A home for Nepalese street children is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its founding by Swiss woman Nicole Wick.This content was published on April 12, 2003 - 10:56
Known locally as the Home of New Hopes, the building now houses and educates more than 250 children.
Wick, who first visited Nepal while working as a volunteer at another school, says that it's hard to believe she has now been there for a decade.
"The last seven years in particular have gone very quickly, but the first few years certainly seemed slow and we had our share of problems," Wick laughs.
"I was definitely seen by some people in those early years as an outsider who should mind my own business, but now I've been there ten years and married to a Nepali man for the past seven years, so they don't treat me as a foreigner anymore."
The growing respect for Wick's work has been mirrored in the growing size of the home. Starting in 1993 with just four rooms and six children, the centre now houses 129 former street kids and provides education for a similar amount of day children.
"We're formally registered as a private school, so we follow the government guidelines and our children sit the state exams. That means they're learning regular academic subjects such as geography, biology and mathematics. But there's definitely a lot of emphasis at our school on training the children for future careers.
Wick says she is now seeing her early efforts in Nepal coming to fruition with some of the home's first children now setting up their own businesses and even helping to provide funds for the school's continued running.
No shortage of street children
Things may be looking up for the children who are leaving the home but, sadly, there is no shortage of kids lining up to replace them.
"The recent conflicts between the government and the Maoists have definitely led to an increase in the number of street kids. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, so it's not surprising that a lot of children end up living on the street.
"Some of the kids leave home because their family doesn't have enough food or there are too many children in the family. Some of course don't have any family. There's also a large number of girls being sold to other countries for prostitution at a very young age. So we try to get girls who are at risk into the home too."
Wick knows that one children's home cannot change the situation in Nepal. But if the government can improve education standards in the country, and if a newly-announced ceasefire deal with the Maoists can hold, she believes her adopted country could look very different in another ten years' time.
"If those two things could be achieved, I think Nepal could be a great country. It could be a happy version of Switzerland! When you look at all the trekking opportunities and the incredible mountains, the culture and the openness of the people, there's a lot of good that could happen in Nepal."
Whatever the future holds, Wick is confident that she will sticking around. Clearly though it isn't the fantastic trekking routes or mountain scenery that helps maintain her love affair with Nepal.
"It's more the kids than the country," Wicki smiles. "I mean the country and the people are great - very cheerful and optimistic. But it's the way the kids will do anything to try and change the bad luck they were born with. They work really hard and it's their way of looking at life that has kept me there all this time."
swissinfo, Mark Ledsom
Founded by Nicole Wick ten years ago, the home now cares for more than 250 children.
Wick and her Nepali husband Jeeten Thakuri are assisted by seven local workers.
Donations can be made through the home's website.