Everest's orphans

Everest's orphans
In this photograph taken on April 18, 2014, Everest Base Camp is seen from Crampon Point, the entrance into the Khumbu icefall below Mount Everest

The little girl was sobbing hysterically and had soiled her pants. She struggled as teachers held her tight, trying desperately to calm her down.

The teachers explained that a few weeks ago her father had died on Everest and that his climber clients were sponsoring her to come to this boarding school in Kathmandu.

She was just four years old, her cheeks still a rosy red from the cold of Khumbu, and would be going into kindergarten class. As I looked around the grim boarding school with its high-rise classroom blocks, cramped dormitories and tiny concrete playground, I thought of her beautiful village of Phurte with its squat unpretentious stupa encircled by snow-clad peaks.

Could being torn from her mother and community so soon after her father's death really be the best option for this young girl?

The recent tragedy on Mt Everest has left another 32 fatherless, ranging from adults to the youngest, who was only two weeks old on the day of the avalanche.

Again, well-intentioned climbers and other sponsors are coming forward to help support these children. Often the fathers' highest priority was to educate their children, to spare them becoming climbers themselves and taking such risks, so the sponsors also want to focus on paying for education.

However, little thought is given to what form of support is in the best interests of the child. Should the child stay with their mother, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins in the village and attend the local school? Or will the child be better off torn away and rushed into a Kathmandu boarding school? At what age should a child go to boarding school, if at all? Can they be supported at the village schools first and later get help for Plus Two or university?

Boarding schools best?

Currently, little consideration is given to the age at which the child is sent to boarding school and the psychosocial trauma that results. Medical studies from around the world show that sending young children to boarding school can result child abuse and trauma.

While cases of physical and sexual abuse in institutions such as boarding schools and children's homes are well documented in the West, in Nepal, there is still denial as to the scale of the problem. The long-term impacts of emotional deprivation, alienation from culture and family are less visible. Still, international studies have shown that even seemingly socially successful boarding school graduates can be hiding difficulties forming intimate relationships with serious consequences in adult life.

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