MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Raphael, born to Nepali parents, was adopted from Bal Mandir by a French couple when he was just three months old, and has now returned to the country of his birth for the first time in 27 years, curious to see what his life might have been.
He has no memories and therefore no emotional attachments to Nepal, except a natural desire to explore his roots.
"He was given all the love and affection he needed," says Mahen Shrestha, who helped Raphael's parents fill in the adoption forms in 1981 and remains a family friend. "To him, his French parents are his real parents. There cannot be any other."
A law student and school administrator, Raphael became his town's youngest elected councillor at 19. He is interested in French foreign policy and likes the idea of coming back to Kathmandu one day as a French diplomat.
He is one of thousands of Nepalis who have been adopted by foreign families in the past few decades. Until recently, Nepal's relatively relaxed adoption laws have made the country popular with European and American couples seeking to adopt a child, perhaps because they cannot have their own or because they want to provide a home to an orphan.
Raphael's siblings, an elder sister and his twin brother, were also adopted by the same family, so he has always had the support of a brother and sister.
It is true that the past may tug more strongly at those who were adopted later in life. But whatever the age, the difference between the life adopted children lead today and the likely life they left behind them in Nepal is stark.
"Adopting parents have to go through very thorough government verification in countries like France, so the parents who adopt will generally bring up their children very well," says Shrestha. The children are usually told by their new parents of their origins, he says.
Raphael has not felt the need to search for his biological family, but there are others who do come back to Nepal to do just that. Often, they track them down and end up helping them out financially. Some come back to look for their parents, but then come to the painful realisation that they were put up for adoption because their parents didn't actually want them, and so abandon their search.
Foreign adoption of Nepali children is still permitted if the biological parents are living in extreme poverty. In an attempt to reduce the corruption and the fake orphanage racket there will now be greater ministerial control, in theory.
Raphael's parents also believe that adoption has turned into a money-making business in Nepal. "But adoption is an action of the heart, not of the purse," they say.
Despite having no memory of his first months of life, Rapha?l is pleased he made the journey back. He is well aware of how fate changed his life, and can't imagine leaving without doing something for children in the orphanages here. He came with clothes provided by his community to donate to the children at Bal Mandir. "After all," he says, "I was one of them once."