Contributed by Sadhana Shrestha, Executive Director, Tewa – Nepal Women’s Fund –
A devastating 7.9 Richter scale earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015, followed by over 300 aftershocks. A month later, the people of Nepal are on the path to recovery. As of June 1, 2015, according to Humanitarian Data Index, 8,673 are reported dead, 16,808 are injured, 191 camps have been created for internally displaced persons, and relief aid now totals US$281.3 million. Although everyone knew that Nepal lies on an earthquake-prone zone, no one was prepared. The earthquake was horrific, with buildings falling to the ground like a pack of cards and tilted roads leading to vehicle crashes and fatalities. The entire population was out on the streets, looking for large, safe, open spaces.
Tewa started relief work on the third day after the earthquake, collaborating with Nagarik Aawaz, an organization established by Tewa founder Rita Thapa working for a peaceful and just Nepal. Tewa mobilized staff, members, volunteers and family, reaching out to its grantees and those in the Tewa family most affected by the earthquake in terms of loss of property, land and livestock. We agreed on some principles at the very beginning, such as that relief funding be spent entirely on relief work, the creation of an Earthquake Relief Fund Committee with 3 external members, and a code of conduct for staff, members, and volunteers engaged in relief work, which have been strong guiding factors for us.
Tewa found tragedy after tragedy in these communities. An 8-month pregnant mother lost her unborn baby, her 4-year-old daughter, and her brother and sister-in-law; a mother threw her 5-month-old son onto the road to save him, while she was buried in the rubble and with a fractured leg; an elderly man lost his father, wife and children and was alone standing in the midst of ruins.
We reached the most affected and excluded communities – indigenous, differently abled, LGBTI groups, Dalits, Tamangs and Magars, with more focus than ever on gender, diversity and disadvantaged groups. Class hierarchy has been endorsed by the earthquake: none of our houses have collapsed, whereas the houses of all our support staff have been damaged. We conducted a needs assessment and provided whatever was most essential – tents, food, and blankets in the first phase, and corrugated sheets for shelter in the second phase. We decided to give money to households that had lost everything, giving with much trust and respect, mostly to women, knowing that they knew what was best for them during this traumatic time. We collaborated with partner organizations for quick and immediate outreach, since we knew we couldn’t be everywhere. We also focused on pregnant and post-partum mothers and children and distributed maternity kits and toys for kids to play and divert their mind. We sat in circles under a tree with women in the villages, listening to them, trying to tell them that now is the time to gather all their strength, be vigilant of violence and trafficking, and begin to rebuild their lives. We introduced the power of philanthropy – in communities where we gave cash, the communities have given back to other more severely affected communities.
While continuing the necessary relief work, Tewa and Nagarik Aawaz have been assessing and evaluating the best way to tail off into long-term rehabilitation work. Through team consultations and context and work assessments over the past month, the two organizations have come to 3 main conclusions:
- Mobilization of local youths for long-term socio-psychological counseling and healing;
- Mobilization of “barefoot” grantee volunteers (from unaffected districts), in partnership with women’s organizations and grantee partners in the affected districts. These volunteers will stay with the affected communities for 1-3 months, nurturing and supporting them to begin to rebuild. They will provide moral and logistical support to families, helping them in their everyday life and work; take care of children and the elderly, and help to create a positive environment for the grantee partners, women, and the whole community; and
- Creation of a center for peace and philanthropy (in 3–5 affected districts) as a pilot initiative to be widely replicated after ongoing monitoring and review. Local volunteers from affected districts will be trained and mobilized to spread harmony and a culture of giving, an altruistic way of living, so that in caring for the self we also care for mother earth and all beings.
In all the villages visited, people have lost everything, yet they have a smile on their faces. Their houses have been destroyed, but they still offer those visiting a cup of tea. There are stories and examples of sadness and grief, but there are equally compelling experiences of hope, fortitude and resilience from survivors who are not waiting for help to arrive but have already started to clear the debris to rebuild. Stakeholders and friends, both nationally and internationally, have poured their love, concern, good wishes, blessings, solidarity and resources, both human and financial, to help support rebuilding Nepal. There must be something special and spiritual on the ground where Nepal stands for the loss to have been minimized.