One little girl

I want to tell you a story.

I am not going to lie, it’s one of those one set out to deliberately tug at your heart strings to try and raise money.

Right now I feel I have nothing else I can do apart from raise money from afar. So unapologetically, this story is hard.

Let me tell you the story of a little girl in Nepal. When she was tiny her mother disappeared. She does not know if she died or if she left, but what she does know is one day her mother was not there any more.

Not long afterwards a man came to the village and picked the young girl out. She was pretty, he said. She could be a star in Bollywood, he said. She will be famous, he said. No, said the father, you cannot take my child. So the man tried another tack. Look at your other daughters he said, you cannot even feed them. No one will want them. A man should not be looking after three girls alone. They will have a bad life and you will have failed as a father. If you let me buy the pretty one you will have enough money to feed the other two and all of you will have a better life. And this daughter, she will become a famous film star and have nice clothes.

The father sold the eldest daughter in despair and trickery. She was then sold into a circus in India. From age 5 she was made to work from 5am. They had to put the tents up, clean the animals and act as slaves for the rest of the company. They had to learn tricks and would be beaten like the animals when they got them wrong. Sometimes, she told me, the children would be strung upside down by their feed and hit with a twisted wire and left there over night if they made a mistake.

This was how she spent her childhood. Sometimes she thinks it was OK. She says this was just how she grew up. She says there were bad people but she also had friends there too. She was rescued from the circus as a young teenager. She is still upset because she believes that the circus owner really would have paid her all the wages he had been promising her since she was a child. She had not been paid for ten years work.

When she was rescued, she was asked if she could remember the name of her village was, and amazingly she could. She was frightened her family would not recognise her. Of course they did, and she managed to live with her father and sisters for a year. After one year, her father told her the village was no place for a young woman to live, so she should go to the city to get an education. So she she taught herself to read and write, moved to Kathmandu and passed her entire education in three years. She worked at night to save up enough money to send back home.

At the end of the three years, she saved up enough money to go back and tell her father that she had graduated. When she arrived in the village, the other villagers greeted her with “Oh, your father died a year ago - did no one tell you?”. Another “uncle” had arrived and quickly married off her sisters, and so she also now lost them again.

She then came to live in a hostel and joined part of the team that I was working with in Nepal. For those of you that know the work I was doing, you can understand why I am not even naming them in this blog. They quite rightly want to be seen as a professional company and not kids with tough backgrounds made good. But today they need your help.

This young woman has been working so hard to get her life back on it’s feet after such a difficult start in life. This morning she lost her house in the earthquake. She’s not the only one. The are hundreds tipping into thousands who also lost their homes and tragically their lives in Nepal today. A country I know and love and a country that hurts. A country where poverty is so abject I have seen a man on his knees weeping gratitude when someone gave him some bread. A country where an old lady burst into tears and praying when I handed her 50p in passing. A country which has only a few hours of electricity a day. A country where I had no access to running water for 9 days earlier this year, and this was before the earthquake.

There will be hundreds of charities out there doing amazing work today, setting up, aid and shelters and medical care which is all essential and amazing and I am not trying to take away from anything any other worthy charity is doing. But these kids are my family. When this little girl slipped her hand in mine and whispered to ask if she could call me “Mum” because she’d never got to call anyone that before, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

I spoke with her today for a long time. She asked me why she’s always being punished. She has no home to go back to.

I’m just trying to help. I would not normally tell her story because I want you to see her for the amazing young woman that she is, not her terrible history, but I don’t know what else to do.

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