Kathmandu, Mar. 5: Ganga Devi Poudel, who turned 83 this week, has lived alone in her house at Dhunchepakha, Bhaktapur since her husband passed away three years ago. She wakes up alone, does all her chores alone, goes to bed alone and in her own words, “will soon die alone.”
Poudel has three children – two sons and a daughter – and eight grandchildren. But all of them live in the United States, leaving her by herself in Nepal. “They do send money and have hired a nurse and a domestic helper to take care of me,” she said. “But this is only material comfort. What I want in this old age is the company of my kids.”
Mangal Pradhan, 79, of Pipal Dhara, Lalitpur, wants the same thing from his son, his only child. But he is not optimistic. “Why would he come to care for me when he did not even come for his mother’s last rites,” Pradhan said, almost to himself.
His wife left the world in November last year after a prolonged fight with cancer. She was 70 years old.
Her death shattered Pradhan and he desperately wanted his son beside him at that moment. “But he did not come,” he said with tears in his eyes. “We waited for two days but he did not come. He said he could not get time off from work and told us to proceed with [my wife’s] the final rites.”
According to the Department of Immigration, around 3,000 people leave Nepal every day. Many do not choose to return. Dr. Ambika Adhikari, principal planner at the City of Tempe, Arizona and a faculty associate at the Arizona State University, in his 2022 article titled ‘The Nepali diaspora’s role in national development’ published by the open access peer reviewed journal Policy Design and Practice, estimates that 800,000 Nepalis have permanently resided in the developed countries across the world.
“This has created a situation where people are having to spend their advanced years in Nepal alone while their children live abroad,” said Madandas Shrestha, president of the National Senior Citizens Federation.
The situation isn’t any better even if the children take their parents with them, though. “The kids go work all day and the parents are left alone at home. Some may have grandchildren to keep them company. But overall, it is not a good condition,” Shrestha shared.
Kripa Bajracharya of Imadol, Lalitpur agrees. The 66-year-old went to Minnesota, US, last year to be with her daughter and granddaughter.
“But it was like being kept in house arrest,” she said. “I did not know anyone or any place. I did not speak English. I could not go out. I could not travel. I felt like a prisoner.” “For us, it seems, it is only a choice between loneliness at home or away from home.”
But, with the benefit of hindsight, Poudel feels that the parents are also to blame for their current isolation. While many children left at their own will, many were sent out by their guardians.
“We saw others going abroad and pushed ours out too,” she spoke about the decision she and her husband made, something she regrets now. “We thought they would get a better life there and they did. But in the process, we made them oblivious to us.”