The story of how ISIS found the ISIS Children

Before ISIS Involvement

Since 1998, ISIS has been working in Humla, a remote, impoverished region in north-western Nepal, in the Himalayas, where the civil war between the Maoists and the Government raged for more than 10 years. ISIS’ has become well established in the region after doing consistent work for more than a decade.

While working in Humla, ISIS began to hear tales from the community that parents in the area were desperate to get their children away from the dangers of the raging civil strife. They were sending their children down to Kathmandu to try to ensure their safety and avoid Maoist armies using their children as child soldiers. This situation opened the door for child abusers and profiteers.

How ISIS Got Involved

As the civil war spread in the mountains, we became conscious of families trying to get their children away from the unfolding violence. During 2003 and 2004, there was much debate about what we could do to help these children. We had always worked in the mountains and tried to encourage children to study and live with their families. We felt local communities and economies should be supported and that the urban drift that was being accelerated by the war should be contained.

ISIS was still discussing options for potential intervention when, in May 2004, we received an odd email. It was from a 20-year-old UK student working in Kathmandu as a volunteer. She had found some Humli children living at an orphanage in very bad conditions in Kathmandu. Her email read:

Dear ISIS –
I am writing to you because I am a volunteer working in an Orphanage in Nepal (Godavari Kathmandu Valley) and all the orphans are from Humla. There’s a confusing story to how they came to be in this orphanage and I’m trying to find out about where they come from and if they really are better off here, as the orphanage they came from was in a terrible condition and so 22 of them have been brought to the orphanage I am in now, as the director of the last place is corrupt and we cannot tell what he says is true and what is lies – and if these kids have parents – if the families paid for them to come here. How big is Humla? The situation is confusing and more kids keep arriving from Humla by airplane then get stuck in this horrific orphanage. I’m just trying to find out as much as possible to help and find out the real story behind this situation so I can do my best to be of most help. If there is anything you can tell me about this area or websites or anything I would greatly appreciate this. Currently I’m in Kathmandu for a few days so will be checking my emails. ps I’ve been told there is much starvation where these children come from so many more are on their way here but is this really the case in Humla? Are they really coming to a better place in this orphanage where kids age 9 cook for 40 children and others go to beg for food in Kathmandu? Anyway thank you if you are able to let me know anything or anywhere I can find out more.
Justine Squire

We were unclear what to do or if this email was coming from a legitimate source, but our instincts told us that we needed to investigate to see what was really going on. We knew it was time for us to stop talking and start acting, as these children could be in real trouble.

Angjuk Lama, one of the ISIS team and a Humli himself, was the first to see the orphanage. He reported back:

“There are 39 children, there are four teenage staff, the house they have rented is in really bad condition. It’s a very old house, worse than many Humli houses. There is one room for those four staff to sleep, one single room for 39 children, and there are only about three beds in it. Most of the children have to sleep on the floor. I didn’t see many blankets, mattresses and other clothes for children. And the top story is the kitchen and dining hall, it is very dirty. I saw few dishes, a kerosene stove and some vegetables – almost all were rotten on the floor. That’s all I saw inside the kitchen. There were no tables, no chairs, no shelves in all the three rooms. No running water, no attached bathroom. They are all so cute, so innocent and are in pathetic condition. I talked to them but they didn’t respond much….”

Upon hearing the reports from Angjuk Lama, a team of our staff and medical volunteers went to investigate more fully. While being shown the facilities of the orphanage, ISIS found more children in even more devastating conditions. There were children living in four horrific homes; all were jammed with children, with little or no adult supervision. In one home, we found 30 children in one room, with one mattress. In another room there were 64 children – a sea of dirty, sick and unhappy children.

We discovered that the traffickers had taken advantage of the raging civil war in the highlands. Parents were sending their children to Kathmandu under false promises from traffickers of protection and education. These parents had no idea the conditions their children were being kept in, and thought they were doing the right thing by sending them away to get an education and to stay safe while the war was raging.

From that point on, we began our battle to get custody of the children and take them out of this terrible situation. The number of children grew from 30 to over 100. In addition to those we rescued from traffickers, we also helped 10 very young ethnically Tibetan children to stay safe in Kathmandu. They had been brought to the city by a Humli friend of ours to get them away from the war high in the Himalayas. So we also took them under our wing. Eventually we were fighting for the custody of 136 children and the closure of four awful ‘holding pens’ under the control of two traffickers. During this time we learnt that an additional 300 children from our region had passed through the hands of these traffickers into India – tragically we have been unable to trace them.

The children we did manage to rescue were being beaten, some had been sexually abused, many were very unwell and malnourished, and most had become accustomed to living unsupervised in massive, filthy living quarters. Under pressure from both The ISIS Foundation and the Child Welfare Board of the Nepali Government, we got the children out of the traffickers’ hands. In late August 2006, ISIS finally obtained guardianship of all the children and established The ISIS Children’s Foundation (ICF), a local NGO established to care for these children.

Today, with the consistent support of wonderful donor families, our 136 rescued children are continuing to live happy, healthy and secure lives, both inside and outside the ISIS Children’s Homes.

Law firms

The us and UK law firm Linklaters provide the relevant ISIS Foundation entities who operate in those jurisdictions with pro bono legal advice in relation to UK law and us law in areas such as charitable registrations, tax deductibility and employment matters. us law firm Arnold & Porter assists in providing pro bono legal advice relating to intellectual property laws, particularly in the context of research to ensure that research conducted at project sites is used for the long-term benefit of those beneficiary communities.

Brigham Women and Children’s Hospital / Harvard University

The goal of this partnership is to improve the health of mums and babies who use the maternal health care department. It is also supports sustainable models of surgical, obstetric and gynaecological care at Kiwoko Hospital.

Dr Julianna Kane, an obstetrician and Lead Physician in the Global Obstetrics and Gynaecology division, visits Kiwoko Hospital at least once a year together with an obstetrics and gynaecology resident. They work collaboratively with ISIS and Kiwoko Hospital to train hospital staff in maternal and women’s health.

Seattle Children’s Hospital / University of Washington

For years the University of Washington’s Neonatology Department has been informally supporting our programme through the hard work and dedication of Dr Maneesh Batra and other medical professionals. Dr Maneesh provides his services to ISIS as a senior medical advisor, including consulting with our Clinical Practice Manager on all strategic planning and programmes for the NICU, the maternity ward and the new community based healthcare programme at Kiwoko Hospital..

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