KATHMANDU, June 9: Raj Kumar Rai, who is from Halesi, Khotang was a helper at a flower shop near Pashupatinath temple when he and his wife Kumari were taken to Manav Sewa Ashram, Gongabu for rehabilitation. Since both of them were of sound mind, they were asked if they would like to serve at the ashram.
“The first few days, they [ ashram helpers ] provided a very friendly environment, and it felt like home . They gave us food and shelter along with other essentials,” said Rai with a broad smile, “We ended up wanting to help everyone.”
Rai's wife Kumari was diagnosed with tuberculosis during their very first month at the ashram. The ashram has been paying for her medication ever since. “That help has actually saved my life,” said Kumari, “The homely environment is the main reason behind our decision to stay here. If I had been outside the ashram I would have already died due to my drinking and smoking.”Kumari used to do manual labor before she married Rai. But there was easy money in cleaning the temple premises and she could also nick some of the money offered to the idols. So she quit her previous occupation.
Devaki Thapa, an elderly beggar at Pashupatinath temple, said cheerfully, “I get to eat and to sleep under a roof; what else could I want!” She added, “The only other thing I want is to go to Pashupatinath again.” She is very religious and wishes to sing hymns at Pashupati in praise of the gods.
Raj Kumar, Kumari and Devaki are among a group of 82 beggars who were translocated from Pashupati to Manav Sewa Ashram.
According to an ashram official, 35 of them have been completely rehabilitated. Among these, 24 have chosen to work as volunteers at ashrams in various districts outside Kathmandu Valley.
Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT), in coordination with the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation, Kathmandu Metropolitan City and various other organizations, announced on April 3 that Pashupati area would be rendered free of beggars. "We are happy to help change their lives. Most people once rehabilited have led independent lives,” ashram Coordinator Suman Bartaula said. Only 17 beggars from Pashupati remained to be rehabilitated .
The ashram currently hosts about 120 asylum seekers. It does not rely on any foreign funds. “We have reached an agreement with Kathmandu Metropolitan City and they provide us some support ,” said Coordinator Bartaula, “The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation is also assisting . But the main source of income is donations from people.”