Therese Hanlon was looking for a change, what she got was so much more.
Three weeks volunteering at an orphanage in Bhaktapur, Nepal opened the 19-year-old Oak Bay High school graduate’s eyes to a world she had never seen. Six months later, she is raising money to continue the work she started and return to the orphans it was difficult for her to leave behind.
“I had such an amazing time at the orphanage. I found the kids so loving and so accepting and they really trust you and make such a great connection,” she said.
Twenty children, between five and 15-years-old, who either don’t have living parents, have been cast from their homes when their parents remarried, or were rescued from physical or mental abuse, live at the orphanage.
Hanlon said one eight-year-old girl was rescued from working as a live-in servant, another was so malnourished the nine-year-old looks and behaves like a five-year-old, and another was physically abused to the point he is now prone to violent outbursts of his own.
One trait they all share is that they were welcomed into the Bhaktapur Self-Sustaining Children’s Home, in Bhaktapur, Nepal where Riya and Rupak Thapa cook and care for them along with three assistants, who help the children back on the path to a normal life. Like many non-profits in third-world countries, financing is always a struggle and that is where Hanlon, a second year kinesiology student at the University of Victoria, is focused, hoping to give even more when she visits the orphanage again in 2016.
“It is quite important to me, I really built great relationships with the kids, (their photos) are all over my walls and I would love to go back and see them again,” she said. “I see so much potential there. I want to show them that they are important and worth coming back for.”
Dr. Anna Mason, who has employed Hanlon as a babysitter for the past three years, has witnessed the girl’s personal growth first hand.
“I think going to Nepal made her more determined to help the less fortunate in our world. She seemed deeply moved by her experience in Nepal working with impoverished orphan children,” the family physician said. “I think both young and old people ought to take inspiration from volunteers like Therese. We should all do what we can to help others who aren’t fortunate enough to have the opportunities we have here in Canada.”
Hanlon has set up a funding page, where she is raising money to send back to her extended family in Nepal. She says the money will go a long way toward improving conditions at the orphanage. Plans are to expand the orphanage so it can take more than the 20 children they currently house, and add agricultural land to grow food for themselves and to make the orphanage more self sustaining.
Hanlon said despite the challenges they face, this is not just a story of hardship, but a story of success. The children there are succeeding, growing and learning and she wants to be a part of that success moving forward.
“My main focus in this project has always been the children. And not just those that I met and fell in love with when I was in Nepal, but all the children that I didn’t get to meet that are in awful situations elsewhere,” she said. “I also want to give the children already there an even better home to be in, with an even better chance at a successful, independent future. Living in a home that is in even better shape, and even more comfortable than it was when I was there last.”
For more information on her fundraising campaign click here.