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Staff Spotlight: Olgapuri House Parents Hem Prasad Shrestha & Binu Shrestha

On Nepal’s calendar of celebrations, Tihar comes just one month after the festival of Dashain. Nepalese children love Tihar, especially because it offers special opportunities for siblings to honor one another!

Almost as soon as Olgapuri’s Dashain feasting ended, our four sets of loving house parents set to work planning a beautiful Tihar for the 80 children currently living on the locked-down campus. Tihar festivities began on November 13th and concluded on the 16th—to the enjoyment of all.

So far this year, we’ve spotlighted Dipak & Samana in the junior boys’ house, Bhim & Shreemaya in the senior girls’ house, and Bishnu & Pushpa in the junior girls’ house. As we share Olgapuri’s special Tihar celebration with you, we’re so pleased to introduce you to the fourth set of house parents: Hem & Binu Shrestha!

Hem and Binu are parenting the 20 senior boys living at Olgapuri Children’s Village. These boys range in age from about 13 to 18—a time of incredible growth, both physical and emotional, when long-term patterns are developed and critical lessons are learned in preparation for adulthood.

The married couple joined the Olgapuri Children’s Village team in March 2020, just as the campus was entering lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, they are the newest team members, but they bring many years of valuable experience to the work they’re doing.

Hem-Uncle and Binu-Aunty have experienced incredible changes in Nepal during their lifetimes, including multiple dramatic shifts in government, the long Nepali Civil War, cultural shifts regarding caste and other minority rights, economic changes, and growth in areas like healthcare, education, and technology. Through it all, they have always prioritized the children around them. New generations will continue building their country towards the future. Love and opportunity ripple outward as children become adults.

They’ve already seen it happen. Hem has worked with NYF since 1996, both directly and indirectly. He even spent many years in leadership positions overseeing NYF’s growth on the ground. The two have worked in several children’s homes over the course of their careers, but they have always especially admired NYF’s loving, long-term, family-style approach.

Even as a very young man, Hem observed practices that made him wary of the way power can feed into corruption. Time and time again, he returned to NYF, because he knew that the resources went directly to the children being served. He recognized NYF’s deep, sincere commitment to each individual child’s wellbeing and long-term success. NYF staff members are truly focused on the children first, and it makes all the difference.

Hem and Binu are thrilled to bring their history in children’s homes to Olgapuri Children’s Village, where staff and children alike live together and cooperate like a large family. They have already earned the trust of the children in the senior boys’ house. Like the other house parents, Hem-Uncle and Binu-Aunty have spent the lockdown managing online classes for 20 students, organizing outdoor activities, and leading meal preparations. They also value the quieter moments, when the children come to them with concerns, troubles—and happiness as well.

(Above, Olgapuri’s youngest resident applies the special multicolored Tihar tika to a senior boy’s forehead. This ritual, performed between brothers and sisters on the last day of Tihar, follows a legend in which a goddess protects her brother from the god of death through an elaborate, loving ceremony. Performing this ceremony at Olgapuri has special significance in underscoring the bonds between the children.)

As these 20 boys quickly approach the beginning of adulthood, Hem and Binu are happy to share wisdom and guidance from their own lives. Each child at Olgapuri has a unique story, personality, and set of skills and struggles—like children everywhere. At NYF, we are so grateful to have wise and loving house parents like Hem and Binu to help each of these boys along their journeys of becoming.

And we are grateful for the ways all four sets of house parents ensure moments of celebration, even during lockdown conditions!

(Above and right, the dogs living on Olgapuri campus enjoy Kukar Puja, the second day of Tihar. There are seven dogs at Olgapuri, including two puppies. On Kukar Puja, dogs receive a tika on their foreheads and marigold garlands around their necks as thanks and celebration for their loyalty, companionship, and service to mankind. The Olgapuri senior boys made sure to give each dog all the pats and affection they could ask for, as well as special treats!)

During the Tihar festival, the children worked together with the house parents to prepare delicious Tihar treats, like selroti (a rice flour-based deep-fried sweet bread), anarasa (a deep-fried sweet pastry puff), arsa (a simple syrupy donut-like treat), and fini roti (a colorful, buttery, flaky sweet pastry).

They decorated each house with beautiful lights and flowers, representing wealth, happiness, and prosperity.

And throughout the holiday, the children played special Tihar games like tass (a card game) and langurburja (a dice game).

(Above: On the final day of Tihar, senior girls perfect a colorful sand mandala in the courtyard before Bhai Tika begins. They are looking forward to the exchanges of love, respect—and presents!—the ceremony includes between brothers and sisters.)

The fourth day of Tihar usually includes a celebration called Deusi-Bhailo, after traditional songs children and teenagers perform in their communities on this day. Similar to the trick-or-treating and caroling familiar to Americans, Deusi-Bhailo performers go door-to-door to people’s homes, singing and dancing and giving blessings for prosperity. In return, they collect money, sweets, and snacks.

To everyone’s disappointment, this tradition is not pandemic-proof. But at Olgapuri, the children and house parents created a virtual version of the event, streaming their performances to neighbors and friends in the Kathmandu Valley!

(Above: The tika ceremony is a special time between brothers and sisters. Although it is a reverential ritual, there is plenty of room for playfulness between siblings. As sisters walk around the circle of brothers, they occasionally ruffle the hair of a boy known to be a prankster, or jokingly put extra holy water in someone’s vicinity—just in case!)

On the final day of Tihar, brothers and sisters show their appreciation for one another, placing special colorful tika on each other’s foreheads and exchanging small gifts and blessings.

Love and devotion between siblings is an important part of life at Olgapuri, where the family-style approach has always been the foundation of the work. In the 1990s, when Olga first started her work sheltering children at J House and K House, she recognized that the children she was serving needed stable family relationships as much as they needed housing security, healthcare, and educational opportunities.

All children need a sense of belonging. All children need to know that they are loved.

Hem-Uncle and Binu-Aunty believe in Olga’s vision of a children’s home that meets the emotional and cultural needs of its residents. So do the rest of the house parents at Olgapuri Children’s Village. Our house parents’ devotion to the children in NYF’s care is an incredible gift. Their loving attention—especially during the lockdown conditions they’ve been living under for the past nine months!—ensures that each child receives the healthiest, most nurturing personalized care NYF can offer.

Hem and Binu know that their #LoveWorks—and so does yours.

As households throughout the world prepare for a nontraditional, socially distanced holiday season in 2020, we’re all working hard to find ways to make meaning and build connection from the safety of home. If you believe in the work Hem and Binu are doing at Olgapuri, please help them by sharing their story on social media with the hashtag #LoveWorks!

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