Since 2008 Rowan Butler has worked in Kathmandu as part of the communications team of International Nepal Fellowship (INF), a Christian development organisation. His main work is in photography, promoting INF’s worldwide profile to raise human and financial resources so it can serve the people of Nepal through health and development work. Rowan, who previously worked as an electrical engineer with the United Mission to Nepal, is also occasionally consulted on engineering problems.
These stories recount Rowan’s interaction with two very different Nepali children: one in the course of his normal work, photographing an INF medical camp; and the second in a chance encounter, part of living life together with Nepali friends.
Eight years old, undernourished at 15kg and sad looking, I met Ram* as he waited on a chair along with his uncle before he went into surgery to remove a bladder stone. No one could cheer him up. The operation was done at an INF medical camp by a surgeon from New Zealand who had volunteered for the medical camp and paid all his own expenses to come to Nepal, travel to a remote location and stay in a local hotel.
This camp had the luxury of being run in a small hospital, but some take place in remote areas in ordinary buildings and without the benefit of wards for patients to recover in. They are run specifically for the poor and sometimes people like Ram walk for days over steep country to get treatment.
Finally, a smile from Ram! He was feeling much better and his mother had bought him a toy digger and he was enjoying playing with it.
She was being carried down the street at night, a small party accompanying her. Ahead walked a man carrying a burning torch and above her was held a large parasol, trimmed in red and gold. This was the Kumari of the Patan area, the living goddess, that Hindus believe is the incarnation of the goddess Durga. She was on her way to visit my friend Ritesh’s relatives, as they are descended from the ancient Malla kings of the Kathmandu Valley. There are a number of Kumaris in the Kathmandu Valley, all representing the same goddess. She remains set apart until she reaches puberty, at which time she returns to normal life and another girl is chosen.
On another occasion, she was in public for a festival and I took pictures of her. Then after she was taken inside and I was packing up my camera, I was asked if I would like to go in and take more photos of her.
On telling one Nepali friend that I had photographed the Kumari in private, he seemed to barely believe it, and Nepali colleagues at INF seemed astounded. Perhaps it is like being invited in to photograph the Queen!
The Kumari’s mother had asked if she could have copies of the pictures, so I went back later with prints and took two items to give the Kumari as a gift; one a game, because she is really just a girl, and the other, a small Nepali book in comic form about the life of Jesus. It's not often that one has the chance to present the gospel to someone who is considered a god.
Rowan is an Australian Presbyterian World Mission missionary with Interserve, which in turn seconds him to the International Nepal Fellowship.
*Names have been changed