Pokhara is the starting point for many expeditions into the surrounding mountains, drawing thousands of tourists to the city each year. However, life for the local population continues to be marked by inequality. Many children start out life at a disadvantage.
Two SOS Children’s Villages support at-risk children in Pokhara
SOS Children’s Village Gandaki is situated near the city of Pokhara in central Nepal and was set up after a devastating landslide hit the region in 1978. In Pokhara, there are two SOS Children’s Villages: SOS Children’s Village Gandaki, which is for Nepali children, and SOS Children’s Village Pokhara, which is for Tibetan refugee children.
The city of Pokhara has a population of over 250,000, making it Nepal’s second largest city. It is located at an altitude ranging from 1,000 to 1,700 metres in the foothills of the Annapurna mountain range. This makes the city a very popular destination for tourists, trekkers and mountaineers from around the world. The city’s population is ethnically quite diverse; there are also four Tibetan settlements here, where Tibetans in exile have been living for many decades.
Thousands of children do not have a fair chance in life
Nepalese society continues to be deeply divided. Children suffer discrimination based on their caste, their gender and the social status of their family. Children with a disability are at a particular disadvantage as, in most cases, professional support is not available to them. Thousands of poor families live on the margins of society, which means that their children are born into a life of disadvantage, where they do not have the same opportunities to develop their full potential as other children. When parents are struggling just to provide for their children’s most basic needs such as food and shelter, the children’s emotional, educational and psychological needs are often neglected.
In addition, many parents cannot afford to send their children to school as the costs for tuition, school uniforms and books are too high for them. These children usually end up having to work in order to help support the family; in Nepal, over one third of all children under the age of 14 works. Most work environments are extremely detrimental to a young child’s healthy development and put them at the risk of violence, as well as physical, mental, and sexual abuse. These early childhood experiences are very formative and can impact the course of the rest of a child’s life.
What we do in Gandaki
SOS Children began its work in Gandaki in 1979. Our SOS social centre offers a family strengthening programme to members of the surrounding communities. We aim to identify struggling families and provide all the support they need so that their children will be safe and healthy and can attend school. One of our main focuses is providing literacy classes for children who have missed out on education. We support local women by holding training workshops on income-generating skills, and we give guidance on health matters. We also run a day care centre, which allows working parents to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living.
For children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, 15 SOS families provide a loving home. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother. They attend the SOS nursery and the SOS school, where they are taught together with children from local families, which helps them become part of the community. The school offers primary and secondary education for 840 pupils.
Once the children reach adolescence, they usually move on to the SOS youth home when they start vocational training or go on to higher education. With the support of qualified professionals, the young people develop perspectives for their future, learn to shoulder responsibility and increasingly make their own decisions. They are encouraged to develop team spirit and build up contacts with relatives and friends, as well as with the relevant authorities and potential employers.