Abandoned Gurkha veterans get first home in Nepal

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

KATHMANDU - Mostly abandoned by their families or left with no one to care for them, 26 octogenarians, who either served in the British Army or are the widows of ex-Gurkha soldiers, have begun a new life in Nepal, thanks to generous donors in the Britain who raised money to build the first old-age home for them.

The first home of its kind for elderly British Gurkhas and their widows, it is also a tribute to Kulbir Thapa, the first Gurkha soldier from Nepal to receive the Victoria Cross, the highest British military award for gallantry.

Rifleman Thapa, who died in 1956, received the medal from British king George V in Buckingham Palace for an act of exemplary bravery in France during World War I when he rescued four wounded soldiers though having been himself injured in firing by the German Army.

The need for such a home was felt five years ago when the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT), the main charity devoted to ex-servicemen, discovered that Nepal’s villages were emptying out due to migration of the young and able-bodied for greener pastures to the capital or abroad.

The exodus was further egged on by the 10-year Maoist insurgency that killed over 16,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The villages were becoming a land of old men who did not have younger generation members to look after them. Also, in some cases, the old had been forced out of their village homes into austere city dwellings where they were forced to live with little family contact.

When the findings became public, British donors offered to put up the money for a home for ex-Gurkha widows and widowers in dismal situations whose needs are no longer being met at home.

Designed by British architects Michaelis Boyd Associates as a donation to the GWT and supported by John Sanday Associates in Nepal, construction on the home in Pokhara city in central Kaski district began in 2009, taking just over a year to complete.

The first residents arrived at the home in July 2010 and on Wednesday, it was officially named after Kulbir Thapa by Lt Gen Sir Philip Trousdell, chairman of the working group which directed the project.

The home provides each of the 26 residents with their own living space with bathroom en-suite and the services of specially trained care workers.

Each room has a ‘panic button’ so that the duty staff can be there within moments of any emergency and a doctor and nurse on site.

To be eligible to stay in the home, applicants must be a widow or widower, ex-Gurkha, over 80-years old, and with no reliable family support in their village.

“At the moment we provide residential care, but as the occupants get older, they will need more nursing care, and we will provide that too,” said project officer Khem Bahadur Thapa.

“I know how hard it is for older people when the young generation move away to Kathmandu or overseas,” Thapa added.

“Building this home for them has been a fantastic experience and a privilege to be a part of.”

The Gurkhas, a valiant martial race from western Nepal, have been serving with the British Army for nearly 200 years.

Besides Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world, the west knows Nepal as the land of the Gurkhas.

Once a byword for their loyalty, the Gurkhas however have recently been fighting a series of legal battles against the British government, alleging discrimination in pay, perks and pension.

Though a large group of former British Gurkhas wrested the right to resettle in Britain after retirement or leaving the army, it has been a pyrrhic victory for many due to the high cost of living in Britain.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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