Since early on, 1% of all Cliniko subscription fees have been donated to charity. In 2014, Cliniko discovered Beyond the Orphanage, and their incredible work helping HIV/AIDS affected, and homeless children in Nepal and Kenya. As of January 2019, Cliniko commits \$20,000 a month to their organization. This takes Cliniko’s percentage of subscription fees donated to charity each month to over 2%.
During Beyond the Orphanage’s fundraising event in July 2018, they invited the Cliniko team to help raise money for their new program initiatives in Nepal. Hosting the event was Geoff Hucker, the CEO and founder of Beyond the Orphanage. After hearing his stories about the horrors he witnessed in Nepal it was clear we had to share their story further somehow.
So when Geoff gave our team an open invite to come with him to Nepal in October 2018 and see their work firsthand, I jumped at the opportunity! Due to this… my life was changed forever.
Nepal is an incredible country but not for the reasons you’d initially imagine. Within Nepal you can trek to Everest, explore the Tibetan temples in Kathmandu, enjoy the beautiful lakes in Pokhara, or experience the diversity of Nepalese cuisine. Through this trip though, I discovered something entirely different. I was able to see firsthand the change and transformation Beyond the Orphanage is creating within Nepal.
Traveling alongside Geoff Hucker, and two other Beyond the Orphanage team members (Ray Kirk & Kerry Pryor), our first stop was Pokhara, Nepal.
The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Nepal
Within Nepal, Beyond the Orphanage (BTO for short) is assisting children who were victims of child trafficking or were orphaned as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. There is an estimated 13,000 orphans in Nepal as a result of HIV alone. Due to the lack of education about HIV/AIDS, many of these children are left behind and forced to live a life on the streets. Often left without care or protection and have no access to basic necessities.
Alongside their in-country partners Star Children and Sano Paila, Beyond the Orphanage is transforming the lives of these children and helping them grow to empowered individuals.
If you ever open a travel book for Nepal, you’ll see Pokhara mentioned as one of the top tourist destinations. Flying to Pokhara, you can see the tops of mountains, para-gliding, boat rides, and even a 115 foot tall Pagoda.
What you couldn’t see from the plane was the incredible children who are a part of Star Children. The children in the care of Star Children have been infected or have been affected by HIV/AIDS. The stigma of HIV/AIDS is so strong the house they reside in doesn’t have a plaque to identify their home, the children’s faces cannot be shown in photos (even with pseudonyms), and their identities are protected at all costs.
Many of these children were also shunned by strangers and their own community in the past. In fact, I learned that one of the girls in their care was forced to live in a cave after her family and community abandoned her. There were no signs of her family’s whereabouts, no identification or documentation, no one on the streets was willing to help her, and she was without any access to clean food, water, or clothes. It wasn’t until Star Children brought her in that she was able to have her first cooked meal, first cup of clean water, and even just general human contact in several months.
When I first walked through the doors of Star Children, she was also the first person to greet us. With a huge smile on her face, she welcomed me to Nepal and couldn’t wait to bring me on a tour of her home. It stunned me.
Despite the pain, prejudice, and turmoil this young woman had experienced in her past — she was smiling.
Throughout the next two days in Pokhara, I would spend quality time with her and the other children who she called her brothers and sisters. They were so proud to show me their trophies in soccer and certificates from school. Some had also just come back from the hospital but were ecstatic to be back with home with their house mothers (two incredible women who take care and live full time with the children).
During our visit, the children were also given homemade gifts and new shoes for school from the BTO team while Cliniko provided shirts for the children & staff. To see the level of excitement and appreciation they had for these gifts was honestly the greatest gift to my heart. While I was 8,000 miles away from home, I have never felt more at home then when I was with those children.
While many of the children were smiling that day, I found out this wasn’t always the case.
Beyond the Orphanage’s Care Model
With the help of Beyond the Orphanage, Star Children have been able to provide ongoing therapy and counseling for the children in their care alongside several other resources.
Beyond the Orphanage (BTO) has a unique care model and child protection policy that ensures they place each child with a carefully selected guardian and into a safe haven. This also includes providing immediate needs such as school supplies, clothes, food, medicine, and shelter. While also proving long lasting support such as counseling, education, and family.
Speaking with BTO and their in-country partners, they mentioned the children were their priority and I can say without a doubt that is definitely the case!!
In fact, Geoff Hucker (their CEO and founder) is a full-time commercial airline pilot who commits his limited spare time to BTO — taking no revenue from donations!
Donations to BTO funds 100% of their work and they have 100% transparency with their finances. At any time, you can go to their website to see where funding is going. Spoiler: it is never to finance Geoff’s trips to Nepal to see these kids!
Geoff is an incredible individual who took a trip to Ethiopia in 2005 and while there, became horrified of the abuse and declining health of the orphans in Ethiopia. Determined to make a difference, over the next year, he worked with leading international child welfare experts to create a kinship model of care. Beyond the Orphanage was then established which allowed Geoff and many others to help over 1,000 children across Kenya, Ethiopia, and now Nepal!
The program in Pokhara has only been open for two years in Nepal but thanks to Beyond the Orphanage, two of the children living there have graduated and currently attending college full-time! They plan on aiding hundreds of more children for years to come.
The Power of Change
Before leaving Pokhara, there was some exciting news and a cause for celebration! Star Children is opening a new outreach program that will help additional HIV/AIDs affected and infected children in remote communities! This program will provide resources and support to the children and their guardians to ensure they live a relatively normal life.
Needless to say, the opening ceremony for the new program was incredible. The kids received new school supplies, the community was able to thank Beyond the Orphanage for their work and support, and after the opening ceremony, the children invited me to dance with them. For a few hours they taught me not only how to dance but how to live in the moment.
Time to share something personal: I was scared out of mind to travel to Nepal. This was my first time in Asia and also my first time in Nepal. When I asked my doctor what vaccinations I needed, they wanted to know if I would like the “short” or “long list”? Of course being a developing country, you have to take precautions but this was the first trip I took that even my friends were asking, “are you sure”?! Everything inside of me was telling me to turn back. Needless to say, I am so glad I didn’t listen to my inner-voice.
I realized that change and growth does not come from being in your comfort zone.
To make a change, you sometimes need to do something you fear you’re incapable of achieving. From that fear, you’ll find courage if conquered. Or you’ll end up finding the strength to continue moving forward (in order to save yourself from failing)!
I learned this from taking a chance, removing myself from my comfort zone, and flying to Nepal!
Meeting the children of Nepal, it was also clear my problems were so much smaller. After hearing the atrocities that many of the kids had gone through, all I wanted to do was break down and cry. But their strength and perseverance was unlike anything I could describe. They simply wanted to live and feel like a kid again. Beyond the Orphanage is providing this for them and the change they’ve created in these children will stay with me forever.
The good news is that change is not only taking place in Pokhara but in Janakpur and Birgunj as well! After spending days in Pokhara, the next step in our journey was to Janakpur.
Child Trafficking in Nepal
While it’s easy to find Pokhara in Nepal’s travel books, you’ll have a much harder time finding information about Birgunj and Janakpur. They are not typically visited by tourists and is 5 to 6 hours away from Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal).
Both Birgunj and Janakpur though are entry points to India. While over 70% of Nepal’s imports come through these routes, it is also the passage of choice for child traffickers. There is no official data on the number of children trafficked per year but UNICEF estimates 12,000 children are victims of human trafficking in Nepal annually.
Organization, Sano Paila, is looking to change this. In Nepalese, Sano Paila translates to “A Little Step”. They believe it often just takes “a little step” to serve one’s community and induce positive change. With the help and guidance of Beyond the Orphanage they are well on their way to accomplishing that change.
Sano Paila will rescue these children and attempt to reintegrate them with their families. Often the children do not know where they came from, names of their family members, their birthdate, or even their identities! Documentation and ID is often removed from the children and they are forced into labor for years without ever seeing their families.
For those who can’t be reintegrated and need a home, Sano Paila is renovating & building a new home in Janakpur which will support up to 10 children. This new home was possible through fundraising; including the donations from Cliniko. While in Nepal, I was able to attend the opening ceremony of the new home.
Community members, lawyers, doctors, and even the local police took part in the opening ceremony for Sano Paila’s new program. With our group also in attendance, it was quite a sight to see! In fact, several local children in the area came to see what the commotion was about and within minutes we had almost the whole street in attendance.
What was surprising though was the amount of children who were shocked by the “foreign visitors”. They came up to me asking why I would come to Janakpur of all places. Many of them had never seen a tourist let alone a tourist in their city. While several children had requested to take a photo with us there was an equal number of children who wanted to take me to their home, meet their families, or just simply talk. They asked when I would come back and with a heavy heart I didn’t have an immediate answer.
While traveling, you may be impacted by the trip you make. What I realized is that traveling could also make an impact on someone other than myself.
During the opening ceremony, we were able to plant fruit trees which will grow right outside the home in Janakpur. I was able to plant one of those trees and I hope that I will be able to come back to see the growth of the tree and growth of the children they will eventually support.
I was blown away by the community of Janakpur. Sano Paila rescued a number of children in Janakpur thanks to the help of the community. With a program directly in Janakpur it’ll be easier to assist vulnerable children who desperately need help.
After the opening ceremony in Janakpur, our final stop in Nepal was Birgunj. Sano Paila is currently supporting over 10 children in their program here. Walking through the gates of their home, you can instantly feel the energy there. The children, all under the ages of 16, greeted us once again with open arms and large smiles. They recognized Geoff and the BTO team and even though I was a complete stranger they immediately wanted to know if I could come spend time with them and play.
One of the little girls I interacted with was Kittu. Unfortunately none of the staff knows exactly how old Kittu is. They estimate that she is around 6 years old and was originally found on the streets of Janakpur in January. The only belongings she had was in a single green plastic bag and she did not know who or where her family was.
Kittu family hasn’t been located and while it’s Sano Paila’s goal to reunite these children with their communities and find their families, while they remain in Beyond the Orphanage’s care, they do everything to make sure they are cared for and above all else…. they are happy.
When I saw Kittu for the first time, that is exactly what I saw: Happiness.
Throughout the last two days in Nepal, I was able to read fairytale stories to the kids, bounced balloons back and forth as we celebrated their new home, went swimming, and was worthy enough to learn the “secret handshake”! Spending time with these kids was truly the highlight of my trip. The strength they displayed — they really push themselves to be better. So if I can learn from that strength, I’d be a better person for it.
Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I know now it’s more of a “see you later”.
In the end, I honestly don’t know what I expected when I travelled to Nepal. But I can say that I did not expect to be transformed. The impact that Beyond the Orphanage is making goes beyond providing basic needs. They are providing a childhood, a foundation for creating strong individuals, and a brighter future that will affect the children and their community for years to come.
Every contribution helps these children:
whether you’re a member of the Cliniko Community or want to help Beyond the Orphanage directly, consider donating or starting a fundraiser. Help continue the movement of change they are bringing and make a difference in Nepal.