Friday Feb 15 2008
Focusing on children in need
By: Michael Althouse, The Placer Herald
Some people retire more quickly than others, and some never do quite get the hang of it. Lawrence Brown began teaching in Rocklin in 1965 when there were just two schools in the district. In 1999, he retired “ sort of. I basically retired in 1999. It never occurred to me to teach again, Brown said. By a strange fluke, I was drawn into subbing. I initially didn't want that, but I went for two days and enjoyed it. After a year of substituting and four more years helping with the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, Brown finally called it quits in 2005. But Brown found he needed to find new things to do to fill his idle time. After devoting his professional life as well as his personal life to children (he and his wife of 46 years have two daughters, two granddaughters and hosted six foreign exchange students, each for one year), Brown decided to join an international pen-pal club. Little did he know that a friendship developed with a man in Nepal would once again focus his attention on children in need, this time half a world away. After writing back and forth for about a year, Brown established a friendship with Birendra (Krishna) Dahal, a married father of two in Katmandu, Nepal. In 2006, Brown visited Nepal, hosted by his new friend. Upon his arrival, Brown became aware of the street children of Nepal, specifically in the Katmandu Valley. As a teacher, it was an intolerable situation, he said. According to UNICEF, the number of street children in Nepal, estimated at 5,000 in 1992, has grown very rapidly because of the People's War, increasing disintegration, civil unrest and growing urbanization. In 1997, there were an estimated 30,000 such children and Brown said the number is increasing at an alarming pace. I just had to do something about it, he said. That something was the formation of an organization known as Protego-Nepal. The group consists of five concerned Nepalese citizens and a retired American educator, with Brown's friend Dahal serving as managing director. The organization's goal is to provide shelter to the street children, some of whom are as young as 3. The children are drawn toward crime, drug use and are exploited as cheap child labor. In Nepal, we have a problem of the way these children are seen by society, Dahal said. We have been trying to work on changing this concept of street kids being non-people. We have worked with groups like Rotary International and a few government officials, but it is a hard thing to change people's mind. Protego-Nepal is raising funds to establish a safe-house for these children where they can get off the street and be protected from various kinds of abuses and exploitations. Funding is the main problem now. We are ready to move, but although people are taken with our ideas for a self-sustaining safe-house, there has been little financial help from Nepal, the U.S., or any other organization, he said. According to both Dahal and Brown, unsuccessful efforts have been made to solicit help from many charitable organizations including the high-profile operations of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Richard Gear, among others. There is no help from the Nepalese government, Dahal said. It is hoped that if we get established eventually there will be some assistance from them. Brown's goal is to collect $40,000 in the next year to get the whole program started. He said that in five years he will have a self-sustaining element going and can turn outward. This is a new concept, Brown said. Nobody is doing it. We have the advising resources to get it started, we just need the start-up money. Currently, Protego-Nepal is trying to change the attitude of the Nepalese people toward the street children. That's a hard nut to sell. Civil war has destroyed the family infrastructure in the countryside and is forcing these kids into the cities, Brown said. We are trying to get our video out on TV. Without funds, any organization is dead in the water. Due to the expense involved, Protego-Nepal has not yet gained its non-profit status, but Brown said a church in Loomis said, ˜Yes, we will take you under our wing,' and people can donate to get the tax status they need. It is the Loomis Basin Congregational United Church of Christ. If it helps one kid in Nepal it is worth it, Brown said. If it helps 10, well miracles do happen. So much for retirement.