After almost a week (during which I'd also hopped over to Pokhara), I was desperate for some nightlife, and one evening, I headed to the expat neighbourhood of Thamel. After an astonishingly great Whiskey Sour in Maya Cocktail Bar, I wandered into a music venue, where some kids were playing feedback-heavy versions of 90s rock songs. I heard English voices across the table, introduced myself and was soon talking to, and trading shots with, Nicole Wick Thakuri. I found out that she was a Swiss national who had lived there for years, and ran an orphanage called Nawa Asha Ghira (NAG). As we said our goodnights, she asked if I'd like to see it the next day. It was too weird an offer to turn down.
The next day, a rusty taxi lurched out into the suburbs, a side of the city outside the tourist bubble. My hangover was firing up nicely, and as we pulled up, I told the driver I wouldn't be long. Let's get this courtesy call over with and I'll be on my way. I wandered into the compound, dozens of children eyeing me, one of the older ones asking in perfect English if I needed help. I told her I was here to see Nicole and I was lead to an outlying building, the admin centre of the orphanage, where Nicole, with consumate timing, was making tea.
I got the full story, unfettered by bad Nirvana covers in the background. Nicole had arrived here 20 years previously and started with 6 kids in her living room. Now there was a compound looking after hundreds of children who would otherwise live on the streets. Some lived here, some came for the day. If you're currently thinking that this woman is kind of amazing, then yes, you're right. I told Nicole I needed to tell the taxi driver I was going to be a while.
Some of the older kids showed me round. They wore Manchester United shirts and were obsessed with football and music. It became clear that NAG was more than an orphanage. It was a legitimate school with trained teachers (and classrooms for everything from English to woodwork), it was a sporting academy (their basketball team was currently dominating the local kids' league), it was a shelter and a food bank and a social life for the city's worst off.
Only they didn't seem downtrodden. Economically, yes, but here was a genuinely loving and creative and nurturing environment that - thanks to Nicole's self-professed weakness of not being able to turn away any stray (cats included) - had, over two decades, grown into a functional lifeline for the capital's street children, forming bands and gaining skills and not living in the slums.
As far as I know, Nicole and the children survived the earthquake and are making the best of things in trying conditions, taking in as many people as they can, offering their neighbours use of their mobile phone chargers and sleeping under makeshift tents. All being well, they'll recover and life will resume, but as with most disasters, the poorest are hit the hardest. It's not my story to tell. I just got to hang out for a day and feel the optimism. Now they need money. You can do that HERE. Kathmandu needs you to keep on being that House of New Hope.