Real Wealth and Rice

I awake, already hot and sticky, to the sound of small feet rushing along the concrete corridor outside my door. The other volunteer, an English girl named Polly, is already awake and slowly disentangling herself from the mosquito net surrounding her bed.

It’s only my third day in the orphanage, but I’m already used to the routine. We awake after the children, rush to the balcony to watch the elephants slowly passing on their way to the jungle for grazing, help with schoolwork or games then biscuits and sweet tea for breakfast, always eaten sitting on the floor of the small kitchen located across the muddy courtyard we share with several other families who live in the building. The children are happy. We sit on the floor, thankful for the cool of the concrete because before long the heat and humidity will have set in. Then we will play, help with school work, cook and eat daal bhat (rice and lentils, the national dish in Nepal) for lunch, wash the clothes and then play until dinner, again daal bhat.

Still the children are happy.

The language barrier makes understanding difficult, but as far as I understand, many of the children are not ‘orphaned’ in the sense we understand in the western world. They may have family, a mother or father, or relative who is simply unable to either feed and house them, or give them access to a proper education. After all, many remote areas have no public access to internet or literature, or public transport, making school attendance difficult.

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It seems that the children known a lot more english than the ladies running the home, but we manage through a mixture of charades, broken Nepali and basic phrases. One phrase that seems to have stuck is ‘so nice’, used to describe anything from our hair to our clothes, the food, the view and anything else. And why shouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t we see everything before us as being ‘so nice’…

I was scared to be seen as another white person- a pocket full of cash, drifting through life purely because of the luck of the country I was born in. I should have realised why that is how we are seen, rather than trying so hard to deny it.

These children were living on one floor of a building, shared with two other families and another living next to the kitchen in the muddy courtyard. They had a box each, stashed under the hard beds, where their clothes and school books were kept… no more. Yet what else could you want? Each day brought with it the elephants- first walking past on their way into the jungle, then returning home at dusk. Each day brought the certainty of a roof over their heads, someone to play with, an opportunity to learn and plenty of rice to fill their bellies.

How nice. To be housed, fed and loved. What a wealth these children have, a richer life than those who have ‘everything’, but cannot find happiness.

-Based on a week’s stay, volunteering with VCD Nepal in November 2013. You can make a donation to the orphanage (used for clothes, rice, vegetables, lentils and school fees) through VCD Nepal. Contact founder Bikram Paudel on Mobile No.: +977 9851017902 or via Email:

You can read other volunteer reviews here.

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