For the past several weeks, my cousin Don Fraser, who hails from Kelowna, British Columbia, has sent email dispatches from Kathmandu, Nepal. Don is a volunteer intern for three months at an orphanage and school on the northern edge of that city run by Child Haven International. This is his third stint there in the last four years.
The home where he lives and works provides care and an education to 203 children, and a home and jobs for 22 women. Social agencies refer children who are from birth to six years of age, destitute, and without family support. They live at the home through high school and for vocational training that would enable them to become self-supporting. The organization also supports other children living in the community, helping them to attend local schools, and it runs women’s programs, providing legal and medical help, occupational training, and direct employment.
Don’s is one of a network of five Child Haven homes in India, and one in each of Nepal and Bangladesh. The homes are available to both boys and girls, are run on principles of equality and simplicity, non-religious but respectful of the different cultural origins of the children.
Fred and Bonnie Cappuccino, from Glengarry, Ontario, founded Child Haven International in 1985. As a young couple in the United States midwest, they were inspired by the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. There and later, after immigrating to Canada, they raised two children of their own and adopted and raised 19 others, all inter-racial and at-risk children from China, Viet Nam, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, aboriginal Canada and the West Indies. Fred Cappuccino tells their story in his recent memoir entitled Bonnie and Her 21 Children (Bonnie Books Inc. 2015).
Don retired several years ago from his career in the B.C. forest industry, working in government relations and human resources. For Child Haven, he works as a tutor, educational assistant, child supervisor, general handyman, and helper in the kitchen. His dispatches tell of the effects of the massive earthquake last year: “moguls” in the roads, homes destroyed by landslides triggered by the earthquake, resettling families into newly constructed “earthquake protected” houses, the collapse of the top 50 feet of the largest Buddhist shrine in Nepal, damage to an ancient monastery now closed pending repairs, and a noticeable lack of westerners.
A shortage of fuel means that wood must be used for cooking. Some of the wood is salvaged from destroyed homes; sometimes loads of logs are delivered to the orphanage; all need to be cut, dried and stacked for daily use. Don scrounged wedges and saws and blades from the local market and from donors abroad as tools to chop the wood. He organized work parties of the bigger boys to help with the chopping and stacking. He finds that the wood cutting sessions and the tea break after are good times to talk with the senior students about what is going on in their lives. When that’s done, he helps peel vegetables in the kitchen. Tutoring students referred to him by the teachers, he is teaching basic mathematical concepts and helping students with résumés and job-seeking skills. For a local director of Child Haven who has constructed and endowed an area hospital for women and children, Don helped edit the English required for publicity brochures.
Don considers his experience inspirational beyond any of his expectations. He is totally taken by the unlimited energy and practical commitment of the Child Haven founders, and by the wonderful people they attract to work with them. He has fallen in love with the staff and students who, despite basic living conditions and horrific individual stories, show an uncommon camaraderie and generosity. As in the best of overseas experiences, Don has found that he has gained as much, if not more, than the children he works with. Clearly, Don has no regrets about how he is spending his retirement. On the contrary, it has been the experience of a lifetime.