I first came face to face with a group of street children when backpacking in Nepal and India some twenty-five years ago. While travelling in the Himalayas, I captured in my mind and with my lens those awe-inspiring vistas of towering mountains and glaciers, raging rivers, pretty villages, and ever-smiling people. Then it happened, totally out of the blue: one of those life-transforming encounters…
I was about to board a train when suddenly I found myself encircled by a horde of some twenty rag-clad kids begging for food or anything. Forty dirty little hands reaching for me and twenty pairs of knowing, far too grown-up eyes bidding my mercy. All of a sudden, the supposed simplicity of living out of my backpack didn’t seem all that ‘simple’ any longer – the moneybag under my T-shirt containing my passport and cash began to burn like fire against my skin. What was I supposed to do? Give them money? Buy food? I had a train to catch… but I had to act.
In fact, I was utterly clueless how to respond to the situation.
Perhaps sensing the sudden storm of emotions in my heart, the forty hands became increasingly demanding, pulling everywhere and everything. Besides my backpack, I happened to be carrying a plastic bag with a bunch of half-squished bananas and more banana peel, ready to be disposed in a garbage can. In my helplessness, I simply let go of the plastic bag! It really seemed to work … immediately the kids let go of me.
The ensuing scene has engraved itself deeply and forever on my mind: looking back over my shoulder I saw the twenty kids fighting to the teeth over the half-rotten bananas. One child got hold of some banana peel, stuffed it in his mouth and made a dash for it, three others hard on his heels.
For goodness’ sake: banana PEEL!
I decided that I could do better than throwing banana peel to a hungry child. For well over a decade, I have been pursuing the goal of adding perspective and hope, of protecting, nurturing, and educating the children in the Himalayas. Having founded an organization on the ground in India and Nepal, we are now feeding dozens of street children on a daily basis. We have opened a home for abandoned children in Nepal, so they would not become street children and would be spared the horrific experience of homelessness, survival by garbage scavenging, sexual exploitation, public hatred, gang brutality, and addiction. We have initiated and run homes for children of families who have fallen into a situation of bonded labour. We have created a social enterprise in the field of PET recycling as a way forward for the hundreds of street kids, to give them a real chance at life, and an opportunity to transition out of their present predicament. We have substantially contributed to rebuilding in the Yangri Valley after the devastating earthquakes of 2015, and we have built a school for the children of the region to give them the opportunity to get a good education.
This is what we are all about at Himalayan Life: Standing in the gap and caring holistically for the kids in the Himalayas. Giving them a chance to live – nothing more and nothing less.
~ Daniel Burgi, CEO and Founder of Himalayan Life