|ALL SMILES: Rabina and Rabin (foreground) surrounded by friends at Bright Horizon Children's Home School in Kalanki.|
Smiling shyly, Rabina and Rabin come over to their visitors. "I'm Rabina, and this is my brother," says the ten-year-old girl. We barely recognise her.
In 2002, when Rabina was six and Rabin four, they were severely burnt after Maoists bombed the bus they were on, near the Lakhanti bridge in Simara, Bara. Their young mother Anju died trying to save her two children.
Their horrifying story barely received any attention in Kathmandu. For several months their father Bhakta Bahadur, a forest guard with District Forest Office in Bara, was living from day-to-day, desperately seeking help and relying on the local hospital to treat his children at a low cost.
After we reported on the siblings, ('Why the children?' #121,) they were flown to Kathmandu and offered free treatment at the Sushma Memorial Hospital in Sankhu.
Nepalis at home and abroad contributed Rs 200,000 to a fund set up by Nepali Times and human rights group, Insec. The Swiss-supported Bright Horizon Children's Home School in Kalanki, which assists children affected by the conflict, offered them free schooling and board. In large part, their remarkable psychological recovery from the trauma is because of their friends here.
"When we first saw Rabina and Rabin, we fell in love with them, but they were so scared," says Rabina's friend, 14-year-old Nani Tamang. One night, soon after they came to Bright Horizon, the sister and brother tried to run away, unable to cope with their nightmares. But, they say, the unconditional warmth and attention they received from their peers and teachers slowly helped them feel safe. "The other children helped them the most," says hostel warden and teacher Binita Shrestha.
Today, Rabina is known not as the girl nearly burnt alive, but as one of the school's brightest students. "I love math and science, I want to be a doctor when I grow up," she says. "Me too," says Rabin, now eight. His classmates laugh, and say he's so active, he should take up sports instead.
"Their cheerfulness and determination to be the best is amazing," exclaims staff member Bikash Lama, who's watched the two grow from being reclusive and cowering into the school's most popular students.
"Rabina really takes care of her friends," another close friend Pema Doma explains, as 20 other girls literally drag Rabina away from us for a game of basketball.
Everyone is smiling fit to burst when it's time to say goodbye. They still have scars on their faces, but they don't care. "This will also go away soon," Rabina says, as she pats her face and runs away.