A Bitter-sweet 5 Year Anniversary Blog Post
This week marked five years since Happy Kids Center first opened its doors in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Every year since the center opened, we have celebrated with a party for the whole community. The children performed skits and dances, the parents prepared food, the staff led games and dance competitions. It was one of my favorite days of every year because it was a moment for all of us who have put our blood, sweat and tears into Happy Kids Center to take a step back and reflect on the amount of joy and opportunity that our little center has created for our community.
This year is different. Not being able to celebrate what has become something of a local holiday and tradition would hurt any year, but at a milestone like five years, it stings just a little bit more. Since our three-year anniversary, the team and I had countless ideas for how we would celebrate the passage of five years of work, both in Nepal and in back home in Philadelphia where I live now in the United States. But instead, I’ve found myself sitting on my couch in an apartment I rarely leave more than 7,500 miles away, drafting a blog post calling for celebration over the internet.
I have spent nearly a week now trying to get myself in the mood to write this blog post, but I have been stuck. It just doesn’t feel the same as it would any other year and that has made it hard to feel the celebratory spirit, despite the momentous occasion.
Today though, at 1:45 am (Eastern Standard Time) I received a video call over Facebook Messenger from Kajal, a 13-year-old girl who was just 9 years old when Happy Kids Center opened. I was half asleep but I managed to shake the exhaustion and answer the call. She was borrowing her auntie’s phone and had somehow hacked her way onto the Happy Kids Center wifi (these kids are too smart sometimes.) We spoke for a short time about how she was feeling and how her family was doing, both physically and emotionally. Whe assured me that all was well and promised they were doing their best to abide by the strict COVID-19 regulations in place in the city. She told me she missed school and Happy Kids Center desperately and asked when I would come back and when the center could re-open. I asked her if they had enough to eat and she assured me that Chadani and her family were still providing meals several times a week and making sure that every family had enough food to cook in their homes every day. We hung up after a few minutes and I somehow made it back to sleep, overjoyed to have shared a moment of connection but sure I would regret taking the call when it was time to wake up for my first morning meeting. But, despite the exhaustion, I woke up with a new perspective, feeling reinvigorated and relieved.
That call demonstrated to me that, as unfortunate as it is to be quarantined during one of our biggest milestones yet— it is extremely fortunate that this devastating pandemic occurred when our community is already five years strong.
We opened five years ago, at a time of devastation that most in our world will never know— just six months after the 2015 earthquake that nearly destroyed the city of Bhatkapur. Most Bhaktapurians spent months living in fields and town squares as aftershocks rocked the city on a daily basis and continuously took down new homes and businesses for months following the initial quake. Food was scarce and jobs were scarcer. The families we worked with were resilient but desperate. They had to resort to sending their children into town to beg for rice and spare change. Many community members passed away after falling ill to treatable injuries and diseases that festered in the tent communities where they were living.
The community survived this tragedy on their own. Happy Kids Center was in its infancy. All we could offer at that time was a safe space where, for two hours a day, children could come, play, and find a brief reprieve from the suffering that had enveloped their lives.
Now, I will not directly compare the current Covid-19 Pandemic to the 2015 Earthquake— the two disasters are different in too many ways to count, but both have taken a severe toll on our community. Both events kept children from school and destroyed the local economy, causing prices of food, clean water, gasoline, medicine, healthcare, and other necessities to skyrocket. This time, however, Happy Kids Center was equipped to support the community, keep children off the street, keep bellies and pantries full, support the costs and access to healthcare, guarantee no one would need to drop out of school, and more than anything, provide a sense of hope and safety that people longed for back in 2015.
In saying all of that, most of you are probably not familiar with the work we have been doing over the last 7 months since Nepal and the rest of the world went into lockdown. That is on us. This pandemic has been hard on everyone and while we never stopped doing the hard work despite all of the chaos, we did fall off of posting on social media.
Sometimes, social media seems frivolous, especially when there is so much happening in the world, but in this case, it is not. Our supporters deserve to know what is going on. You deserve to know that we are keeping the children you have come to know and love and their families safe. You deserve to see that the programs we can continue despite lockdowns have continued; that everyone always has enough to eat and drink, access to sanitation and PPD, and access to healthcare. None of this could happen without you. And while social media may not feel like the most important thing in the world, it is the best way for us to let you know what you have contributed. We have not stopped providing these essential activities but we stopped updating you all and for that, we are genuinely sorry. Going into year number six, that is something I promise we will work on.
For now though, please join us in celebrating FIVE YEARS of Happy Kids Center. Five years of breaking the cycle of poverty, child labor, and child marriage in our community. If you are able to make a donation of any size to help us continue the work we are doing every day to keep our community safe and healthy, it would be extremely appreciated.
Thank you in advance for your generosity. We love and appreciate you all more than you know!