Megan Foo's Blog

Interview with Macartan Gaughan, Director at the Umbrella Foundation Nepal

[b][url=]The Umbrella Foundation[/url][/b] is a non-profit NGO and registered charity working to alleviate the impact of trafficking, poverty and war on children and their families in Nepal. Established in 2005 in response to the growing number of illegal ‘orphanages’ neglecting children’s most basic rights – food, education, safe shelter, healthcare and love – it is a family-first, children’s charity which rescues vulnerable children and reintegrates them with their families and rural communities. When this is not possible, [url=]The Umbrella Foundation[/url] supports them in their homes until such a time as they can stand on their own two feet. As a responsible and ethical organization, The Umbrella Foundation also works alongside the Nepali Government to prevent further trafficking and corrupt children’s homes from operating.
[b]Megan Foo: What inspired you to start The Umbrella Foundation?[/b]
[b]Macartan Gaughan:[/b] Nepal has gone through many changes over the past two decades, with a 10-year insurgency changing the face of the country forever. Children were the biggest victims of the civil war and the thousands living on the streets or in homes and orphanages are the constant reminders of the price of Nepal’s struggle.
Northern Irish writer and teacher, Viva Bell, lived through it all, seeing the country she loved being torn apart and witnessing thousands of conflict-displaced children arriving in the capital every month. Feeling helpless and frustrated, she started to take action to address the problems on her own doorstep.
Viva’s course was set in motion when she met a street-child suffering from a simple throat infection. With no one to care for him, it had developed to a stage where he was severely dehydrated. She brought the boy to hospital and helped nurse him back to health and, after he recovered, she placed him in the care of one of Kathmandu’s many ‘orphanages’.
Supporting the home financially with the help of her friends in Ireland, they renovated it and helped improve the living conditions for the resident children. However it wasn’t long until they realized that their money was being siphoned off by the home’s managers, who were involved in other abusive behavior also, not an uncommon problem in Nepal’s ‘orphanages’. The answer was to take control of the matter themselves.
In 2005, Viva and Dave Cutler founded The Umbrella Foundation and set up a residential childcare home of the highest standards. With the help of the government’s Social Welfare Board, they closed down the corrupt ‘orphanage’, rescued the children, and placed them in the homes where many continue to live today. These healthy, happy and well-adjusted children have been given a new lease on life and, for the first time, a dream of a better future for themselves and their country.
I discovered Umbrella in 2011 after a chance meeting with a former volunteer while I was in Nepal on a medium term placement with another charity organization. My short time there had left me dumbstruck and angered by the issue of child trafficking and while my background is in finance, this accidental encounter showed me the amazing work that Umbrella was doing – I had to get involved! What was supposed to be a fleeting holiday changed my life forever and after joining the Umbrella team in Nepal in 2011, I took on the mantle of Country Director in 2012, which gave me a great insight into the organization and the many problems facing this beautiful country. While I left Nepal at the end of 2013, I have stayed very involved as a member of the Board of Directors in Ireland.
[b]Megan Foo: How does your organization measure impact?[/b]
[b]Macartan Gaughan:[/b] The Umbrella Foundation is a family first children’s charity and to date we have reconnected all but two of our 387 rescued children with their families or surviving relatives throughout Nepal.
The happiness and welfare of our children is paramount and where their reintegration is not possible, perhaps due to a lack of information about their family or their difficult domestic circumstances we explore alternative methods of care, including children’s homes. Our impact is measured on an individual basis and we aim to provide the most appropriate support to enable them to fulfill their potential.
[b]Megan Foo: What sets The Umbrella Foundation apart from other grassroots organizations in Nepal that support education?[/b]
[b]Macartan Gaughan:[/b] There are over 11,000 children living in ‘orphanages’ in Nepal (Nepal Government, 2012), but up to 85% of them are not actually orphans (UNICEF/ TdH, 2008). The vast majority of these children are in city-based orphanages because their families wanted a better education for them than they might have got in their rural village. It is The Umbrella Foundation’s view however, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that the best place for them to receive their education and to grow up is with their family.
While providing a child with a high quality education is very important many organizations in Nepal are doing so at the expense of family life. Thousands of children are trafficked each year to ‘orphanages’ funded by international donors who lack understanding around the impact these places have on a child’s long-term psychosocial development. Growing up in orphanage, fighting for attention among 10 to 50 other kids can result in the child developing issues around loyalty, attachment and misplaced dependency. This has serous ramifications for their ability to re-simulate back into the general community and live fulfilling lives after they ‘graduate’ from their orphanage. Also, for the huge proportion that end up in a corrupt or abusive home, due to the very weak government monitoring system, the promise of high quality schooling might never materialize and more damaging psychological issues can develop.
Umbrella are enlisting international supporters to assist our 160+ children living full time back with their families throughout Nepal. We are providing their essential day-to-day materials, funding infrastructure projects for local schools and sending experienced international teachers to run teacher-training courses in these rural villages. We are also looking at microfinance schemes to help boost the income of these children’s families, particularly their mothers. It is hoped that these acts will strengthen the family’s ability to give their child a good education and a brighter future, within their own community.
[b]Megan Foo: In leading The Umbrella Foundation, what was the best lesson you learned along the way?[/b]
[b]Macartan Gaughan:[/b] The biggest lesson I have learned from my time with The Umbrella Foundation is around the strength of perseverance. The Umbrella Foundation has faced many challenges over the past few years in terms of financial and human resources restrictions but nevertheless we have continued to seek out the families of our children and reintegrate them where responsibly possible. Many of the kids came into our care between 2005 and 2009 but our field team, who travel around the country in search of their relatives, are constantly finding out new information about their families.
Recently, one of our older girls, Maya, spotted a classmate in her school called Huma that she had never seen before. However, this new girl looked remarkably like another younger girl that lived in one of our children’s homes close by. This younger girl, Pasang, was 12 years old and despite being with Umbrella for 5 years, we knew literally nothing about her past, or where she was from. She was simply another orphan, brought to Umbrella when she was small and now this was her family. Maya told her new classmate Huma about Pasang and how they looked very much alike. Huma went home that evening and told her older sister that there was a girl in school called Pasang that looked the same as her. The older sister told Huma that they actually used to have a little sister called Pasang, but that she went missing when their parents lost contact with the other children’s home she had been originally sent to.
Maya took Pasang to meet Huma and the similarities were obvious! However, just to make sure, the older sister asked Pasang to hold out her hand. The older sister told how Pasang had been born with a small mole on her right thumb and that to be sure of her identity she wanted to check that. Sure enough when Pasang held up her hand, there it was, the birthmark that confirmed her identity. Unknown to everyone, Pasang’s two older sisters had been living only 20 minutes walk away this whole time! As Kamala one of the other girls in the home said,’ Pasang was a lost girl, but now she has been found.’
Pasang’s phenomenal journey is one of the hundreds, which Umbrella has undertaken over the past few years, each remarkable in their own way. These kind of magical reconnections make all of the stress and hard work worthwhile.
[b]Megan Foo: What does giving mean to you?[/b]
[b]Macartan Gaughan:[/b] I enjoy giving where my support is contributing to the betterment of someone else’s life. Umbrella has been able to rescue 387 children from what might have been a horrific future on the streets, as a domestic slave or in a brothel. We have been able to give them a brighter future because of the support received from generous people throughout the world. The Umbrella Foundation is built on the back of responsible volunteers, those who have given their time and money towards a collective goal - protecting Nepal’s vulnerable children.
[b]Megan Foo: What does education mean to you?[/b]
[b]Macartan Gaughan:[/b] Education should provide a person with appropriate life tools. These tools should enable them to life a happy life and fulfil their potential within their environment. A real education involves a solid foundation in interpersonal skills and character education should be imparted to complement academic pursuits. Therefore, within our Youth Education Programme Umbrella invites local successful business people to share their stories as guest speakers and encourages volunteer work. We also promote technical training over purely academic courses were appropriate to reflect our youth’s job prospects in the Nepali economy.
[b]Megan Foo: Where do you see The Umbrella Foundation in 5-10 years time?[/b]
[b]Macartan Gaughan:[/b] Umbrella will continue to spread awareness around the dangers of child trafficking, the pitfalls of ‘orphanages’ and irresponsible volunteering in Nepal. In 5 to 10 years Umbrella plans to have no children’s homes and we will to be working with local partners in at-risk Himalayan villages. By building up community structures and fostering a protective environment in these rural areas we hope to stem the flow of trafficked children at the source.

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