Realising The Impossible by George R Vaughan

I looked at the little girl sitting next to me as she took me through her photo album - all expectant smiles and excited movements - and for a moment I forgot about where I was and what I was doing. I forgot where I had come from and where I was going.
Suddenly I felt lost – a million miles away from the civilised world I was used to.
Then many voices filled the room and as more and more children appeared, eager for me to see their drawings and photos, it all came back to me.
Poverty is sometimes an awkward subject to tackle and one that most of us in our comfortable, often privileged lives can’t honestly appreciate.
We see newspaper articles about children starving in Africa and India and then we turn the page to read that the latest Hollywood superstar has just bought his obscenely young girlfriend a Ferrari (even though she is barely old enough to drive it) and we forget.
We shed a tear when images of starving, fragile infants stare out pleadingly from our television sets but then we realise the time and switch over to tune into our favourite soap and it is gone, like a brief nightmare.
The media has done an excellent job of desensitising us.
We all have that period in our lives when we believe we are going to change the world but for most of us, the thought and the required action to make it a reality are never married. The idealist youth is swallowed up by the pressures of a demanding world and the desire to make a difference is usually substituted by the material temptations society entices us to embrace.
It’s far simpler to turn a blind eye than face a painful truth.
However, there are exceptions.
The first time I heard about Florence Krief I was so intrigued by her story that I wanted to meet the woman in person to hear it for myself. Often tales get taller each time they are told but as I soon came to realise, in Florence’s case, both the story and the lady really are larger than life.
A successful investment banker, she had worked extremely hard to make a name for herself in a very competitive field and earned a fabulous lifestyle as a consequence. However, her post became the casualty of a depressed market following the tragedy of 9/11 and she was regrettably made redundant in November 2001.
“It was a big shock for me and my colleagues. Up until then I had enjoyed a comfortable way of life – dressing in Armani and Kenzo, eating in the finest restaurants and travelling to Europe for luxury weekend breaks – but I never felt guilty about it because I worked extremely hard for these privileges.
“Being brought up in Africa I was always aware of poverty and I never took my way of life for granted but at the same time, when my job was taken away from me I saw this as the best opportunity to fulfil one of my dreams – to work with children in Asia”.
Having travelled extensively in the region she decided to return to the continent to volunteer in orphanages in Nepal and Mongolia. Through local contacts she found a Nepalese family to stay with and a placement teaching English in an orphanage.
In Nepal, her original intention was to stay for three months but she was so horrified by the poverty and hardship she witnessed many of the children suffering at the orphanage she was working that she extended her stay in an effort to do something about it.
“I became so attached to the children that I decided that the only real way to help them was to make a life commitment and open my own orphanage.”
True to her word, she did just that by investing £70,000 of her own money to start up an orphanage and then established the Child Action Nepal UK charity which now provides a decent home to 20 children who only have a better standard of life today because of her efforts to make a difference.
In recent years Nepal has been gripped by a brutal internal armed conflict that has seen more than 12,000 lives lost and there seems to be no relief for those caught up in the violence. Nepalese civilians are sandwiched between the unpredictable rule of the king (who wrestled power from the government in a military coup) and the disjointed but growing forces of the Maoist rebels. Regrettably, amongst all this turmoil, the ones who are suffering the most are the children.
Many are being killed deliberately, whilst others are illegally detained, tortured, raped, abducted or recruited for military activities. Others are being kidnapped for use in the despicable trafficking trade that is rife throughout the country and girls in particular are the innocent victims of terrible commercial exploitation.
A high percentage of Nepalese children already endure extreme poverty and such flagrant abuse of their fundamental human rights only compounds their plight even further.
For Florence Krief, there seemed to be no other option but to try and make a difference.
She fought against numerous social, religious and financial obstacles to reach her goal and as I sat there in the children’s bedroom the enormity of her achievement truly sank in.
“This is Florence,” a tiny voice said to me as she stroked the woman in the picture. “She is our auntie.”
I’d seen the poverty on the streets of Kathmandu and I’d witnessed first hand the hollow, expressionless eyes of children as young as 4 years of age as they begged for money. But as I looked into the eyes of these children in the orphanage, I saw hope. Hope for the future and hope for a better life.
In my mind, that is Florence Krief’s greatest achievement but she is quick to brush aside any personal praise and instead reminds me that her work is far from over.
“What many people do not realise about this country is that it ranks as one of the world’s ten poorest nations and economic slowdown, disease, natural disaster and the current Maoist troubles are only adding to the growing number of orphaned and homeless children.
“With 40% of the population being under 16 years of age, many of them are forced to work simply to ensure their own survival and added to this an estimated 5000 young girls are abducted every year and made to work as prostitutes overseas.
“So for us this is only the beginning as there is so much more work to be done. We are always looking for people who can help us with donations or volunteer work. For me the realisation that my help is actually the difference between life and death is the most rewarding experience possible.”
As I left the orphanage and looked back at the 20 children grouped together, smiling and waving in a collective goodbye, I immediately knew what she meant.
Conservative figures suggest that some 400 children have died in conflict related violence since 1996 but with little information available from some of Nepal’s more remote districts, the true figure is likely to be much higher. Many families are too frightened to report killings and this widespread fear leaves little hope for accurate assessments to ever be collated.
Despite the large numbers of children affected by the armed conflict, there are very few support and rehabilitation services available for these children and their families. Those that do exist are severely under-funded.
Child Action Nepal is doing what it can to readdress the balance but for it to do more the charity needs further help.
If you would like to know more about this amazing charity or perhaps even make a donation, visit their website at http://www.childactionnepal.org.uk
George R Vaughan