Origami instructions, puzzles and playtime at an orphanage in Kathmandu
‘‘SISTER,’’ the kids scream as they run to shake myhand. ‘‘Howare you? What is your name?’’
I amstarting two weeks of volunteer tourism at a rundown orphanage and children’s care homeat Hattigauda on the outskirts of Kathmandu in Nepal, where six girls share a room and two bunk beds at the New Children’s Homewhile 20 boys squeeze into a room and three bunk beds. Three to four boys share a double mattress.
I amfar from mydesk job in Melbourne in a communications role in the health sector.
In an anxious frenzy before leaving Australia, I have bought supplies for activities I guess might interest five to 14-year-olds. I have purchased Play-doh, wool, coloured paper, stencils, crayons, colouring pencils and flash cards.
Onthe first day I produce pretty squares of origami paper, planning to teach the children how to fold cranes.
‘‘Sister, sister, give me paper!’’ cry the kids. The paper disappears and then so do most of the children, without a single paper crane in sight. A couple return and ask me to make a bird or try to follow my instructions, which suddenly seem very long and complicated when explained in the children’s second language.
Little Shrijan, wearing a woollen beanie despite the heat, painstakingly follows every step. A couple of girls already know how to make flowers, and proudly hand me their creations.
The youngest girl, Swarswoti, who has a perpetual running nose, asks me to make her a bird every day.
The next day I try a physical activity with the children and take a skipping rope. The skipping is a success.
At first I can only recognise the children by their clothes; they wear the same clothes every day. Little Buddha-faced Solomon wears a grey fleece, Alinah wears orange beads, Anisha has a nose ring and Habil is in a pink jumper with sheep images.
Equipped with scissors and coloured paper, I am confident of success with a paper chain activity, but again the paper appears to cause more excitement than the planned activity and I am surrounded by children demanding paper, which is then snaffled and hidden.
‘‘Why you bring this?’’ asks 13-year-old Shanti with a glare. ‘‘Bring Cluedo or badminton, something useful. Bring storybooks.’’
That night I fluster into the children’s section of that Kathmandu institution, Pilgrim’s Book House, looking for storybooks.
I flick through the eclectic collection, finally finding Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and The BFG. The children love these stories.
After a couple of days I realise I need several activities for each visit; something different for the younger and older ones, something creative and something sporting, all for a two-hour period. Colouring books are popular, word search puzzles are loved by the older kids.
Badminton is a real winner except when the shuttlecock disappears into the rice field next door or on to the roof.
One day I bring new HB pencils and lined paper for a writing activity. The pencils disappear but no one uses them. Apparently highly sought-after, unsharpened pencils can be swapped at school for sweets.
I question whether such visits are helpful.
I try to teach games that the children can play when I am gone, rather than just give presents.
The children get some English practice and cultural study of strange foreigners, if nothing else.
And I do manage to keep them away from the television set.