A former Oamaru man has spent the majority of his 72 years helping children from some of the poorest areas in the world, all with the aim of changing their lives.
Sushanta Das, originally from Dunedin, lived and worked in Oamaru for several years until he left New Zealand in 1966.
After he travelled extensively in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, he settled in India in 1978, working as a jeweller.
Before that, during a stint in Malaysian state Malacca, he experienced first-hand the plight many children faced in countries all over the world, where each day was a struggle to survive.
“I started feeding kids in Malacca,” he told the Oamaru Mail during a recent visit back to the town.
“I found a whole lot of kids that were starving and quite malnourished. I had a little bit of money in my pocket and started feeding them.”
Mr Das did the same in each country he visited when he came across children who needed help.
In the late 1990s, he moved to Nepal, where he established an orphanage in Kathmandu to care for children who were impoverished, had lost their parents or were forced to beg on the street for money.
Among them were children who abused solvents, such as glue, while others had more tragic backgrounds.
“A lot of kids were sold and traded in Kathmandu.”
“The Maoist war had started and a lot of these kids were trafficked to Kathmandu and sold, so I rounded up about 30 at that time and put them in school. I ran that orphanage for about 18 years. They all grew up – a lot of them ended up going to college.”
He said often it was girls who missed out on an education, as they were expected to marry and not work.
Over the years, he estimated he provided hundreds of children with a home and education.
Many lost their parents in the earthquake which struck the region in April 2015, killing 9000 people and destroying countless homes.
While he no longer runs the orphanage, Mr Das and his Nepalese wife, who works for a non-government agency that supports children, still take children into their home.
Their efforts are funded through donations and sales from the jewellery Mr Das makes.
He has also embarked on a project to construct schools in Kathmandu Valley with several buildings, constructed from rammed earth and steel, completed and another three close to it.
Asked why he was so committed to the cause, Mr Das believed it was meant to be.
“Its just happened naturally . . . if it’s possible and I have some money in my pocket, then we can do it.”