Real Life in a Kathmandu Slum

Posted by: Margreta (Maggie) Kerr

I recently found the photographs of Danish photographer Morton Svenningsen, who has spent the last 4 years living in Kathmandu. He recently returned to his native Denmark with his Nepali wife and child:

These photos were taken in some of the slum areas of Kathmandu. I think they are some of the best photos I’ve seen to describe the slum areas, where squatters, landless people, build shacks out of whatever they can find (concrete blocks, plastic sheeting, bamboo). The squatter settlements have virtually no sanitation, leading to incredible amounts of disease and a shortened life span among many of the residents. illnesses like typhoid and hepatitis are common.

Yet, as Morton points out, these people often live full lives, have families, celebrate festivals and do the best they can to create a home and community. I’ve met slum dwellers who tell me they will never leave, even if they are given the chance to move into a better home. They don’t want to leave their friends and family, their community. Outside the slums, they are considered outcasts.

Several of my children have come from the slums. Right now, Apsana, her sisters Raksana and Rojina and her brothers Abbas and Idi Mohammed live with me. Their father died of alcoholism, and their mother is physically disabled with only one normal leg and one leg grossly deformed. She is a beggar. Sometimes didn’t have enough money to feed her kids more than a plate of rice with some chili sauce for their meal. To see young children eating rice, nothing more, breaks your heart. Finally, out of despair, the Mother sent her daughters on the streets to beg. That’s how I met Apsana, when she was about 9 ( she’s 15 now). Apsana shared with me over the year I got to know her what life is like on the streets for a young beggar girl. She was sexually harrassed, constantly in fear, had her money stolen. Her life was hell, yet she knew she had to beg to support her Mother and brothers and sisters. Her brother, Abbas, began working sewing sequins on Saris. Tiny tiny sequins are often sewed onto saris by young children because of their good eyesight and tiny hands.

Now the children are all in school, clean, healthy and looking forward to bright futures. They go visit their Mom and spend the holidays with her in the slum. To them, the slum is home. But now they have hope and want to help other young slum dwellers have a better life.

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