Why Community Meal Days Are Essential to the HKC Community
Every week, our community joins together to uphold one of Nepal’s most valued rituals–eating. Saturdays at Happy Kids Center differ from other days. When walking down the path to HKC, the aroma of curry and spices wafts into your nose. Your mouth to waters and your pace to quicken. Yellows, reds, greens swirl around in giant metal pots aligned on benches like offerings or something to be revered. Families and children hang on each other’s legs, skip rope or gossip in the corner as they await the “wash your hands, its time to eat.” In a flash, 60 kids are lined up, ready to eat. The older kids sit and chat while the young ones giggle and shovel the food from their plates to their mouths with tiny hands in a mess.
The children finish their hefty portions of daal baht. They offer their leftovers to our chickens and wash their plates with water from our rain collectors. They leave with full bellies and plates heavy with food being sent home to parents who could not attend.
These are our meal days. Delicious. Wild. Colorful. Nutritious meals for the whole community and 100% donor sustained.
Our community meal days serve two major purposes: providing nutritious home-cooked meals, and uniting our complex community.
The first purpose of ensuring healthy, nutritious meals is easy to understand. Every child deserves to have enough to eat, but this has not always been the case. In fact, based on measurements of every enrolled HKC child in 2017 70% of our children would be considered “underweight,” “severely underweight” or malnourished based on World Health Organization statistics.
The second purpose is a bit more complex. In short, community meal days are meant to bring people together.
One of the most beautiful things about our community is the cultural and ethnic diversity represented among our children, but that has often made things difficult at HKC.
Bhaktapur is historically inhabited by Newar people. Dyola people are the lowest caste in the Newari society, comprising 32% of the children we serve. 52% of the children we support come from families who have migrated to Bhaktapur from Dal Shri Shri and Kasim villages in Bihar, India. The remainder are of other ethnicities including Tamang, Lama and Mangar ethnic groups who have migrated from other regions of Nepal.
By the greater population, these groups are deemed “untouchable” and face considerable discrimination. One would think that this would unite the groups, but the opposite is true. When we first began working in the Happy Kids Center community the divide between these cultures was palpable. Outside of Happy Kids Center, you would never see children from these different groups sharing a meal.
However, at Happy Kids Center we are like family, and with this in mind, we believe that sharing meals is integral to uniting our big, unique family.
When the center first opened you would never see these two groups interacting; they fought over just about everything, from toys to what music was being played, much like siblings do.
We cannot claim that there is no longer a divide, but slowly, the groups have begun to get along, even playing together. At the time of this writing, the older Dyola girls are even teaching a group of young Indians the dance moves to a famous Nepali song.
We hope that with these small uniting actions, we are helping to raise a generation that will give less value to the stigmas of the archaic caste system. If nothing else, we are ensuring at least one hot, wholesome meal for every Happy Kid!
-Ellen Carney and Nicole Heker