OUR STORYby Daniel Burgi, CEO Himalayan Life
I first came face to face with a group of street children when backpacking in Nepal and India some twenty years ago. I had traveled in the Himalayas, captured with my mind and 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 wouldn’t seem all that ‘simple’ any longer – the moneybag under my T-shirt containing my passport and cash began burning like fire against my skin. What was I supposed to do? Give them money? Buy food? Also, I had a train to catch… but I couldn’t possibly do nothing either. 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 at my every-where and every-thing. 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, and it really seemed to work, as 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!
Today, while far from having all the answers, I am no longer totally clueless either. 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 are about to create 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.
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 at Life – no more and no less.