Last week, at the National Games in Dhangadi, Aman (now 16) won four gold, one silver and two bronze medals in gymnastics. Bijay (now 18) won a group gold medal for the Madhyamanchal team along with Meena Lama who was rescued from a Gorakhpur circus six years ago. After returning from Dhangadi, they were welcomed with garlands and vermilion at the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation (EBMF) shelter near Kathmandu, a place they call home and where they have been living since being rescued.
At that time, none of them could read or write, they were psychologically traumatised and hadn't spoken to their families since they had been taken away. Today, Aman and Bijay are in their final year at Kitni Secondary School in Lalitpur, take daily lessons on gymnastics in Dasrath Stadium and are star performers in the EBMF's famous troupe for circus-rescued children, Sapana.
There are 120 other children like Aman, Bijay and Meena at the EBMF shelter in Taukhel where they go to school and train on a range of vocational activities. Others perform for Sapana, the country's first domestic circus company. "We will support these children till the time they stand on their own feet," says Shailaja.
Bijay says he and Aman were treated like prisoners in the circus, forced to jump without safety nets and locked away after performances. He adds: "But today, doing the same things that used to cause so much pain brings us joy."
NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati