“I don’t like the orphanage. Please let me come home” – Sunil’s journey back to family

“Mummy, I don’t want to go back to the orphanage. I don’t like that place. There are older children there who beat me. Please let me come home.”

These are the words of Sunil*, a young boy from Nepal who was sent to an orphanage. For two long years, Sunil was homesick, lonely and afraid – until we supported his parents to bring him back where he belongs. Back to Family.

Sunil, a young Nepali boy who grew up in an orphanage, is held by his mum. Lata.
Sunil and his mum Lata* at their home in Chitwan District, Nepal.

Lata never wanted to say goodbye to Sunil. All she wanted was to get her only son an education. But when she sought help, she was persuaded to place him in an orphanage. Sunil was only four.

“My heart ached thinking about him, what he was eating, or whether he was eating at all,” Lata told me. “I’d tell myself that he’s still very young, that keeping him in the orphanage was for the best.” 

But what Lata didn’t know is that orphanages don’t help children, they harm them. As the one thing children need most is what no orphanage provides. A loving family. Sunil spent the next two years desperately missing his mum, dad and little sister, Shika*.

Will you help get millions of separated children like Sunil #BackToFamily? Donate today.

The truth about orphanages in Nepal

As a Reintegration Officer for Hope and Homes for Children’s local partners in Nepal, it’s my job to reunite children like Sunil with their families.

Sunil, who spent two years inside an orphanage, plays with bubbles outside his family home.
Sunil back home enjoying playing with his little sister Shika outside their home.

Right now, there are over 10,000 children living in 400 orphanages across the country. The sad truth is that 85% of them have families that could take care of them. But instead of receiving support, parents like Lata feel pressured to send their children away. And children like Sunil suffer.

Why Sunil was sent to an orphanage

Sunil’s family is part of the indigenous Chepang community – one of the most marginalised groups in Nepal. Before being pressured to come out of the jungle, the Chepang were self-sufficient, hunting and foraging to survive. Now, with limited income and opportunities, 90% of Chepang families live below the poverty line – earning on average just £39 per person, per year.  

Lata, Sunil's mum, is from the indigenous Chepang community in Nepal. She smiles in her home, happy after having her son brought back home from an orphanage.
Instead of receiving support to raise her son at home, Lata felt pressured to send him away.

Struggling to pay for basics like food and school fees, many Chepang parents worry about how they’ll raise their children. As a result, they buckle under pressure from orphanages to send their children away. Just like Lata did. 

“Whenever I’d see him, Sunil used to beg me to take him home,” Lata told me. “He’d cry whenever I’d visit. I felt like crying too.” 

Many Chepang children like Sunil are sent to orphanages under the guise of getting an education. But instead, they’re trafficked into orphanages tourist districts – often to help elicit donations from well-meaning, but sadly mistaken tourists.

What Sunil needed more than anything was to go back to family. And that’s exactly what my team set out to find him. 

Bringing Sunil back to family

In partnership with the local government, my team started to work on bringing the children in Sunil’s orphanage back to family.

Rohan, the author of the text, meets with Lata and Hari, Sunil's dad, outside their home – counselling them about bringing Sunil home from an orphanage.
Rohan Bagale, author, visiting Lata and Hari* at their home.

After we traced Lata and Hari, Sunil’s dad, I worked with them to find out what they needed to bring Sunil home. Education was their top priority, so we ensured they could afford school supplies for Sunil, including uniform, books and stationery and a daily lunch box for school

Soon, Lata reclaimed her confidence. “My child needs to know who I am,” she told me. “I need to feel his love, and he needs to feel mine.”  

At last, after two long years, they felt ready to bring Sunil back to family.

Home at last

The day Sunil returned was an unforgettable day for the whole family. At last, they were reunited.

“We celebrated by playing music and dancing to my favourite song,” Sunil remembers. “The thing I love most about my mum is when she sings. And I love when my dad plays with me.” 

Sunil sitting outside his home with his mum, dad, and little sister – all together as a family.
After two years of separation, Sunil is finally reunited with Lata, Hari (right) and his little sister Shika.

“Things used to be difficult,” Lata told me. “But it’s been easier with all the help we’ve received. I’m very happy. I want to thank the ones who’ve supported us. May they be blessed for looking after the little ones.” 

“I’m just so happy that my son has come home,” said Hari. “Today, we play together, eat together and have our ‘us’ time. Thank you so much for making this happen.” 

When I see Sunil with his family smiling and being happy, I always imagine this scene of a little baby sparrow who has finally found his way home back to his nest with his mother. It makes me so emotional to imagine this baby sparrow returning back home. 

Sunil lying on his bed doing schoolwork, with supplies provided by Hope and Homes for Children's partners.
Thanks to financial support from Hope and Homes for Children, Sunil has everything he needs to study and thrive at home.

Will you help millions of children like Sunil get #BackToFamily? Donate today.

Written by Rohan Bagale, Reintegration Officer with THIS

All Hope and Homes for Children’s work in Nepal is done through supporting two local partners – The Himalayan Innovative Society (THIS) and Forget Me Not (FMN). The National Child Rights Council has acknowledged our collective expertise and efforts and now sees FMN and THIS as leading organisations on childcare reform.

*Names changed to protect identity. | All photos by Kishor Sharma / Hope and Homes for Children