GOOD BYE, MUGU – THE NEW LIFE OF KHUSHI

Children’s laughter echoes through the small room. Amma is heating a large pot filled to the brim with oil over an open fire. Her youngest daughter Khushi, still a toddler of one and a half years who only recently learned to walk, rages around her mother with her siblings. The flames of the open fireplace in the middle of the room cast only a weak light on the sooty walls. The house consists solely of this room, here the family cooks, eats, sits together and sleeps at night. Amma sifts the coarsely ground flour. The oil is finally boiling. The mother kneads the dough. It works quickly, every move is perfect. She hears the cheers and laughter of her children, who play loud catch behind her, but does not notice that they are getting too close to the fire. The accident happens in a split second: Khushi receives an unintentional push and can no longer stand on his feet. She crashes unchecked against the inadequately secured vessel above the flames and causes it to tip over. Amma has to watch helplessly as boiling oil pours over her little girl in a gush. Khushi screams in excruciating pain and eventually loses consciousness. Your entire upper body, arm, neck and shoulder will be burned from the lower lip down. A living nightmare.

KHUSHI WRONG WITH DEATH
There is no medical help nearby at this time. Amma is desperate, she cannot help her little daughter. She treats the burned body with homemade herbal dressings, nothing more. It takes many months for khushi to recover a little.

Shortly afterwards, fate strikes again: Khushi’s father falls dead. Amma is penniless and alone with 4 children. Life has scarred her: at 40, she looks like a 60-year-old woman. She is tired, worn out, disaffected. There is no perspective or hope for the family.
The toddler Khushi grows into a little girl and has bulging scars on her body that grow together so unfavorably that they hinder many movements. She cannot raise her right arm or close her mouth – her lower lip is fused with the burned throat. Your pronunciation is therefore not clear.

THE COURAGEOUS REQUEST OF A DESPERATE MOTHER
When we found six-year-old Khushi in her hopeless situation in 2010, her mother begged me to take the girl to Kathmandu for medical treatment. She said that without support, her daughter would never stand a chance in Mugu’s harsh everyday life. Because of her burns and adhesions, she couldn’t work really hard and no man in the entire mountain region would ever take Khushi as his wife. Amma’s pleading touched me very much. We then decided to have the girl treated in a hospital specializing in burns in Kathmandu. At this time Amma worked alternately as a porter, in house construction and as a field worker.
Before the trip started, we signed a contract with Amma in front of the village community, who informed her about the risks of an operation and said that Back to Life would cover all costs during the treatment in Kathmandu. When Amma understood this, great stones fell from her heart. Since she could neither read nor write, the mayor of the village read everything to her. Then she put her fingerprint under the document as a signature. “

FLIGHT INTO A NEW LIFE – BETWEEN FEAR AND HOPE
Amma will accompany us to Kathmandu. In Nepal, a relative must always be present at the hospital, for example to hand the patient the meals, to wash him or to accompany him to the toilet, because that is not done by the nurses.
Amma feels uncomfortable when she approaches the small plane at Talcha Airport with Khushi and her youngest daughter Chutki, who she does not want to leave behind in Mugu. She has never flown in her life. Together with the rest of the team, we get on the plane, a rickety old propeller plane that would have long since been taken out of service in Europe. In 2010 the runway of the runway cut into the mountain was not asphalted and so the plane had to take off on a dusty gravel runway. A game of chance where a lot can go wrong. Finally in the air, Amma can hardly believe her eyes when she dares to look out the window: She realizes that in just a few minutes she is gliding over mountain passages, for which she had to plan days of walking in her previous life. Khushi is afraid of flying and holds my hand tightly.

A NEW WORLD OPENS UP
Once in Kathmandu, the girl is amazed at the many strange and overwhelming impressions of the capital, the traffic, the shops, the many people and the noise. So much movement, bright colors everywhere, all kinds of smells. Khushi doesn’t even know where to look first. Stella decides against a hotel room for Khushi’s family and prefers to take them home with her instead. Light switches, faucets, a shower and the western toilets are completely unknown to the family.

FINALLY EXPERIENCED SURGICAL AID
The hospital, located about 45 minutes outside of Kathmandu, in the countryside, was founded by the German “Interplast” and offers excellent medical help. There, Khushi is to undergo a medical examination, five years after the tragic accident. After Dr. Shakya has examined the girl in depth, the surgeon gives us a prognosis and says that she will first have to prepare for three major operations with skin grafts and stay in the hospital for 2-3 months. These are only the first of many interventions that have been necessary over the years to enable the girl to lead a largely normal life. During the first operation, Amma and Stella wait tense until Khushi finally wakes up from the anesthetic. When the dressing is changed for the first time, it becomes clear what an excellent job the surgeon has done: The worst adhesions on the neck and chin have been loosened, and Khushi can close her mouth again. She looks at herself in astonishment in the mirror. Despite the bandage, you can see her smile. Over the next few days, her voice will become stronger, louder, more confident. She can now speak clearly, the girl blossoms.

EVERYONE TAKES THE BRAVE GIRL IN THE HEART
I gave her a teddy bear, which she won’t let go from then on. Covering her neck with a frill, she gets up again soon after the operation for meals and plays with the other children in the hospital garden. Of course I visit her as often as I can because the days in the hospital are long. In addition to fruits, juice and biscuits, I also bring paints, handicrafts and board games to the bedside. So we spend hours playing and the once shy Khushi opens up more and more.

Khushi quickly became the darling of doctors and nurses because she endured the painful dressing changes without complaint and was motivated to work with physiotherapy. She is so glad and happy to finally get help. Amma can also be seen that her overwhelming worries have disappeared, she suddenly looks 10 years younger and always has a smile on her face.

SUCCESSFUL RECOVERY SURGERY
The next two interventions on the shoulders, one armpit and the arms are also uneventful. Dr. Shakya is very satisfied with the results and can discharge Khushi from the hospital after 11 weeks. Two months later, she is supposed to come for a follow-up examination, during which time she will continue her physiotherapy exercises and cover and apply lotion to the operated areas. The little family leaves the hospital beaming with joy. I have planned several visits to the doctor for the next few days, Amma is supposed to go to the gynecologist for an examination and the whole family to the dentist. Of course there is still enough time to show Khushi Kathmandu. Together we discover the winding streets of the old town, ride a pedicab, visit the inner courtyard of the Kumari, marvel at the pagodas of Durbar Square, walk around stupas, browse the local markets and take the escalator in a shopping mall.

THE QUESTION OF FATE
Suddenly Khushi’s mother takes me aside for an important conversation. She explained to me that Khushi should definitely stay in Kathmandu for further operations and for a good school education. If she had to commute between Mugu and Kathmandu, her schooling would fall by the wayside. I was against it at first. She is just a girl from the mountains. I didn’t want to uproot her or risk alienating her from her family. It almost broke my heart to imagine how Amma had to feel: To give away my own child out of sheer need so that it could even get the chance of an education. But when Khushi asked enthusiastically and emphatically to be allowed to stay in Kathmandu and go to school here, I finally agreed. I already sensed that this girl has a strong inner strength and is ready to go her own way. Nothing has changed to this day.

THE MOUNTAIN GIRL LEARNS TO LIFE IN THE CITY | When I visit the children’s home and the school that will be her new home with Khushi, she is immediately enthusiastic. Welcomed by the school principal and his family, she goes on a discovery tour, marveling at the brightly painted rooms for the girls, the cupboards and bookshelves and the many spacious classrooms at the school. Here she will soon be taught in English. Outside there is a playground and a garden. Everything is child-friendly and lovingly furnished, the dining room looks like a huge, cozy kitchen-cum-living room. Khushi is particularly happy to have a roommate: Blacky, the director’s sheepdog. He immediately becomes her best friend. She settles into her new environment in no time and immediately makes friends.

IN THE BEST CARE AND FULL OF OPPORTUNITIES
From 2011 to 2014, too, Khushi repeatedly underwent new operations to remove the bulging scar tissue. It has already become routine, but it still remains painful. We keep flying Amma to the operating theaters so that her daughter receives the best possible care in the hospital. The mother is overwhelmed by the placement of her daughter – first in the children’s home, then in the loving foster family that Khushi takes in like a daughter. She still lives there today and feels at home. During her visits Amma does not remain hidden from her how rapidly her daughter is developing, how she is blossoming and eagerly using all the educational opportunities available to her. She soaks up new knowledge like a sponge. Curious about Khushi’s everyday life, Amma even attends a school lesson and has all the exercise books and school documents shown to her. She is proud of her daughter and her gratitude to Back to Life can hardly be put into words. With tears in her eyes she says: “You gave Khushi a new life!” Kushi maintains contact with her mother and siblings over the phone. She’s actually not homesick, she says. Kathmandu is her home now.

KHUSHI’S FAMILY IN MUGU HAS NOT BEEN FORGOTTEN
During a project visit in 2012 we find Amma seriously ill in her house in Mugu. Her condition is critical, and with a high fever she is close to death. We’ll take you to a clinic immediately. The hardships take their toll: up to 15 hours of backbreaking work every day with ongoing malnutrition – a combination that has fatally fatal to thousands in Mugu. But Amma is well and Khushi is very relieved.

DESTINATION A LEVEL | Khushi completed the following school years very successfully. In her main subjects English and mathematics, but also in the minor subjects social studies, natural sciences and IT, she got top grades. Your fluency in English is very impressive.

However, so that she does not forget her roots, Khushi travels to the mountains in Mugu once a year and spends her school holidays there with her family. When Khushi returned to her home village in the mountains for the first time, the villagers were amazed at her beautiful face and her newfound smile. They have never seen anything like it before, and never before has a burn victim from their area received such help.
The neighbors and children want to know exactly what life is like in Kathmandu. Khushi can no longer get out of the narration. The entire village is proud of the little girl who bravely struggles against fate.

KHUSHI IS HAPPY | In the meantime, Khushi is attending the 10th grade, and she has her Abitur firmly in view. Besides school, she spends time with her friends, she loves to dance and started playing the guitar a while ago. Besides, it is already
for years with the scouts and enjoys the trips with other youngsters to camp in the nature of Nepal. How much she would like to show Mugu to her boy scout friends! Like most teenagers, she enjoys going to the bazaar with her friends to buy clothes – she has become a fashion-conscious city girl. She uses the Internet and social networks with care, she says, and only sits down at her foster family’s laptop on Fridays, which she can use at any time.

Khushi is a model student who represents a whole new, educated generation of Nepal. She is on the right track and in excellent health – even if it will always be necessary to treat and operate on the scarred areas of her body.

By the way, translated her name means “happy”. After a tough start in life with terrible experiences, pain and hardship, it can now be said that this is a truly apt name. Because happy, that’s Khushi today.

CORONA LOCKDOWN FOR THE FAMILY IN MUGU
She spent the lockdown from March to July 2020 during the corona pandemic with her family in Mugu. There, Khushi passes on her knowledge: “I organized a workshop for the children of my family and the children in the neighborhood and informed them about Corona. It is important to pass on knowledge. Thanks to Back to Life, I am very fortunate to have a good education in Kathmandu. I wasn’t afraid of Corona in my village. The Back to Life birth center supports the villagers to go through the Corona crisis healthily. Back to Life has also helped families who would otherwise have been starving. All in all, we all got through the lockdown quite well, even if you weren’t allowed to stay outside the village. “
When asked what she missed most during this time, Khushi replied: “ My school! After about 3 weeks I started homeschooling from Mugu. Since there is internet access in the nearby Back to Life office, I was able to attend the online lessons at my school. The office is only 45 minutes’ walk from my village, so I was there every day. It gave me a good exchange with my class. “

BONUS INTERVIEW:

In autumn 2018, Stella invited Khushi to her home in Kathmandu. A lively conversation about Khushi’s life in Kathmandu and the social development of Mugu grew out of a joint lunch, which shows how far the 14-year-old girl is in her development. Again and again you have the feeling of listening to a young adult. Here are a few excerpts from the conversation.

Stella: Dear Khushi, how is it for you these days when you return to Mugu?

Khushi: Whenever I get back, the children call out to their parents: “Khushi is back! Can I meet you right away? ” My friends then stand on the roofs and on the heights of the houses and wave at me. I am very happy then, they are still close friends to me.

Stella: But of course your life has changed a lot.

Khushi (laughs): Oh yes, every time you see me in Mugu with pants you are amazed. “How can she only wear pants? Girls don’t wear pants! ”. But I only wear pants now …

Stella: What do your old friends ask you?

Khushi: Of course they want to know a lot about my life in Kathmandu. But sometimes statements like: “I think you like your friends in Kathmandu better than us, you must have a lot more friends there …” But then I calm them down and reassure them that they are just as important to me.

Stella: Do you help with the housework in Mugu, which is much more tedious than in Kathmandu?

Khushi: I always offer to help out in the kitchen, but my family doesn’t want me to do anything around the house. They always say if you really want to do something, let the cattle graze or give them water. That’s why we usually sit together and talk. My mother now has several cows, oxen and a buffalo. Our economic situation has improved significantly. We now have a little shop under the house where my mother sells milk.

Stella: Do you still read that much?

Khushi: Yes very much. My friends are always amazed at how much … Last month alone I read 4 books. This also inspires those around me to read more. In the school library, I’m probably the one who borrows the most.

Stella: Your English has become really very good. When we first met, you couldn’t speak a single word of English.

Khushi: That’s right, I couldn’t even speak Nepali properly back then. The last time you were in our village, you said something in English and everyone looked at me and asked: “Can you understand that?”

Stella: But weren’t they jealous?

Khushi: No, they are proud of me.

Stella: What are your future plans?

Khushi: Oh, I have so many dreams … I would like to travel to distant countries. And I want to climb Mount Everest, at least as far as Base Camp. But I would also like to be a veterinarian or a physiotherapist. But I’m also interested in fashion design.

Stella: The first roads to Mugu have now been built and the capital Gamgadhi has noticeably developed further. Do you think modern life will help Mugu?

Khushi: I think it will be easier for people. It is likely that more goods can now be transported and sold from Mugu to Kathmandu. For example our apples, which are already in great demand in Kathmandu. Everyone will want to participate in the development and will work hand in hand to achieve this. I think a lot is going to happen in Mugu …

Stella: We have decided to initiate further agricultural projects in Mugu to prevent emigration and to support people in growing fresh fruit and vegetables organically.

Khushi: This is a good idea, but of course not everything grows in Mugu. This requires agricultural experts who are familiar with it. What I think is very cool is that Mugu only grows organically, without any chemical fertilizers. The crops are of good quality – maybe some people will get wealthy with them and move up to the middle class.

Stella: Have you heard of the ban on child marriage in Nepal?

Khushi: That’s very good. My sister also got married when she was a teenager. She is now 18 and has had a child for a long time. I was very upset about her decision at the time. If she hadn’t married so early, she would have had a better future ahead of her. I told her that too. But my other sister only said: “Khushi, you are educated, you have completely different chances than we do. Let her do what she wants, there aren’t many options here. “

Stella: Do you think the law will make a difference?

Khushi: Nothing is likely to change in the villages at the moment. First everyone should be taught as well as possible in schools, then child marriages will also stop. But the government does not focus on Mugu. Education is so important, it should be the top priority! My little sister doesn’t want to get married, she wants to read. I think when I grow up I will bring her to Kathmandu with me. By now I’ve already learned everything about housework, I will manage it. I also already know how to save money. It’s hard to know how long my mother will live, but my sister is young and I want to help her.

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