Helping the children

Rob Rose helps handicapped children in Nepal get treatment, education

by Priyanka Joshi

Special to the Reporter

When you think of Nepal, you think of Mt Everest. You think of one of the world’s most ancient kingdoms or your inner Hippie may fondly imagine Rastafarian music-filled starlit nights on the banks of the Bagmati river.

What also exists is crushing poverty, so intense that people are forced to treat their handicapped children just a little better than their farm animals.

A Bellevue man, Rob Rose, owner of Brant Photographers in Old Main, is trying to change that.

Age old myth-driven Nepalese customs have ensured that handicapped children continue to be seen as justly deserving their handicap. “It’s their Karma” or “The Gods are angry with them”, or “these kids are cursed”, are frequent explanations for treating them as “below human.” This widespread belief, coupled with a crippling lack of education on conquering disability, dooms hundreds of thousands of otherwise able, and mentally sound physically-handicapped children.

Rose, a longtime Bellevue Rotarian, and his wife, Gina, have been working for the past 10 years through the Bellevue Rotary Club and Rotary Foundation to give these children a chance at a future. More recently they have been working with Rotary and their own non-profit organization – The Rose International Fund for Children (www.trifc.org) – to do both grassroots work in Nepal and raise funds in the United States. The efforts are paying off.

Nirmala Gyawali, the third blind child in a Nepali family of five children, who recently graduated from Colorado State University on a Fulbright scholarship, visited the Rose home this summer.

“As the second girl-child in my family who was blind, I was seen as the ultimate calamity befalling my parents,” she said.

Gyawali has a full throated, easy laugh that, she says, comes out of being able to substitute empowerment for self-pity.

“Everyone we knew, either had hopelessness or pity for me and my family, but Rob and his family helped me stretch my horizons.”

Thanks to the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation (www.nyof.org), a non-profit based out of Sausalito, Calif., Nirmala got and thrived in an education.

“I feel this is what true humanity is. Rob, Gina, Bellevue Rotarians, who are not Nepali, not even Asian, have helped me so much. I often feel that as a people, we aren’t so different from each other worldwide. We all need, and need to nourish others with pure love,” Gyawali said.

She is now volunteering to help Rob and Gina with their non-profit work in Nepal.

For each successful case like Gyawali, there are many who need months and months of patient hard work. At a small orphanage in Nepal, Rob and Gina met a hearing-impaired child that the director of the orphanage had affectionately given the name “Lovely”. Gina found the story of nine year-old Lovely, heart-wrenching.

A simple query of “Tapaiko nam ke ho?” (“What is your name?” in Nepali language) gave her no answer from this quiet little boy, who turned out to be deaf and mute. He was an orphan found abandoned, living on the street and eating out of a garbage heap. Lovely had never communicated much in the eight months he lived at the orphanage. As he sat down on the floor next to Gina, she began trying to communicate with him with the few American Sign Language letters she knew and instantly, Lovely started copying each movement that Gina made. Within minutes, he had spelled his own name.

Today, Lovely is going to school, smilingly and relating well with others in his new environment. Rob and Gina sponsor him for his schooling and living arrangements.

Indira Shrestha, director of Welfare Society for the Hearing Impaired and Principal of the Kathmandu School for the Deaf says, “One has to be continuously thinking outside of the box to secure funding for our ventures. Helping disabled people lead dignified lives is tremendous work, but it’s not glamorous work. Hence, movie stars and venture capitalists don’t find us interesting enough, but Rotary has really come through for us.”

She pointed to Manoj as a case in point. Manoj is a child so small he looked much younger than his nine years. Profoundly blind and deaf, he was admitted to the newly created deaf-blind program at the school in November, 2005.

When he joined the school, he was not able to stand or even sit up on his own. Since birth he had been lying on the floor, and during the day his parents, who worked in the fields, had kept him tied up in a misguided attempt to keep him from hurting himself while they were out working. The result was a little boy whose body was crumpled and curled up, hunched and crooked.

Within three months of being admitted to the school, Manoj, who in his nine years of life had not yet learned to communicate in any way with any one, was standing, working his way by feel with the support of a wall. Today, Manoj pats at the wall firmly as he steadfastly makes his way back and forth – to many, a miracle in the making. He is one of five young children that have begun this program.

Shrestha makes sure they get daily physical therapy and learn basic life skills like toilet training, eating on their own with a spoon and brushing their teeth. They also are beginning to learn how to communicate with others through touch.

In an effort to uplift the conditions for people with disabilities in Nepal, Rotary and Rotaract clubs from the Bellevue/Seattle area are partnering with Rotary and Rotaract clubs in Nepal to develop and implement projects to help people with disabilities. The ultimate goal is to create positive change for this neglected segment of Nepali society.

For more information on the ‘Disability Awareness Campaign’ for the ‘Differently-Abled’ in Nepal, or to find out more about Rotary, Rotaract or the Rose International Fund for Children, please contact Rob through his non-profit website at www.trifc.org.