on a water festival day; attempting to buy essential items. They are all described with a fresh unselfconscious style which I enjoy enormously. Her descriptions of friends and colleagues are frank, and you always sense a strong empathy with the very poor, the destitute, the children. Of a child beggar: "There is a tiny, dirty child sitting on the ground with an even tinier baby on his lap. They are filthy and look as if they have been there an age. He looks too tired to beg......I wonder where his parents are, or if they are orphans. I still find it so hard being jolted between affluence and despair."
Living at a school in Patan, Hazel was asked to co-direct a theatre project for the International Labour Organisation ( ILO). The idea behind the project was to take a group of children from privileged backgrounds at a prestigious school to research the lives of seriously underprivileged children in order to expose through drama the appalling extent of child labour and the severity of the lives of the child labourers. With Sunil Patel (the Artistic Director of Aarohan Theatre) she gets the two groups working together to devise their own plays and also the lyrics and music to accompany them. At the end of her time in Nepal the both groups of children perform them to a large attentive audience. The very important element here is that the school children, who are likely to become the administrators when they are older, should understand what is happening to the thousands of children who are employed, bonded, or act as slave labour in Nepal.
First they explore how children get into these situations where they are so exploited. Many are sent away because their families cannot support them; some send money back to their families; some are thrown out by a parent or step parent; or run away because they are abused. Few of them have proper places to sleep, a regular diet, running water or sanitation. They are often sick, and their growth is stunted because of the hardship. There are a few lights in the darkness: a morning school where children can study for free before they go to work, and there is an orphanage for disabled children. Hazel becomes involved with this last organisation and has set up a charity. (see later)
There are 4 plays in all. The first is about the estimated 4,000 rag pickers, children who live on the streets and work on the waste dumps, risking their health to collect bags of glass, plastic and metal and sell it on.
The second play focuses on the trafficking of girls; up to 2 million girls and are trafficked annually into prostitution. Sometimes their parents sell them, sometimes they are tricked into a `marriage' and taken to the brothels of India. Globally the present rate of trafficking in children is already ten times higher then the transatlantic slave trade at its peak
The third play centres on the brick works which are outside Kathmandu. Students from the school go on a coach to see the work for themselves. In her blog Hazel describes the scene so graphically that I feel I have been there, watching the children scoop up the clay, form bricks, and carry heavy hods of bricks around the site. Whole families work on the site, with the younger children carrying smaller hods, but still back breaking work and with little food or shelter. We all feel Hazel's disgust as she watches the privileged children drink bottled drinks in front of the brick working kids whose water comes from ditches on the site left by the clay digging. " We are like visitors from another planet so vast is the divide".
The last play is about domestic servants who may be given a place to eat and sleep but are exploited by the families and rarely have a chance to go to school.
Hazel describes the many obstacles to her work, the lack of space to rehearse, the difficulty of getting everyone in the right place at the right time "My experience to date suggests deadlines in Nepal are, at best, haphazardly understood." Through it all her sheer doggedness to ensure the project succeeded shows through. As it is a blog there is a suspension in the writing and you wonder, will she be able to achieve her goals against so many odds? You must read the book to find out. I will end with one last quote: after the play performance, speaking of the child labourers involved: "It is magic to see them open up and begin to enjoy themselves because joy is something that is so lacking in so much of their lives."
Perhaps it got better later on. I confess I gave up during Hazel's trek and gave my friend a different book for Christmas. I'm sure the author is very brave to have done this despite her asthma but I confess I got rather worn down with the diary accounts of her never being able to keep up with the others and arriving at camp hours later.
Perhaps it gets less depressing later on but I am too tired of it to find out.
There also seemed little understanding of the fact that people have different expectations from life and dont all fit into the English norm. Maybe if she had given herself longer to grieve and accept her loss before experiancing such a journey her acceptance may have been more complete. I am planning a similar experiance shortly but hope that after visiting such countries as Tunisia and Morocco, and made many visits to America I feel I may have a better understanding of the haves and have nots. I do not expect the people I am going to help to be "grateful" for my input.
( In Tunisia for instance to own a Mark 1 Golf is an achievement for a 30 year old lad. Here our boy racers wouldn't dream of stealing one. To own a mobile phone which is the model I had 15 years ago is the latest technology and they don't hanker after the latest technological gadget.)
My needs will be low on the list of priorities and I hope to do sufficient research to know what to expect. I didnt feel this book has helped this reseach at all as it was too self centered on the author.
By the way, I understand that Hazel Roy is currently involved (2012) with the Moradokmai Theatre Troupe in Thailand where young people learn traditional Thai theatre, dance and music and Western art forms while practising self-sufficiency in their life-style. So it seems that her enthusiasm for this kind of project continues.
The early trek gives you the chance to think - "what if I..." Later, through the story of the theatre production examining child labour, you learn how it benefits hugely from the creativity of the performing child actors. It is a a very good mixture of astute observation and and an excellent recount of a very demanding production. Its legacy is the continuing links which benefit both the writer and the theatre group.
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