Last year I wrote to you about a young girl named Dolma Tamang, with whom I traveled to Langtang with. She is from a small village called Ramche, situated between Kathmandu and Syabru Besi—the town that you begin to hike from in order to reach Langtang. There are no popular trekking routes that run through Ramche; most of the households in this village are subject to poverty conditions. During my time with Dolma last year, her story slowly began to unravel, manifesting in concerned looks and questions revealing her uncertainty of where she was heading and for what purpose. As Dolma began to understand the situation at hand, I too learned that she was destined to provide domestic assistance for a Langtang household during the post-earthquake rebuilding phase. Her uncle had arranged for this to happen; Dolma was told that she was leaving for Langtang—a place she had never even heard of—only three hours prior to her departure.
Her story remained with me. It was difficult, learning of her fate, and saying goodbye to her. In the past year, I have continued to inquire about her, learning about a stomach surgery she endured. I was told that Dolma had become unable to keep up with the demands of the manual labor. When I returned to Nepal about a month ago, I inquired about her situation again. I was told that she was back in Ramche with her family; I had hopes of meeting her.
Prior to traveling to Langtang for fieldwork, I received a friend request on Facebook from a familiar face. It was Dolma! I was incredibly happy to finally have a chance to directly talk to Dolma once again, to hear about her life, where she was, and what she was doing now that she was no longer working in Langtang. She told me that she had returned home to live with her parents in Ramche. I said that I would be traveling that way soon and if possible, I would come to meet her for some tea, to see her once again, and hear about her life since the last time I saw her. She matched my excitement, calling me ‘Didi’ (older sister), and inviting me to come and meet her in her home when I was able to.
Just a few days before my trip, I contacted Dolma again on Facebook. I said I would be traveling with some friends who knew where her house is and that we would call her if we had an opportunity to come and visit her. She wrote me back: “Didi, I’m sorry. I’m not at home anymore. I can’t meet you. My parents sent me to China.”
I thought I might have misinterpreted her message and asked for some clarification. She explained that she couldn’t keep up with the work in Langtang, so she had returned home. But now, due to the family’s financial situation, she was once again sent away to work—this time in a different country. A country that she does not know anyone, a country in which she cannot communicate as she does not know the language. I asked her who she was staying with. She told me she was living alone, doing work similar to what she had done in Langtang. I felt my heart sink down, thinking of the sadness that this young girl has been subject to in her life. She said to me, “We are poor people. What else is there to do?”
Upon my return to Kathmandu, I reached out to Dolma again. She has been communicating with me, explaining to me her loneliness, her confusion. She is uncertain of when she will return back to Nepal. She is unable to communicate with her parents as she does not have a sim card that works in China. She often posts to her Facebook page, questioning why her life has been so full of sadness, questioning why she has only found tears and no smiles in her life.
I think about this young girl every day. I thought about her while in Langtang, looking at the other domestic workers and manual laborers, wondering what stories they hold behind their smiles. As I made my way down the mountain, I passed through Ramche, this time taking closer notice to my surroundings. My Nepali friend accompanying me explained that you will only see very small houses and huts in Ramche. The people are very poor. Dolma’s story, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrence in Nepal. Those individuals who live in the small villages often have no opportunity for local work. Dolma left her studies at a young age. As a result, she cannot read and does not speak English. This limits her opportunities greatly. Many families in villages such as the village that Dolma is from are extremely poor, so poor that they are even unable to purchase enough food for their families. It is from situations like this that children are sent to work in the households of others.
The rebuilding situation in Langtang has created a situation where this extra help is necessary. It is from these dynamics of poverty and post-disaster rebuilding that I met Dolma and that I learned firsthand that situations like this exist in Nepal. However, after many discussions with Nepalese citizens concerning this matter, I have learned that Dolma’s story is not rare. In fact, it is quite common. Exporting labor in this way has become quite a phenomenon in Nepal and most often directly related to poverty conditions. An article found in Spotlight News Magazine explains, “The most important and usual cause of child labor is because those children’s parents are so underprivileged that they can’t provide for the family without some economic help. Thus, they send their children to earn an income, which is desperately needed.” What is one to do when they cannot feed their family? What are the options for those who find themselves in situations such as Dolma’s family?
I write this story to you because it is a story that does not leave me. Dolma’s story, and the stories of other child laborers, must be drawn attention to. She has no voice in this situation. She is one of many in a similar situation. My time in Langtang has revealed to me the intersections of child/ exported labor and disaster. The Langtangpas live in an area where its inhabitants can earn money through the trekking industry. People like Dolma do not share in this ability to find work in their home towns. The earthquake created a demand for extra help in Langtang and this is why I met Dolma. Her story has revealed to me much about Nepal. While it is not an easy story to learn about, it is an important story to listen to.
Until next time,