102 Children in Nepal Cultivate Family, Learn Responsibility and Build Their Futures at Firefly Children’s Home
Nestled on a hill near quiet forests and an ancient Buddist temple, more than 100 Nepali children live in red and blue brick dorms. Under the care of seven staff members, the children learn and thrive together despite losing their parents to incarceration, poverty and other difficult circumstances.
Sankhu Children’s Home, a property in partnership with Prisoners Assistance (P.A. Nepal), is the non-traditional living space where children between the ages of 4 and 18 have found safety, education and hope for a future defined by opportunity. Founded in 2004, Sankhu Children’s Home is part of the Firefly Children’s Home (FCH) program, a registered charitable trust (CC30432), which educates and nurtures orphaned children in a family environment.
Spending their days inventing dance routines, identifying native plants, building character through household chores and playing board games like Carrom, the youngest group primarily stays on the Firefly grounds. The teens and adolescents, who attend an off-site school during the day, provide mentorship as involved and thoughtful as any older sibling.
The children don’t talk about what they’ve lost, or what they don’t have. As they grow alongside each other, they focus on enjoying the present and building a future. At FCH, they have everything they need—their brothers, sisters and uniquely unconventional family unit.
Through Their Eyes
When Rojina K.C. was only five years old, her mother passed away from an illness. Shortly after, her father, who suffered from substance abuse issues, went to prison. Rojina said her auntie took care of her and her siblings, until they were connected with P.A. Nepal. She has been a part of the Firefly Children’s Home for most of her life.
First, Rojina, along with her older sister and younger brother Samir, lived at the Nayabazaar Children’s Home in Kathmandu. The Nayabazaar Children’s Home, which currently houses nine children, serves as the head office of the organization. That’s where the majority of children under the age of four begin their journey with the program.
Rojina then moved to the Sankhu Home, which is the main property where more than 100 children reside. Currently, she has the responsibility of taking care of a group of seven kindergarten-age girls. They sleep in the same room, and she proudly looks after them.
“Everyone says ‘Rojina you have changed,” she said. “I’m a big sister here, so I need to do lots of things for them.”
For Indira Ranamagar, founder of P.A. Nepal, caring for each other is a part of the organization’s mission. The concept of the Firefly Children’s Home is to teach responsibility in the Nepali way, by teaching equality and responsible parenting in an effort to break the cycle of poverty from the beginning.
“I don’t want to see the kids in the streets or ending up in crime,” Indira said. “I want to give them a good environment, so that they can be a good citizen in the future.”
Shreaya Kafle is the Sanku Children’s Home housemother. A 23-year-old woman from Jhapa, Nepal, she has been working at the home for the past year. She handles administrative tasks, but her main priority is monitoring the emotional health and stability of the group.
“It’s a really, really big responsibility because you need to look after everything for all the children,” she said.
At first, she found it challenging. All the kids are from different social and economic backgrounds, she said. But the overall goal is to provide them with a supportive family environment.
“First of all, we need to understand the children,” Shreaya said. “They are far from their parents and far from the home.”
Healing With Nature
The Sankhu Children’s Home, located about 17 km from the capital city of Kathmandu, is a vibrant area surrounded by farmlands and forests. Indira Ranamagar said the location is what makes the home special.
“We don’t want to bring children from prison and put them in another prison,” she said. “We want to heal them with nature.”
Surrounded by nature, Firefly Children’s Home works with the Earth’s natural resources to teach responsibility and survival skills. While living in Firefly Children’s Home, children learn to grow their own food. They plant and harvest vegetables, alternating through garden patches by group. They even learn how to take care of the goats, Indira said.
The Children’s Home works to actively uphold the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as good health and wellbeing. Many of the children have suffered illnesses and the Children’s Home has provided funding to children who have needed surgery and medicine.
“I continue doing it because I feel the needs and problems of the kids,” Indira said. “This is my life.”
Another tenant is ending poverty and hunger. The children’s daily meals include eating nutritional Nepalese food, made-up mainly of rice and daal. Once a week, the children are able to eat fruit and meat.
A Golden Chance To Study
Sharmila Rawol, a 15-year-old girl from Sindhupalchowk, Nepal, has been with P.A. Nepal for four years. She had appendicitis surgery, which was possible from the organization’s funds.
“The organization helped a lot,” she said.
In 2018, her mother passed away while incarcerated. She said she feels grateful she has been able to stay with her two brothers who have lived here for the past 10 years.
A quality education, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, is a primary objective at the Firefly Children’s Home. The staff ensures equal educational opportunities for all children who step into their program, regardless of their gender or caste.
Sharmila is currently entering the 11th grade, with an interest in accounting. She hopes her education will allow her to build a house for her father and brothers, so that they can all live together one day, she said.
“Everybody who stays here, they got a golden chance to study,” Sharmila said. “They get a golden chance to develop their future.”
Rojina, now 18 years old, studies computer science. Rojina had a similar mindset growing up. Like the others, her goal is to be able to build a career where she could support herself and her family. As an older girl, she also looks after the younger girls in helping them with their studies.
“If there's no teacher, I’ll teach the class,” she said. “Maybe if they read a book they can find their talent and what they want to do.”
Prakash Tamang, a 16-year-old boy from Rasauwa, Nepal, came to P.A. Nepal when he was 11. Prakash said his family was very poor and they couldn’t financially support his education. He has an interest in international politics.
He said he hopes to start a new political system that works for the people, not just the leaders in power of the highest caste. It would alleviate poverty in Nepal, he said.
Prakash said he believes the caste system is part of their culture. It helps the Nepalese identify themselves.
“However, it shouldn’t be used for disrimination purposes,” he said.
Prakash, left his home when he was four years old, sees his parents once or twice a year, but he feels happier at Firefly.
“It’s a big family, and it feels special,” he said. “Here everyone looks after each other.”
Real Family, Real Resource Scarcity
When Rojina K.C. began her journey with Firefly, she felt cared for from the very beginning. They made her feel like it was home, she said.
“When I come here, I’m always with family,” she said. “They give me lots of love.”
Though most of the children don’t grow up with their birth parents, they’re able to experience family. In Nepali, Didi means big sister, Baheni is little sister, bai is little brother and dai is big brother. All of the children use these endearing names for each other.
“I’m proud of everybody because of how we are living together,” Sharmila said.
But despite the success over the last 15 years, Firefly Children’s Home still needs resources to power the program. Amanda McKay, the founder, alongside Indira Ranamagar, work hard to secure funding for the Children’s Home through donations. The students like dancing, painting and sports but the home doesn’t have the funds to hire those types of teachers at the moment. With only six staff that live onsite and one that lives offsite, they are understaffed for 102 children.
For Shreaya, she’d like to see specific additions to help the children grow, such as human resources.
“It would help them to be the person they’d like to be in the future,” she said. “They should be given the chance to professionalize their hopes.”
Further up on the hill, an extra dorm houses some of the older boys. Indira said they want to build a wall around it for better security since it is isolated.
However, a more daunting issue has been continuously worsening. The home’s drinking water source is drying up.
According to Indira, the land around the property has been overdeveloped. She said their hope is to find another water source, but it will cost them about seven thousand dollars for the whole process.
“We are really in big trouble,” she said. “We need the water.”
Helping children succeed and live happy lives is something that comes naturally to her. She said she doesn’t want to see the kids in the streets or ending up in crime.
“Every firefly has their own unique light,” Indira said. “And all children have their own unique light, like a firefly in the darkness.”