At Kidasha, we have long committed to making a big difference in one place, rather than a small difference across many. For this reason, our work with children living in extreme urban poverty focuses on Nepal’s second largest city, Pokhara. Here, the poverty experienced by its inhabitants has all the hallmarks of urban poverty, a phenomena specific to its environment and markedly distinct from poverty in rural areas. Due to the urbanisation the country has experienced over the past decade, Nepal’s landscape is rapidly changing and has created urban environments which require a specialist and tailored approach to ensuring the right help continues to reach its most vulnerable people. Our work in Pokhara strives to pioneer these efforts, and is bolstered by a thorough understanding of the distinction between rural and urban poverty, which we will explore in this blog post.
In 2013, it was estimated that Pokhara was seeing an annual population growth of 5% every year; demonstrating the increased flow of migrants from more rural parts of the country into the growing city. Just two years later, Nepal experienced its worst earthquake in 80 years, which killed nearly 9,000 people and had a devastating impact on the country’s weak infrastructure. This of course came at a human cost, including an increase in children and young people moving to large cities such as Pokhara and Kathmandu, with a view to earning money to support families left behind in damaged villages, or to make a life for themselves having been orphaned.
To add to an already complex recovery process, an increase in tourism in recent years has also created a pull towards Pokhara’s urban hubs. Again, children and young people are being pushed towards (or attracted) to the employment opportunities such tourism brings, whether in hotels, restaurants or retail. Children are often found working in the new hotels, dance bars and restaurants of Pokhara.
This population growth in urban areas such as Pokhara is compounding existing issues of urban poverty in Nepal, which is one of the world’s poorest countries. For the poorest or most vulnerable, life in urban Nepal today is characterised by rising food prices, shrinking living spaces and exploitative working environments. For those living in extreme urban poverty, the rise in population brings greater risk and insecurity to an already difficult life.
Pokhara’s overcrowded slum areas mean that children and families are crowded together in dangerous living conditions where, when food is available, finding the space and resources – such as gas and firewood – to cook safely is an added challenge. Coupled with the threat of disease, including new strains such as dengue and coronavirus, mean that Pokhara’s slum areas often exacerbate the conditions which underpin chronic urban poverty.
Likewise, many of the families we have worked to reconnect have been separated due to fears that they can no longer provide for their children. In these circumstances, some families feel they have no choice but to send their children to the city to live with relatives, work, or be married off to men much older than them, all in order to ease the financial strain. In these environments, children are at great risk of being exploited, abused and further entrenched in a cycle of poverty, which without intervention, will continue for generations.
Kidasha’s provides relief to these areas by creating the stepping stones needed to help children and young people lift themselves out of the exploitative labour and dangerous living conditions they all too often find themselves in. We contextualise this support specifically in reference to urban challenges, as the issues experienced in rural areas in Nepal require a completely different approach.
In rural areas, where those living in poverty are often able to sustain themselves and their families through subsistence farming and the fresh water supplies available. Using the land, cattle and resources available to them, many are able to grow, consume and sell their produce for a small profit. And whilst this method may not always be able to elevate a family out of poverty, it offers a lifeline. When people, and specifically children, make the move into urban areas, they trade the security of food and water naturally found in rural areas, for an unpredictable life in the city.
By contrast, the focus of our work in Pokhara is protecting children from further exploitation, providing tailored education and resources, and reuniting families.
Kidasha strives to address the causes and effects of poverty in these children’s lives by working with local authorities to hold exploitative employers and abusers to account, and provide these children with opportunities that will help them forge a better life. These include safe houses where children can be fed and cared for, and informal education programmes, such as our Functional Skills Course, which teaches children literacy and numeracy skills within a practical context tailored to each child’s needs.
We strive to offer hope for a better future. We do this in part by aiming to emulate the sense of community found in rural parts of the country, to challenge the anonymity and isolation felt by children living in urban poverty. Without this support, it is far more likely for a child in an urban slum to drop out of school, experience violence, abuse and exploitation, as well as child marriage and teen pregnancy. Through our understanding of the nuances of urban poverty, our presence in Pokhara offers slum and street-connected children a safe space, where they can benefit from the positive guidance of adults.
To continue with our work, we must continue to look into the future to mitigate these challenges caused by environmental changes, such as climate change and growing populations. And only by providing this tailored support, bolstered by your generous donations, can we make the biggest difference possible to the vulnerable children living in urban poverty in Pokhara.