September 06, 2012
Haley Bowen '15 talks to one the children at Aama ko Ghar, a shelter in Kathmandu, Nepal for elderly women and orphans. (Photo by Laura J. Cole)
After 28 years of marriage, Dil Shova Shrestha was abandoned by her husband and left to care for herself and their then-16-year-old daughter. Shrestha had failed to give him a son. Alone and faltering under the weight of how the Nepalese society would view her position, Shrestha and her daughter drank poison to end their suffering.
They both survived, but that day changed the course of Shrestha’s life. She said she had a vision from God, telling her that she wasn’t alone and that she should help people going through similar situations.
Dil Shova Shrestha started Aama ko Ghar as a shelter for elderly women, after she had been abandoned by her husband. (Photo by Laura J. Cole)
“Nobody should wait until they’re nearly dead to do good deeds,” Shrestha, 62, told a small group of Rollins students and faculty who listened as her story was translated into English. “Do whatever you can today.”
Seated in the rooftop kitchen of Shrestha’s home, the Rollins team was in Nepal to do just that. As part of a Making Lives Better service trip, the seven students and two faculty advisors were at her home-turned-shelter for orphans and the elderly to learn firsthand about homelessness in Nepal and to give its residents new mattresses and sheets.
Two young boys, a young girl, and four elderly women had also gathered to hear Shrestha describe the history of the place they call home. Aama ko Ghar, which means “Mother’s Home,” is located in the western area of Kathmandu.
Shortly after her attempted suicide, Shrestha began bringing women from the streets into her home. The first person she took in was a woman whose husband had left her and whose daughter had just gotten married. Even though the woman was from a wealthy family and wore expensive jewelry, she was in tears because she was alone and had lice in her hair.
Shortly after rescuing that first woman, Shrestha turned her home into a shelter for elderly women, most of whom were afflicted with physical disabilities, paralysis, or dementia.
In 2010, Shrestha’s home expanded to include orphans. While traveling in far Western Nepal, where the Rollins group had just completed a five-day service project, she encountered numerous conflict victims whose parents had been killed during Nepal’s decade-long civil war. She returned to Kathmandu with 43 children and 28 elderly women.
After listening to Shrestha’s story and touring the shelter, Sarah Carey ’15 said she identified with the younger residents. “I was adopted from Russia just after the fall of the USSR,” she said. “Russia itself was politically, economically, and socially unstable. I don’t have many memories of my time there, but seeing the environment and the conditions of the people living there, I imagine that the orphanage I lived in resembled this one in paralyzing ways.”
The three-story structure is large but houses more than 80 people. Most of the children’s rooms, though small, contain three or four bunk beds and are cramped. A metal staircase, with exposed steps covered in jagged pieces of scrap wood, lacks railings, making it uneven and dangerous.
“This experience continues to reinforce and broaden my understanding of the impact of poverty (and malnutrition and homelessness) on the daily lives of people in developing nations like Nepal,” said Professor of Chemistry Larry Eng-Wilmot, a faculty advisor. “But it also reinforces the thought that even in the midst of poverty, there are still special people who recognize a problem and act selflessly to improve the lives of others, people who know what it means to be human and to be responsible for others.”
To shelter and feed the residents at the sanctuary, which is at capacity, Shrestha receives a monthly stipend from her daughter who now lives in the United States along with some personal donations. Food and shelter costs roughly $1,500 a month.
“What she does and what that place has accomplished is unreal and so inspiring,” said Raghabendra KC ’13, the student facilitator for the trip and, along with Adi Mahara ’12, co-founder of Making Lives Better (MLB).
A native of Nepal, KC chose this location to show the other Rollins students participants that places like this exist in Kathmandu valley. He had worked on another service project at Aama ko Ghar the year before with Sneha Bhandari, who started the MLB chapter at Westminster College in Missouri. While installing a water purifier to help Shrestha reduce her water bill, he felt a bond with Shrestha and the residents.
“I know my emotional ties will never disappear, and I know I will make some kind of contribution to the place on a regular basis for the rest of my life,” KC said.
The group was likewise moved by Shrestha and her work. After touring the facility and replacing the mattresses and bedding in one of the refurbished rooms, they then decided to pull together enough cash to cover more than half the shelter’s expenses for one month.
By Laura J. Cole
Office of Marketing & Communications
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