American Immigrant Episode 4

American Immigrant Episode 4 “How to escape a Cesarean Section” Part 2 is now out on sound cloud.

Join Hamilton Pevec and as his wife Devika Gurung goes into labour while continuing navigate the Nepali medical system to have a natural birth. Can Hamilton witness the birth of his first child?

Producer – Hamilton Pevec

Co-Producer –Neesha Bremner & The Storyteller Project/Storyteller Productions.


American Immigrant Podcast -Episode 3

In this episode we join Hamilton Pevec and his Nepali wife Devika Gurung as they navigate the Nepalese health system while preparing for the birth of their first child.

Can they get a non-caesarean birth?

Episode Three ~ How to Escape a Cesarean Section. Part One.

Written & Produced by Hamilton Pevec

Co-Produced by Neesha Bremner ( The Storyteller Project)

Please contact if you have any questions or wish to sponsor an episode.

How to navigate a fuel crisis

Nepal is under siege from the earth, from winter, its politicians and India.

American Filmmaker and expat Hamilton Pevec  explores the unravelling Himalayan state as it undergoes its first winter post earthquake and nears 200 days into border blockade with India devastating food and fuel supplies in his new podcast ~ American Immigrant.

American Immigrant is written and produced by Hamilton Pevec.

Co-Produced by  Neesha Bremner ~ The Storyteller Project/ Storyteller Productions.

Music for this episode was Written by Brain Albert Planas and Alex Formosa




Blockades & unfolding madness around Nepal

The current situation in Nepal is lunacy.

This year Nepal has been shaken to the ground by a catastrophic earthquake and has a haphazard and inefficient relief effort due to years of unstable government and corruptible systems.

Nepal finally approved a flawed but actual constitution in the last month after eight long years of one up man ship which has unstablised the southern region escalating ethnically based protests over the last ten days.

Following skirmishes on the India Nepal border an unofficial border blockade is in place with no essential supplies crossing the land border from India.

Now Nepal can no longer refuel international flights leaving the country and the fragile nation is running out of fuel, food supplies and other essentials in a post natural disaster situation with winter just around the corner…diabolical.

China has now stepped in offering to come to the rescue “giving Nepal all the supplies it needs” according to one publication.

Geo -political posturing ironically punctuated with Southern China Airlines being the first to cancel all flights to the Himalayan nation until at least October 10.


Thunder from the Earth

This article was contributed to The Storyteller Project by American filmmaker & director Hamilton Pevec.

April 27, 2015

Pokhara Nepal           Shake! Rattle! Collapse!

On April 25th 2015, I was with Lakpa, one of the two men who paraglided off Everest and then co-starred in the documentary, “Hanuman Airlines”. We were sitting in the Himalayan Encounters garden in Pokhara talking about the next film we would make, about his descent of the Ganges River to the sea by kayak. Within a minute of sitting down the rumbling began, a thunder that seemed to come from the earth and all around, after ten seconds it still didn’t stop and my first thought was to turn my camera on. A hundred barking dogs, cows mooing, and the distant screams of girls carried over the rumbling of the earth, adding to the cacophony unfolding.  My second thought was, “It’s not stopping!”

Everyone started on their cell phones to call loved ones, but nobody was getting through as the whole country tried to call at once. The shaking continued. I felt lucky to be in this garden far enough away from tall buildings or anything else that might fall. 

This is safe place!” Lakpa declared.  A couple of old fat men where drinking under the veranda, they didn’t move at all, as if it wasn’t worth getting up. I kept my camera trained on Lakpa as the shaking continued, all of us amazed about how long it was lasting. “This is a big one” Lakpa exclaimed.  “First time” he kept repeating, “so long one” he clarified. 

After about a minute and a half the shaking slowly subsided.  The giddy relief chuckling began. I tried to call my wife Devika, I tried again and again. The signal would not connect our phones. A sinking feeling in my gut overtook me and I had to point my camera at something to distract myself from the potential tragedy.  

Out on the main road motorcycles dodged the people running from their homes and shops. The police stood in a circle, doing nothing but talking like everyone else, heads bent down over their phones looking for a signal or news. Within a few minutes the pictures started coming in from Kathmandu. At first it was shots of cracked roads and collapsed houses. Then it was the white tower, Durbar Square and piles of dead bodies, some half buried in rubble. 

Pokhara saw no damage compared to Kathmandu, and we all breathed relief… and then held our breath as the reality and scale of the devastation began to sink in. While the body count slowly rose, I continued to try to get through to my wife. I called her brother, Shyam, he told me that he still had not spoken to Devika. It had now been about 30 minutes since the earthquake stopped. 

We decided to have some food. A little shaken but giddy we ate Dhal bhat and speculated about the experience. Lakpa jumped up and ran outside. The aftershock hit. The screaming of dogs, cows and people rose again over the rumbling. It was over quickly. Everyone was out on the street. 

I called Devika again, but still no service, the stone in my stomach was getting larger. I watched and filmed as other people started getting through and speaking to their families. The information spread rapidly. Some damage at Lakpa’s house in Lukla, a landslide on his property, a house fell on his Enfield motorcycle, but all his family was OK. Then the news from Gorkha, the epicenter, entire villages leveled, roads closed by landslides and many hundreds of people killed and injured.  

The news was telling everyone to stay outside, to not use your phone unless you have to.  There was no emergency service in Pokhara. No announcements and it felt like there was no protocol for earthquakes.  For the most part it looked like a regular day not the result of a 7.9 earthquake.

I finally got through to Shyam who had spoken to Devika and she was alright. Knowing this, I was able to focus again. I thought about going to the areas where the damage was bad and documenting it. As the world turns its attention to the devastation, and the need for information rises, I am in the right place at the right time and I should not ignore this call. 

That night we felt a few more shakes and again early in the morning. The high tension felt by all was tangible, the excitement and fear was palpable.  We were all experiencing a heightened sense of awareness and it was kind of amazing. 

April 26th 2015. I was in the kitchen when the 6.8 earthquake hit around 11:30AM. Pema, Shyam’s wife, shouted something in Nepali and everyone got moving. The street quickly filled up with scared looking people. This one lasted about 30-40 seconds. 

I was filming when Lakpa came running up to us and said that the news issued another warning that in 45 minutes another big earthquake will hit. I didn’t know how they could know this kind of stuff but there was no point risking it, so we piled into the van, drove around collecting family and friends – and then couldn’t decide on the safest place to go. Tick Tock.  The parks and open spaces were already full of people, the shops were closing. Meanwhile there were still a few people and tourists walking around like the world wasn’t crumbling. We ended up back at Himalayan Encounters where they had now set up tents for people to sleep outside, young mothers holding babies, small children sleeping in the shade and the men huddled around the radio tuned to the news. The silent countdown unraveled in my head. 20 minutes past due, I started to relax, and suddenly the fatigue hit me hard. 

That night word was going around that you shouldn’t sleep inside. As I drove home every open space was filled with people sheltering under ragged tarps and sheets of plastic.  People huddled together for comfort and children finding this all very exciting. The worried expressions of the adults were sobering enough for me. 

From what I have heard there is one helicopter going back and forth from Pokhara hospital to Gorkha, moving the injured people, but the injured people don’t want to leave the hospital because they have no place to go and nothing to eat.  There are two community groups moving people to communal housing and feeding them.  Seven countries are mobilizing to send relief, the Indian government sent a plane to KTM to evacuate the Indians.

April 27th 2015

The latest news of the death toll is over 2,700 killed and 5000 injured. I’m sure that number will steadily rise as we reach the end of our 72-hour earthquake danger zone. In the paper this morning we see the world heritage site Pashupatinath, is overloaded with dead bodies. Pashupatinath is one of the holiest hindu burning ghats. A very important place to be cremated. But now, there is not enough space, wood or time to burn all the bodies. 

This is the fourth event in a long line of unfortunate events to hit Nepal in the last year. First it was the cyclone storm in the Annapurna that killed 250 people. Second was travel warning that China put out because the Nepali congress was throwing chairs at each other. Third was the Turkish Airlines flight that went off the runway and closed the airport for four days.   This earthquake marks the end of our tourist high season. Those who are not already in the country will probably not come and those who are still here and don’t want to help the relief effort will probably leave. 

So now we have time to do something. There is an expression in Nepali “Ke garne.” It means “What to do?”   I feel this acutely. How can I actually help? This country is not prepared for any kind of disaster. The truth is, neither am I.   Devika and I are now trying to figure out what the village people need, as most of the attention is going to Kathmandu and the village areas are being neglected. We will be collecting money from people who want to donate, with the plan to buy tents, blankets, and equipment to set up community kitchens for the newly homeless.  

Today I went to the hospital to visit the people that were evacuated from Gorkha. I am now putting together a small news clip. Next, I will prepare to go into the affected areas. I will take my camera equipment and try to document some of the stories. 

Evacuees from the earthquake epicentre in Gorkha, flown into Pokhara at the Gandaki hospital. They will be housed in community homes set up by local community groups. Image Copyright Hamilton Pevec & Fauxreell Films 2015.

Evacuees from the earthquake epicentre in Gorkha, flown into Pokhara at the Gandaki hospital April 27. They will be housed in community homes set up by local community groups.
Image Copyright Hamilton Pevec & Fauxreel Films 2015.

Hamilton Pevec is a former Carbondale resident currently residing in Nepal with his Nepalese wife Devika. If there are people who wish to donate to help provide tents, blankets and community kitchens to villagers give Hamilton’s mom a call, Illène Pevec, 274-1622.


Aid money for development projects in Nepal linked to child labour

As part of the Guardian’s modern slavery in focus series journalist Pete Pattisson covers the links between development aid money and it’s links to child labour in Nepal’s brick making industry.

“Children as young as eight are working 15-hour days making bricks that have been used in major international development projects in Nepal, including a World Food Programme (WFP) project funded with $3.2m (£2m) of UK aid money.

A Guardian investigation has revealed that “blood bricks”, tainted by human rights abuses such as child labour, have also been used in other major construction projects in Nepal, including a multimillion pound upgrade of Tribhuvan international airport funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a new Marriott hotel and a project to improve Kathmandu’s domestic air terminal.

The findings suggest that international donors, aid agencies, multinational companies and the Nepalese government are systematically failing to ensure that there are effective policies in place to keep their supply chains free from child and bonded labour, and have failed to recognise the appalling conditions prevalent in Nepal’s brick industry….”

Voluntourism and Nepal

In Nepal there are links between voluntourism at orphanages and child trafficking. The links are not just theoretical they are real. It is happening. Children are being trafficked to meet the demands of volunteers and other donors prepared to pay to “help” Nepal’s  orphans.

This is not to say there aren’t real orphans in Nepal needing outside support, there are, but figures from UNICEF and Terres Des Hommes  from a 2008 report indicate that nearly 85 percent of children in the developing country’s orphanages have a living parent or parents. Nepali government figures for 2011 put the figure at 58 percent, but regardless this means over 50 percent of children in Nepal’s orphanages have a living parent or parents.

How well-intentioned volunteers wanting to help plays into this is simple – money.

At the age of seven Milan was trafficked into a Nepali orphange that accessed the pay to volunteer market before being rescued at the age of 14. Image: Neesha Bremner

At the age of seven Milan was trafficked into a Nepali orphange that accessed the pay to volunteer market before being rescued at the age of 14.
Image: Neesha Bremner

Milan Phun*, now 21, was trafficked into an orphanage, when his mother paid an “education agent” $300US to place himself and his sister into a boarding school. Milan and his sister would not see their mother for another seven years.

Milan says he and his sister received an education for one year and then the owners of the orphanage left.

After a period without any caregivers an elderly couple stayed for approximately two years and then, they also left. This pattern was repeated throughout his six years in the orphanage before being rescued by another organisation.

During the periods without care givers the children had to steal to survive.

“ When I think about before I get angry. They just left us. All together there were 14 of us with no food, no school, they left us. They are very bad.”

Education was intermittent during the time Milan spent in the orphanage dependent on whether they had carers, volunteers or foreign donors funding their organisation. After being rescued Milan, though nearly 15 years old, was placed into a year one class at school.

“We had volunteers coming all the time but we didn’t speak to them as we didn’t speak English. They came, they play with us sometimes buying us chocolates and sweets and then they are going away.”

During the periods the orphanage received funding Milan says the children still suffered.

“They hurt me and the kids. I remember one day because my school bag was torn and my shoes were torn and I said I did not want to go to school because of my torn bag. He beat me badly.”

At the age of 14 Milan and the other children in the orphanage were rescued.

Non-government agencies working within Nepal define this as a form of child trafficking as the children essentially have become a commodity.

“My Mum brought me here with high hopes, to have a bright future. She had to pay money for that good future, but they didn’t (provide it). She sent money but they didn’t help us. We were a business, ” Milan says.

Milan says before being rescued he, his sister and the other children in the orphanage, didn’t get to live their stories.

“I lost my time. Volunteers should be careful about were they are volunteering. They should think about where they are going and understand the organisation. Sometimes I think about this and I get angry.”

Australians and others volunteering in Nepal are inadvertently contributing to this exploitation and the internal trafficking of children within Nepal to meet the growing demands of the voluntourism industry.

Over the last decade volunteering has become a paid for experience as part of a ” feel good” travel adventure. Volunteering gives a sense of purpose to travel which some cynically view as escapism from the career treadmill rather than an experience which adds depth and character to a person.

The commodification of volunteering in to a “pay for service” business, especially when it intersects with children, has made said children a product.

Haushala Thapa from Children and Youth First, a Kathmandu based NGO which homes rescued children says volunteering in Nepal’s orphanages and children’s homes are becoming big business because people are prepared to pay large amounts of money to volunteer for short periods of time.

“It is a business, it is all profit-making. It is portraying kids as a product, as an object on the shelf.”

Tim Smith*  whom has worked on children’s issues in Nepal for over a decade says the growing market around volunteering with children is a form of poverty pornography.

“Partially, it can be put down to human nature and an almost instinctive sense of guilt many people have when travelling less developed parts of the world. We want the excitement of that exotic trip, but have learned that it’s possible to make ourselves feel better about it all if we can tie ‘helping out’ into our being there. We should probably be surprised that there aren’t plane-loads more of well-intentioned jetting off for an unintentional dose of poverty porn.”

Martin Punaks, country director for Next Generation Nepal, a non-government organization which rescues and repatriates trafficked children, says voluntourism in Nepal has followed a similar trajectory as it has in other developing countries.

He says poverty, lack of educational opportunities, changing laws that allowed more institutions to conduct adoptions, and the ten-year civil war which ended in 2006 all acting as contributing factors to the growth in the voluntourism market around children.

“Parents began to send their children to what they perceived were safer and better conditions, and they were often persuaded to do so by traffickers claiming that they could provide these things to children, when in fact they were exploiting the vulnerability of families for personal profit. Although the conflict is now long over, people continue to send their children away through traffickers, believing that they are actually sending their children to safe boarding schools, ” he says.

Punaks says the numbers of internally trafficked children is increasing.

“Their numbers have grown and continue to grow, (with) the availability and willingness of paying orphanage voluntourists and well-intentioned charities, and the revenue this brings in.”

He says Next Generation Nepal (NGN) has received reports of orphanage managers in Nepal asking traffickers to “bring them children” specifically because they have foreign donors willing to support their children’s home.

Smith says children are being intentionally trafficked to meet the growing demands of the voluntourism market.

“The existence of a seemingly endless supply of volunteers willing to pay considerable amounts for the ‘volunteer experience’ has encouraged the business aspect of ensuring there are enough orphans to meet volunteering demands to veer in the direction of greed and exploitation.”

Thapa says the numbers of children coming into the system are because of the high levels of poverty within Nepal.

UNICEF figures for Nepal indicate 25 percent of the population live on less than $1.25 US (2006-2011) per day with Gross National Income sitting at $540 US (2011) per annum.

“One family has five or six kids and they have no income, they live off farming, that is their main job. When they have six or so kids they can only afford to look after two or three so what happens is suddenly somebody comes and tells them you know what you have six kids why don’t you send three to this organisation and they will take care and you will only have to take care of three.”

She says for Nepali families this can be a good option, as they believe that the children they send away or pay to go to into a children’s organisation will have a good life.

“This is trafficking as money is involved. People only think when they traffic girls or kids to another country or when they are used. But I feel is that is the biggest trafficking issue because there is money involved and parents never hear about their child anymore even if the child is in Kathmandu.”

Smith says homes run by the less scrupulous often operate with the understanding that the more pity they can generate in the heart of any visitors, the better it is in terms of their fund-raising requirements.

NGN has also seen evidence of orphanage owners deliberately keeping children in destitute conditions to attract more and higher levels financial donations.

Punaks says “Reports such as these suggest that charitable donations and volunteering are having the very opposite effect from that which was intended; they are keeping children away from their families, and sometimes keeping them in destitute conditions. Children have certainly become a lucrative poverty commodity.”

Dutch tourist Pien* ( last name withheld ) says her “orphanage” volunteering experience made it immediately clear that the focus was on money.

“The six children in the home all had parents.”

She says on her arrival to the  Chitwan region the orphanage owner refused to let herself and other volunteers enter the home until they paid their volunteering fees of $6 US per day.

“First thing on arrival and he took me straight to the ATM.”

Pien says the children had prepared stories for the volunteers.

“I could see her thinking. She said she had no parents but I knew she did as someone had told me.” Pien says the child later told her about her family.

Pien says that the quality and quantity of food the children received, the general conditions and the atmosphere at the home were inconsistent and low .The one staff member on site doing the best she could with the limited amount of food provided. She says the home’s owner declined extra food offered to the children by the paying volunteers.

“It is just a big business. I don’t know what he (the owner) does with the money but he certainly isn’t spending it on the children”.

Pien says she would not recommend volunteering in Nepal especially in pay to volunteer programmes.

“ After my experience I don’t really trust anyone. I am not going to volunteer again, never again in Nepal. I would not recommend it for anyone.”

After her placement and giving the home a poor recommendation on an online volunteering website the owner threatened her via email.

God will never forgive you. We pry (sic) to the god everyday for your bad life. Since you bad comment nobody contact . The situation of children is critical. No food at the centre, no volunteer. How can we run our organization. You have to take all response (sic) of these all problems otherwise we will never forgive you. Once again we pray to the God for your bad life.You are not a human you animal (bullshit)”

Prices to volunteer within Nepal can vary from genuine volunteering for no payment, low fees to cover basic accommodation and food to around $3600 AU for a month through a high-end international volunteer program. Tourism and trekking agencies are known to charge up to $690 AU per month for placements within an orphanage type organisation.

A tourism agent admitted that friends who had set up associations related to children and volunteering were doing “very well.”

Thapa says ideally volunteering should be free but paying up to $5 US per day to cover accommodation and three meals a day during your volunteering period is a reasonable cost.



* Name changed

Aspects of this story first appeared in New Matilda March 4.

For more of Neesha Bremner’s stories on this issue click here & here.





SBS interview on orphanage voluntourism in Nepal

Last week I was interviewed by the SBS Nepali show in Australia on my investigative journalism into the issues surrounding orphanage voluntourism in Nepal.

The interview covers the possible links to child trafficking and what volunteers need to consider before embarking on a paid for volunteer experience in the developing country.

You can listen to the interview here.


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Yoga teacher and healer Devika Gurung of Himilayan Yogini moves through her Asana practice during a break in filming with  The Storyteller Project in January 2013.

Yoga teacher and healer Devika Gurung of Himalayan Yogini moves through her Asana practice during a break in filming at Fewa Tal Pokhara with The Storyteller Project’s Neesha Bremner and Jeff Hann in January 2013. Images Copyright Neesha Bremner & The Storyteller Project 2014.