Staff Spotlight: Olgapuri House Parents Dipak Raj Onta & Samana Amatya Onta
Summertime in Nepal means monsoon season—heat, high humidity, heavy dark afternoon clouds, torrential rain, lush green landscapes, deep puddles, long thick grass, and the ever-present scent of soaked soil. All this rain between June and September floods the country’s prepared fields, ensuring a rich harvest later in the year.
Then comes Dashain—Nepal’s longest and most-beloved festival.
On the Olgapuri campus, high-energy husband-and-wife duo Dipak Raj Onta and Samana Amatya Onta knew when the monsoon rains started that they’d need to get extra creative to keep their 20 boys entertained this summer. Dipak-Uncle and Samana-Aunty are the house parents at Olgapuri’s junior boys’ house, and since Nepal’s COVID-19 lockdown began in March, they’ve been hard at work with extra responsibilities. All summer long they’ve helped organize outdoor activities—the kind of rowdy “big body play” that is so critical to children’s brain development, physical health, self-confidence, social growth, and academic success. Whenever they can, the two make sure to join in the fun themselves. They’re enjoying the extra togetherness with the kids this year.
The 20 kids in the junior boys’ house range in age from 4 to 13, and so, like Bishnu and Pushpa in the junior girls’ house, Dipak and Samana are managing online classes and helping with homework for multiple grades at once. They’re also teaching the boys age-appropriate cooking and basic life skills, like Bhim and Shreemaya in the senior girls’ house.
And this month, all four sets of house parents joined forces to help the kids celebrate a very strange Dashain.
Dashain (pronounced de-SAI) is a 15-day-long lunar festival that usually occurs in September or October. It’s one of the most emotional, colorful, and enjoyable times in Nepal. The holiday blends harvest-time and fertility with the triumph of good over evil, and family members travel from far and wide to celebrate together.
The festival’s Hindu roots don’t keep members of other religions from participating. Everyone enjoys the opportunity to feast with family, exchange gifts (especially new clothes), and trade memories. Elders bless the children. Children play together. Warm feelings fill everyone with joy.
Throughout the world this year, families are working to think of creative ways to celebrate each culture’s special moments without risking illness. Nepal is no different. With most travel out of the question, many Nepalese families will be spending a very lonely Dashain—or at least a strangely quiet one.
Many of the children at Olgapuri return to their home villages for Dashain, where they can connect with their region’s unique culture. Some still have extended family members who love maintaining a relationship with them, even though they’re unable to provide a stable home. NYF encourages these healthy relationships, allowing each child to bond with their world beyond Olgapuri’s walls.
(Right: Junior boys and girls prepare for a balloon game during 2020’s Olgapuri Dashain carnival.)
But this year, none of the children can travel anywhere. Luckily, Olgapuri is a loving family all its own. Our four sets of house parents, including Dipak and Samana, were determined to give the children the best pandemic-era Dashain they could!
Dipak joined the NYF team in 2015, managing a transit home NYF established in Gorkha District for children displaced by earthquakes. Soon, he was also managing NYF’s earthquake scholarship program in the district as well. Managing the transit home was a great fit for Dipak—he loved caring for the children and using the power of play to make their lives feel a little more normal and safe after so much trauma.
In January 2018, Dipak and Samana became the junior boys’ house parents, where they’ve been able to continue this work long-term. Samana was thrilled to join her husband here. She’s always loved working with children and didn’t have much opportunity to do so in her work as a fashion designer. They are each inspired by Olga’s life story and by her commitment to Nepalese children, and they are proud to be part of the work being done by NYF.
Dipak-Uncle and Samana-Aunty are social and optimistic people, and they love the Olgapuri community—visiting with the other house parents, interacting with the 80 children, chatting with the wide array of staff members. Olgapuri feels like being home with a large family. Though the element of work is always there, Dipak and Samana feel less like they’re doing a job, and more like they’re simply raising their own children in a warm, supportive environment.
(Left: Samana demonstrates a paper folding technique during an arts-and-crafts activity over the summer.)
That’s never been truer than right now, during Nepal’s most family-centric festival. The house parents managed quite a schedule this year, including an ongoing carnival on the grounds (including sports competitions and more), traditional Dashain card games, feasting, and a special Dashain swing called the linge ping!
Above: Senior boys help assemble the traditional linge ping. It is said that everyone must leave the ground once a year on this special bamboo swing – and assembling it is half the tradition!
Dipak and Samana’s 20 junior boys were most excited about the food, the games, the swing, and the presents—just like kids everywhere! They especially love the tika ceremony, in which the elders bless the children by placing a bright red paste on each of their foreheads. It’s a ritual of love and belonging—one our house parents were honored to participate in.
Above: Samana-Aunty places tika on a junior boy’s forehead. Receiving blessings in this ceremony communicates belonging and connection to each of the Olgapuri children. Here, they are part of a special family where they are loved, wanted, and cherished.
Though many of the children missed traveling, they enjoyed Dashain with their Olgapuri family. Dipak and Samana feel the same way. As they celebrate with the 20 boys in their care, they’re happy to be part of this important work. They cherish the ways each child shows their kindness, helpfulness, creativity, and athleticism. They love cycling with the children, and playing basketball, soccer, tag, hide-and-seek, and more. On rainy days, Samana enjoys opportunities to show the boys arts and craft techniques while others play board games nearby. NYF is lucky to have them on our team! Running around with 20 young boys, Dipak and Samana are glad to be part of the reason #LoveWorks.
(Left: A junior boy considers his next move during the carnival’s Carram competition. Carram, a traditional Nepalese board game, is among the children’s favorite pastimes.)
Throughout the world, families are preparing to celebrate major holidays a little differently this year—and Olgapuri is no different! If you believe in the work Dipak and Samana are doing, please help them by donating here or by sharing their story on social media with the hashtag #LoveWorks!