WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEIDI WOODMAN – http://www.heidiwoodman.com/
At the edge of a very dusty and dirty make-shift soccer field on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu a group of children have gathered to play football. A thick, pungent smoke floats over from the cremation grounds and mixes with the haze of dust and pollution that hangs ever present in the Kathmandu atmosphere.
More alarmingly though, is the toxic and unmistakable stench of glue which the kids, locked in a revolving huddle, inhale constantly. The glue gives them relief from the pain of their daily struggles and takes away the pangs of hunger that plague them. When asked what they dream of the reply is always the same. ‘We have no dreams’.
The life of a child on the streets of Kathmandu is defined by suffering and violence. Highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, they have fallen through the fractured safety net of Nepalese society, which does little or nothing to protect or help them.
They are widely misunderstood, much maligned and stigmatised by the vast majority of the population. They are taken advantage of by people in every direction they turn. Those in positions of authority, those posing as people wanting to help them and by the older, stronger, more street hardened of their peers on the street. They are totally at the mercy of those around them, particularly the younger ones. Weak, malnourished and prone to severe mental and physical health problems. Sexual and physical violence is endemic and it’s little wonder that the vast majority become addicted to glue or indeed harder drugs.
After receiving no aid from the government and being routinely taken advantage of by those claiming to want to help them, it takes a great deal of work with outreach programmes to gain their trust. Many are caught in a cycle of drop in centres and then back to the streets. The answer I was told by a former street child is not just a rehabilitation programme, which is necessary, but also to be shown real love and support. ‘Without love and support, you don’t have anything’. *some names have been changed to protect identity.