Nepal war children head from poverty to university

The gates of one of Nepal's top private schools swing open and 20 children who hope to be the doctors, lawyers and scientists of tomorrow spill out into a smart Kathmandu suburb.

But while their classmates come from the country's wealthiest elite, these children were rescued seven years ago, dirty and sick, from a cowshed on the edge of the capital.

"I want to be a pilot when I leave school. I'd like to study science at university, maybe in France," says Rita Bhandari, 14, who is in the top two percent of her year group at the prestigious Gyanodaya Bal Batika School.

Like her 19 friends, Rita was handed to traffickers in impoverished western Nepal by her family in the hope of giving her a life away from the brutal civil war then sweeping through the countryside.

The children's journey from the remote district of Humla saw them end up on the unforgiving streets of Kathmandu, where children are sold as sex slaves or forced into back-breaking labour in brick factories and mills.

Their salvation came when they were discovered by Irish businessman Gene Lane-Spollen and his wife, Maura, who were visiting Nepal and heard about a group of children living in a cattle shed.

"It was a cold March day and there was no sign of the children because it was dark," said retired Coca-Cola executive, Gene, 64, who is based with his wife in France.

"We went upstairs on a ladder and there was no light, no windows upstairs at all. When your eyes got used to the dark you could see something and then we realised the barn was full of kids.

"There was one big string across the room with all the clothes chucked over it and there was nothing else -- not even any straw on the floor."

Gene and Maura took all 20 children -- who were then aged between three and nine -- and set up a charity to house and educate them, enrolling the group in a local school to teach them to read and speak English and Nepali rather than their tribal language.

"Over the course of the next couple of years we found the children were developing a real sense of ambition or competitiveness among themselves, even though they lived as a big family," Gene said.

The couple return frequently to monitor the pupils' progress after appointing carers to instill a regime of study and discipline that has seen the youngsters catching and then even overtaking their more affluent classmates.

Rita's success is all the more remarkable given her start in life, losing her father in the 1996-2006 Maoist civil war and having to leave her mother and younger brother and sister behind when she was sent to Kathmandu.

"Gene is like our godfather," she told AFP. "He changed my life."

Most of the students have never been back to Humla and they get to ring home just once every other month, but many talk about returning one day.

"I will go back to my village and I will try to develop it. I want to help other people by establishing a school," said Basanta Budhathoki, 15.

Chand Rai, who runs the home with his wife Menuka, says he feels "blessed" to be the group's surrogate father.

"My family is here. It's not work, it's living here with them," he said.

Rai said the children were not treated differently by their more affluent classmates at school as they have earned respect by being good at sport and lessons.

But he admitted problems occasionally arise when they see their richer friends enjoying cinema trips and other privileges.

The children rise at 6:00 am for prayers before their chores, and study for an hour before school. They are allowed an hour to unwind after classes but then it's back to the books.

"If there is an exam the senior boys will study until 10:00pm or 11:00pm," said Rai.

It is the strict routine which sets the home apart from other care centres in Kathmandu, where children are left to their own devices and often end up back on the streets.

But it is not cheap: accommodation and schooling costs for the group costs around 2.8 million rupees ($35,000) a year, with Gene and Maura covering most of the expense and donors making up the rest.

"If they have good food, good medicine, good management and a good school, there's nothing to stop them," said Gene. "They can be whatever they want."

  • 2015 Chevrolet Trax small SUV rolls back to America 5 hours ago
    2015 Chevrolet Trax small SUV rolls back to America

    For the past two years, car shoppers from Acapulco to Winnipeg could wander into their Chevy dealers and kick the tires on a city-sized sport utility vehicle named the Trax — and about 90,000 have done so. Today, Chevy revealed the version of the Trax it will bring to the United States, for those less well-heeled buyers who want the shape of an SUV without the window sticker they usually carry.

  • Ford Transit Skyliner concept revives the ultra-luxury van 8 hours ago
    Ford Transit Skyliner concept revives the ultra-luxury van

    “Once you do stand-up, you don’t want to go back.” No, we’re not talking about comedy, but rather an emerging trend in luxury transport that’s bringing us ever taller, more capacious, more pimpdillyicious limousines. The quote came from a Ford designer, Tim Stoehr, predicting an increase in interest in limos based on big vans like the new Transit. Of course, these are nothing new; up-fitters have taken quite kindly to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, and apparently Ford is chomping at the bit to get in on the action, too. So Ford enlisted the help of the largest Ford dealer in the world, Galpin Auto Sports in Van Nuys, Calif., to help design and build its first super-lux Transit concept, dubbed the Skyliner.

  • Driving the 2016 BMW X5 eDrive, the plugged-in SUV 13 hours ago
    Driving the 2016 BMW X5 eDrive, the plugged-in SUV

    Automakers worldwide have gradually (some would say grudgingly) attempted to make their high-profit and highly popular SUVs as efficient and clean-running as their lower weight passenger cars — namely through the grafting of a plug-in hybrid system.

  • Amazon to release smartphone later this year: report
    Amazon to release smartphone later this year: report

    Amazon is preparing to release a smartphone in the second half of 2014, thrusting itself into a market already crowded with Apple and Samsung models, The Wall Street Journal reported. The company aims to announce its new product by the end of June and ship to customers by the end of September in time for the holidays, the Journal said in a Friday report, citing unnamed people briefed on the matter. Amazon, it said, hopes to differentiate its phone from other models with a screen that displays hologram-like three-dimensional images, which can be viewed without special glasses. Earlier this month the retailer unveiled a new media streaming device, Amazon Fire TV, which it touted as simplifying the experience of watching video online.

  • Malaysia flight's co-pilot tried to make cellphone call - report
    Malaysia flight's co-pilot tried to make cellphone call - report

    Investigators probing the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 suspect that the co-pilot of the jetliner tried to make a call with his cellphone after the plane was diverted from its scheduled route, Malaysia's New Straits Times reported sources as saying on Saturday. The newspaper cited unidentified investigative sources as saying the attempted call from co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid's phone was picked up by a cellphone tower as the plane was about 200 nautical miles northwest of the west coast state of Penang.