In mid-April, just one week before the devastating earthquake, Jasper's family experienced a totally different kind of massive shift. Jasper's father, Kamal, like approximately 10% of the working Nepali population, boarded a plane, leaving his country to seek employment with a regular paycheque and with dreams of a better future for his family. Kamal's new role to secure his growing family's future is as a security guard job in Malaysia.
(This is a story we'd wanted to share with you way back in April, but the earthquake happened just days later).
Having to leave his beloved family - his wife, son, mother, mother-in-law and niece - was so very difficult, but it was not a rash decision. Since Jasper was born, Kamal has tried very hard to support his family, mainly by taking guiding jobs when they were available - but trekking only takes place about 4 months of the year, and those jobs are short and infrequent. The unemployment rate in Nepal is over 40% and the average wage for a worker in Nepal is equivalent to about $100/month. The bits of income Kamal was earning were not enough to pay for the rent, medical, clothing and food needs of his extended family.
We have also tried to help him earn a living in what small ways we could: Kamal managed a lodge in the Langtang valley for a couple of seasons (until the regulations changed) and we mailed him donated smart phones that he could unlock and sell.
But between all our efforts, it was never enough. We couldn’t find a way to help Kamal make a living in Nepal and deep down we wonder what else we could have done.
Fraught with Fraud
So like 450,000 other Nepali men, Kamal decided on Malaysia where he found work, through an agency, as a security guard.
Life and work for Kamal has not turned out how he thought it might be: a number of contracted work promises that were made were changed when he arrived, and to make matters worse, the Malaysian Ringgit has fallen 30% (much like our Canadian dollar against the US dollar). He hasn't even seen a new photo of Jasper since he left in mid-April. Even writing about this reminds us of how fortunate we are.
- He was promised 1 day off each week; but he works 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. His contract is for 3 years that is reviewed each year.
- He was promised a salary of (CDN equivalent) $500/month, but upon arrival, it has been reduced to $250 for the first 6 months and $440/month after that.
- He pays his lodging, food and expenses from his salary; only a small remainder is left to send home.
- He shares accommodation with 22 other Nepali men who all sleep in the same room, 11 per shift.
- Now that the Malaysian Ringgit has dropped in value, the funds he sends home still aren't much more than he could have made in Nepal.
As we have read in various newspaper articles and UN reports, none of Kamal's experiences is unusual, only unfair and cruel. The Nepali people who leave their homeland to work and send money home to their families are often treated no better than indentured slaves, contracted to put up with situations which they can't afford to leave and which other Nepali people are lining up to fill.
What Makes a Hero?
We read a lot about heroism in the newspapers. But for Kamal and all the individuals like him who leave their families back home and go to work in situations like the above, they really are the true heroes, those who sacrifice their quality of life in order to improve the lives of those they love and support.
In a better world, he wouldn’t be in Malaysia. He would be back home with his family, helping them rebuild their home and their lives after the earthquakes. But today and for the foreseeable future, his decision makes all the world of difference for the family members he supports back in Nepal.
Thankfully, the purchasers of Jackets for Jasper jackets are reducing the pressure on Kamal by providing for his niece and son's educations. As for Kamal, we can only support our friend with his decision. So for now Kamal is living away from his precious family in order to improve their lives back in Nepal.
As they say in Nepali, “Ke garne?”, “What can we do?” And so it is.