School crumbling, so orphans sleep in the open

KATHMANDU - Yangchen Nagarkoti hugged her little brother tightly as the group of orphans huddled on the grass, watching the creaking and crumbling building that was their school. They were all unscathed by last Saturday's earthquake, except for a five- year-old whose head was hit by a brick.

Yangchen is 15 and her brother, seven. That night, they slept in the open with no shelter. The second night, it rained and all 45 children crammed into two shower rooms.

The school's manager Tsering Gyalpo, 29, bought a blue tarpaulin and they rigged up a shelter on Monday. Yesterday, there was still no electricity.

Recalling the day of the quake, Yangchen said: "We were all scared; some of us cried."

Perhaps remembering her "big sister" status, she chirped brightly: "I didn't cry!" The children laughed in delight.

The Children of the Universe, a school for orphans and poor, neglected children from remote hamlets high in the mountains of Nepal, is in the village of Gokarna Nayapatti, just a few kilometres outside Kathmandu.

The school is supported by a Singaporean, Ms Mo Shuyi.

Yesterday, two representatives from the Singapore-based Corporate Citizen Foundation visited the school to check on the children, who are aged three to 15.

At the end of a rutted road flanked by golden wheat fields and with the roof of a Tibetan monastery dominating the valley, the area is a far cry from the crowded city. 

It is a poor, hardscrabble community where 16 people were killed last Saturday, and locals are struggling to repair damaged houses on their own.

The United Nations Children's Fund said this week that almost a million children had been affected by the earthquake and needed humanitarian assistance.

Yangchen, speaking in English, admitted she was still "a little scared".

She had experienced a quake before, in her village in the mountains, but it had not been that strong, she said.

This time, the classroom door shook violently and some walls cracked at the joints. The first floor of a small building fell off, leaving the ground floor intact.

Some of the children prayed, reciting the Tibetan mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, she said.

Back in Kathmandu, at a camp for the displaced in a sports stadium, dark clouds gathered over the few hundred people there - it has been raining almost every afternoon since the quake.

Sabitra Khatri, 16, took shelter there with four family members and another family from the same village, Sindhuli, in the mountains south-east of Kathmandu.

She said she had come to Kathmandu to be with her aunts and to study. But their home near the stadium developed cracks after the quake, so they decided to stay in a tent.

"The army gave us biscuits, noodles and water. There are two toilets," she said.

But the quake has changed her view of Kathmandu, for long the only place in Nepal for young people trying to make a career.

Agreeing, 20-year-old Siseer Rana, also from Sindhuli, said: "Now it is different. Now I don't like Kathmandu. We all want to go back to Sindhuli."

The houses in Sindhuli were all destroyed, they said, but their parents were okay.

"It doesn't matter, we will build the house again," said the optimistic young man.

NIRMAL GHOSH