Orphanage continues without its champion

When Cynthia Kennedy first journeyed to Nepal in 2000 as part of a Chico State University internship, she and her son, then 6, were touched by the sight of orphans there. She envisioned creating a home where the children could escape the squalor born of a war-torn, poverty-stricken nation.

That’s also likely what local donors thought they were doing as they collectively gave $192,000 to Namaste House via a series of well-publicized fund-raisers.

But now, the orphanage, along with most of the money, is out of Kennedy’s control, as the Nepalese partners in the venture have taken over the project.

It’s “heartbreaking,” she said, to be locked out of a cause that she herself led. “I never expected it to be like this. I planned to be right up in there when I died.”

As Kennedy, who was a waitress by trade, prepared to begin work on the orphanage itself in 2003, she learned that by law she would have to partner with a local nongovernmental organization (NGO). All contracts, leases and guardianship contracts were required to be in the name of the NGO she had selected in Nepal. “It’s all based on trust.”

But that trust quickly broke down.

“Culturally, it’s probably more difficult than we can understand for men to take direction from women,” she said.

Kennedy was still in the picture when the orphanage opened to 48 children and a staff of 12. But within a short time, the Nepalese board was forcing the Americans out. “They wanted us to keep raising money and not be involved.”

Kennedy and the members of her board of directors are in the process of dissolving the nonprofit and distributing the remaining $10,000 or so in the Namaste House account.

She said that, while the orphanage near Katmandu doesn’t match her original vision, it is an orphanage and it is doing good things for some of the 5,000 parentless children in Nepal.

In a letter to 900 donors sent out in mid-February, “we really tried to encourage people to continue to support them,” Kennedy said. “It’s a wonderful orphanage. I think they just wanted to run their own show.”