KATHMANDU, Dec 29: She is a Dutch national, but people here tell her she looks like a Gurung woman. And no wonder, for Gita Pelinck has deep connections with Nepal.
"I was three and half years when my [foster] mother came and picked me from Bal Mandir, Kathmandu. There is a photo of her holding me in her arms in front of the Bal Mandir gate," said Gita with moist eyes as she walked down memory lane. As far as she remembers, life was very hard at the Bal Mandir. She 'does not like to narrate' but she was told she was from somewhere around Kathmandu. That was in 1975. Her Dutch foster parents were working in Nepal back then.
While Gita was trying to contain her emotions, her two children were squeezed onto a sofa at the Republica office. They looked on attentively.
"Do your children know your story?"
Gita said she has always been open with them and they 'live Nepal in a way.'
"His name is Milan and the other one is Rohan. Milan means the merging of two beautiful things, two beautiful worlds, the Netherlands and Nepal, and Rohan means an act of climbing. Their names are unique among their peer groups in the Netherlands and they are proud of it," their 47-year-old mother elaborated. The boys chuckled.
Sitting near the boys was Ambika Kumari Lucassen. She was also adopted from Bal Mandir, also by a Dutch couple, who were then working at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) here. She was just two and this was in 1974. Ambika was taken to the Netherlands by her foster parents in 1976. While Gita does not know how she ended up at Bal Mandir, Ambika has faint recollections.
"Massive floods had hit Dang district when I was just born. Helpless children were handed over to social workers and somehow I was brought to Bal Mandir by a health worker. This is the story told me by my [foster] parents. I do not know how true it is."
If her biological parents are still alive she said she would love to meet them.
Gita for her part is not much interested in meeting her own biological parents.
What does move her, and deeply, is the memory of someone else at Bal Mandir.
"I remember holding a little girl in my arms but have no recollection of her face. I was adopted and taken to the Netherlands. That girl could be my little sister . That is my feeling.. I don't know," said Gita .
Gita visited Bal Mandir repeatedly for clues of her 'lost sister' but to no avail. Ambika has also been to 'her first home' a few times.
Ambika has no belief in God and says, “Nature is God.” However, her own life story makes her wonder about destiny . "I started feeling that way after I came across that woman."
'That woman' was someone she met during one of her visits to Nepal a few years ago. That woman used to clean up at her house and Ambika learned that she was also at Bal Bandir as a child. “But nobody adopted her and how different our lives turned out!” said Ambika.
Ambika went on to study economics and worked for INGOs for 18 years. She now plays an advisory role at some of the world's leading organizations. Ever since she lost her Dutch parents when she was 21 she “has been concentrating more on work that is satisfying.” “My parents were very open and were proud of me, which made me a confident and self-reliant woman,” she said .
Ambika and Gita became friends because of their foster parents who were all working in Nepal at the time of the adoptions. The two felt connected and they bonded further as they grew up.
There are many in the Netherlands like Ambika and Gita, who were adopted from Nepal. Interestingly, most of those adopted were girls. "Perhaps Nepal wanted to keep the boys," Ambika said laughing.
When Bal Mandir was asked about Gita and Ambika, they said they did not have proper records of children brought in back in the 1970s. “We need to dig into our archives. We have found adoption records going back even 50 years, but if a child brought to us was found in the street by police no such details are kept,” said Bal Mandir official Bal Krishna Dangol.
However, Gita and Ambika said they found information on Gita in one of the archival documents but it was soon destroyed by the Bal Mandir. “We don't know why they wanted to destroy records,” said Ambika.
Gita and Ambika, together with Debbie Middendorp, have been working for the last few years to support women entrepreneurship in Nepal. “We founded 6 Degrees to provide tools for Nepali women to grow out of their homes and become independent,” said Middendor. “We wanted to give back and do something for Nepali women. We plan to work in Nepal for a long time,” she added.