Nepali Times
Tourism for education

FREEDOM AND HOPE: The Butterfly Foundation uses tourism income to help disadvantaged children through school. More than half the students at the day care centre are girls.
The school is built like a castle, while giggling and chattering children frolick in the playground in front. Some rock in swings while others hurtle around a sand pit.

It seems like paradise at Pokhara's Butterfly Daycare Centre, but in reality the lives of the 40 children here are far from perfect. They are from disadvantaged families from 20 districts in Nepal who were displaced during the war.

They had moved to Pokhara seeking security and employment, and were living in harsh conditions. The Butterfly Foundation works to relieve the financial load of working parents by providing their children with free pre-school education, studying materials and daily meals.

Founder Govinda Pahari owns the Butterfly lodge in Pokhara's lakefront and ploughs his profits into this charity. "Now I'm not just a businessman, I can give back to society. And using the fruits of my labour to improve the state of children's education gives me great satisfaction," says the 49-year-old Govinda.

With a donation of 750 Euros for three years, Butterfly Lodge supporters- most of them tourists visiting Pokhara can sponsor a child's education through to high school. There have been 10 sponsorships for pre-schoolers and 16 for other students in public schools.

Besides children of destitute parents, some of the children at the day care centre are physically or mentally disabled. Teachers feel integrating them with other students is most helpful for their growth.

"If you keep such students in normal schools as long as possible, they'll have a better shot at leading a more normal and independent life. 65 per cent of the children are girls. If there is awareness among parents to send daughters for pre-school they are less likely to drop out halfway through higher education," says Govinda, "it's a positive cycle of change."

Some parents are also given jobs in the school. Teacher Rama Shiva Bhakti, 26, also has a four-year-old disabled son at the centre. "Now I can care for him while working, it's the happiest arrangement for me," she says.

The Butterfly Foundation is also running a micro credit scheme to assist women financially in income generation activities. A loan of Rs5,000 is offered with a monthly payback of Rs100. Bimala Kandel took a loan two years ago to pick up sewing skills and now works as a weaver in a cottage industry.

"I can keep these techniques I've learnt and stand on my own two feet," says the 26-year-old single mother of three. Says Govinda: "Social service must come from the heart. Giving back to society is far more rewarding than just taking from it."

Kong Yen Lin in Pokhara

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)