Young, innocent but locked up in Nepali jail

Nepali students (clockwise from top left) Shristi Sundas, Laxmi Tamang, Biraj Gurung and Tej Karan, in Singapore for the launch of their story books yesterday. Their story books will be included in the Butterfly Nursery Kit - a box of games, toys and
Nepali students (clockwise from top left) Shristi Sundas, Laxmi Tamang, Biraj Gurung and Tej Karan, in Singapore for the launch of their story books yesterday. Their story books will be included in the Butterfly Nursery Kit - a box of games, toys and educational materials for children in prisons.PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

S'pore social enterprise spurs 4 teens who spent time in prison with parents to pen their stories

When she was eight years old, she spent a month in prison before she was admitted into a home.

Now she and three others like her want children who are sent to prison with their parents to have the opportunity to learn.

Nepali undergraduate Laxmi Tamang had been in jail because her mother was convicted of drug charges and her aunt, who has three children of her own, could not take care of her.

In Nepal, children are often locked up with their parents if no one is willing to care for them.

That short jail stint stayed etched in the mind of Ms Tamang, 19, who left her mother after that month to live in Butterfly Home, where she has resided since. The home in Kathmandu is run by the Early Childhood Development Centre Nepal (ECDC).

Now, together with fellow Butterfly Home residents Shristi Sundas, 16, Biraj Gurung, 16, and Tej Karan, 17, all of whom have been in jail, she has written and illustrated a set of story books for children. The teen authors felt the books would be beneficial for children's learning.

Ms Tamang told The Sunday Times: "Each story in the books is a true story we have experienced."

One of the books co-written by the teens tells of the confusion they felt, first when they were taken into prison, and again when they moved to the ECDC, which gets permission from their parents to house them.

Ms Tamang said life in prison was difficult as a child as they stayed in tiny, windowless rooms and had to follow the prison regimen. It always felt dangerous.

"The guards were always watching, and there was no playing."

Her mother has since been released but Ms Tamang has chosen to remain in Butterfly Home while keeping in contact with her.

The home, which takes in children under 20 whose parents are in jail, now houses 45 children.

The idea of writing their own books came from Mr Suraj Upadhiah, co-founder of Air Amber, a Singapore social enterprise that hopes to nurture young people to be compassionate citizens of the world. It partnered the teens to create the books after a week-long visit to ECDC last June.

"We'd seen their English writing and their strong desire to give back to the community," he said.

The series of six books was launched yesterday at the National Gallery Singapore. The stories will be translated into Nepali and Braille, and form part of the Butterfly Nursery Kit - a box of games, toys and educational materials for children in prisons. The kit aims to help these children in their development despite their circumstances.

ECDC founder and president Pushpa Basnet, 34, estimates that there are still 100 children in jails. She said of the teens: "They worked hard for it, this is very special."

In Singapore for the launch of their story books, the teens visited schools including Anglo-Chinese Junior College and Outram Secondary School. Ms Tamang was heartened by the students' response at a book reading. "They understood the morals in my story."

All four teens said they had many new and inspiring experiences here. A portion of the proceeds from the book sales will go to the Butterfly Foundation, set up for the teen authors to effect change.

Ms Tamang hopes to bring change through art therapy in the prisons, so she is pursuing a degree in fine arts. "I want to build a bridge between the outside world and the prison. I think art can help that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Young, innocent but locked up in Nepali jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe