By Denise Poon

One of the participants in UMN's masonry training shapes a stone to be refitted into the wall of a house - Photo by Denise Poon. 

One of the participants in UMN's masonry training shapes a stone to be refitted into the wall of a house - Photo by Denise Poon. 

B
utel Tamang realized something was wrong.

It was a typical Saturday, the day of rest and of worship for all faiths in Nepal. In the village of Kichot, people gathered in Sinkilebenezer Church for their usual worship service. Butel was finishing his sermon when he realized the communion elements were missing.

He had forgotten the juice and crackers at home; he told the congregation they would postpone communion until the following week. Service was dismissed for the day.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal at 11:56 am local time; its epicenter approximately 77 km northwest of the capital city Kathmandu.

It was only 15 minutes after church ended. If Butel had served communion as planned, the service would have gone longer and 50 to 60 people might have died, trapped in the church building.

The earthquake’s depth was 15 km according to the US Geological Survey. An earthquake can strike as deep as 700 km – a shallow earthquake like this one will cause more damage than those that strike farther from the earth’s surface.

Fulkumari Tamang had been out to buy noodles for her daughter when she felt the earth move under her feet, as if suddenly possessed by an evil spirit.

“I heard some people crying, I heard some people shouting,” Fulkumari said. “What is under this earth? I felt like a magnet was pulling from the earth.”

Fulkumari remembered running. Everything became muddled and confusing after that. She remembered things in bits and pieces as she came in and out of consciousness. Feeling her youngest son’s arms holding her, and listening to him sob. Realizing with despair that her two daughters were dead — the two lifeless bodies lying next to her, faces covered. Hearing voices around her praying. Her leg was injured and her head was split open and bleeding.

“Then I thought inside my heart, ‘God saved me,’” she said.

The death toll of the Nepal earthquake was 9,000. Eight million – more than one-fourth of the population – have been affected, and an estimated 2.8 million people have been displaced from their homes.

The other people in Fulkumari's village gathered in an open area and, as the light stole away and darkness blanketed the mountain, they began to search in the rubble for their families. That night, it rained and the earth continued to tremble with aftershocks.
Many villagers left Kichot during the monsoon season that began a month or two after the earthquake, fearful that the rains would cause more landslides and damage. Some remained, and others have returned since - photo courtesy of Ramesh Man Maharjan. 

Many villagers left Kichot during the monsoon season that began a month or two after the earthquake, fearful that the rains would cause more landslides and damage. Some remained, and others have returned since - photo courtesy of Ramesh Man Maharjan. 

STAYING WITH DESPAIR


T
he village of Kichot – clusters of rudimentary homes made of grey stone with patchwork red and blue corrugated tin roofs nestled amongst the terraced fields – is perched on the side of an ancient mountain. On the day of the earthquake, houses collapsed into piles of rubble and the towering sides of mountains were swept into the valleys below.

Kichot is located in Dhading, one of the worst affected districts from the earthquake. In Dhading, approximately 680 lives were claimed and 92 percent of houses severely damaged.

When two major aftershocks, of 7.3 and 6.3 magnitude respectively, hit barely two weeks after the first quake and within half an hour of each other, the death toll climbed, buildings still standing toppled, and landslides devastated mountainous regions like Dhading.

Most people in Dhading are subsistence farmers, and the earthquake laid waste to valuable crop, seed, and livestock. Their livelihoods were destroyed. Of the 8 million people the earthquake has affected, those most disproportionately affected are those who live in rural areas; the poorest people in Nepal.

During the disaster, the international community leapt to its feet. The United Nations immediately dipped into their emergency relief fund, many countries pledged financial and personnel support, and hundreds of nonprofit entities sent money and volunteers. SIM and United Mission to Nepal (UMN) – already partners in Nepal for more than five years – joined the throng that hurried to bring aid to the struggling nation.

For over 20 years UMN has worked in Dhading to promote education, health and nutrition, and improve food availability and distribution – focusing their earthquake response in the district seemed natural. Whenrebuilding and the 2.5-year Dhading Disaster Response Program (DDRP) are completed UMN will resume its usual community work.

SIM contributed 150,000 USD to UMN’s DDRP, which has encompassed both immediate relief needs (Phase 1) and long-term rebuilding efforts (Phase 2).

During Phase 1, UMN and some of its long-standing local partners, provided relief materials to 12,100 households. Relief materials totaling up to approximately 490,000 kg of rice, 8,400 sets of hygiene kits, 9,700 temporary shelters, and other goods were distributed.

“I was happy — at the time when I had nothing to eat, I received food,” said Khawa Lama, who received relief goods from UMN after his family’s home was entirely destroyed.

After several months though, the frenzied rush to provide relief faded. Amongst the tarpaulin tents provided by NGOs and houses that had miraculously withstood the quake, was strewn the rubble of houses already torn down.

“This is my house, the earthquake has made it like this. What can I do? We are going through tough times,” said Khawa as he stood on the wreckage of his home. “We have to work and eat, all the land has been destroyed. There’s nothing left in the village. If we want to stay, where would we stay? If we want to go, where would we go? We have to stay with despair.”
After Kalimaya Tamang spends the morning watering the new seeds in her family's fields and gets her daughter ready for school, she works to break stone to reconstruct the church building - photo by Mark Morrison.

After Kalimaya Tamang spends the morning watering the new seeds in her family's fields and gets her daughter ready for school, she works to break stone to reconstruct the church building - photo by Mark Morrison.

THE LONG ROAD BACK TO NORMAL


N
epal is one of Asia’s historically poorest nations, ranking 145 out of 188 countries according to the UN’s Human Development Index.

Still, Nepal has made significant progress in recent years. In 2006, the country formally ended a decade-long civil war between the government and the Communist Party in Nepal. In 2008, Nepal became a democracy and, in the years following the civil war, has taken big steps towards development. According to the World Bank, in 2003-04, 53 percent of the country lived on less than $1.25 a day; by 2010-2011 (the World Bank's most recent statistics) that number had already been reduced by 25 percent.

The quake not only halted that progress, it sent it backwards. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment report released by the Nepali government estimates that an additional 3 percent of the population has been pushed into poverty because of the earthquake. The total value of damages and losses due to the earthquake is roughly 7 billion USD, over one-third of the national GDP.

“A country like Nepal, [an earthquake] knocks it back between five to ten years,” said Peter Lockwood, the program management advisor for UMN’s DDRP.

In the midst of the nation regaining its balance, the government adopted a new constitution in September, six months after the earthquake. The new constitution will make Nepal a federal republic and has sketched out provisional boundaries to split the nation into seven states.

Minority groups were dissatisfied with the constitution, claiming it did not represent them well and would keep them marginalized. Among these groups were the Madhesi people who live in the Terai, the southern part of Nepal near the Indian border. Days after the constitution was adopted, the protests and strikes accumulated into a blockade that effectively stopped the flow of goods from India. Resources such as fuel, food, medicine, and raw materials needed for rebuilding could no longer enter the landlocked nation.
The blockade was lifted in February of this year after hampering the post-earthquake rebuilding efforts for five precious months. The road back to “normal” looks longer than ever.

“To put it into context, every hour for the next five years, twenty houses have to be finished,” Lockwood said. That does not include the roads that need to be reconstructed, fields that need to regrow, and the mourning and healing process for those who lost their homes, family members, friends, and livelihoods.

“When I think about the earthquake I get really scared. I still dream about it,” said Shree Bahadur Tamang, a schoolteacher in the village of Tawal, a half day’s trek from Kichot. “People running here and there, it felt as if the world was going to end and everyone was going to die.”

Relief may have come quickly, but rebuilding is a slow process that will take a lifetime.
Butel Tamang dismissed church service 15 minutes earlier than planned, inadvertently preventing 50-60 people from potential injury when the earthquake hit - photo courtesy of Ramesh Man Maharjan.

Butel Tamang dismissed church service 15 minutes earlier than planned, inadvertently preventing 50-60 people from potential injury when the earthquake hit - photo courtesy of Ramesh Man Maharjan.

“PERMA”


T
he sounds of hammers clamoring, stone overturning onto stone, and voices shouting rose into the late afternoon air. Nepali men were interlaying stones onto a new wall in a damaged house, sealing the stones with mud. They were rebuilding.

“I never thought this village would be resettled again in the same place,” said Shree, noting that after the earthquake many villagers fled, seeking safer regions. “More people are coming back to the village and it seems like life is returning to normal.”

It is Shree’s house that was being rebuilt, with the help of his father and neighbors. Shree paid some of the laborers, others are helping because, quite simply, they are a community and they have always helped each other. Perma is their word for it – if you help a neighbor, they will help you in return.

Monsoon season will begin in June, and there is pressure to finish as many homes as possible before the heavy rains begin. Some, dubious of the efforts and anxious that another earthquake will undo any rebuilding, remain in temporary shelters. Others are waiting for the 200,000 rupees (2,000 USD) the Nepali government has promised to give households to help rebuild. The government will not give the money to those who have already begun rebuilding, leaving some families at an impasse. Up to 4 million people are still living in temporary shelter, according to the Red Cross.

“We cannot wait for the government, we have to rebuild our homes now,” Shree said.

UMN house rebuilding efforts will be directed to the 1,100 poorest households in Dhading district. In addition to reconstructing houses, UMN has empowered the villagers through mason trainings that educate them about building more earthquake-resilient homes, distributing seeds and tools so that they can replant their fields, and providing livestock such as goats so that they can earn income. UMN will also prioritize turning temporary learning centers into permanent ones so that children in the communities can resume their education.

“Not only have physical walls fallen apart, people’s lives have also fallen apart,” said Gabe Jens, director of SIM Nepal. “Rebuilding lives, rebuilding homes and infrastructure will take years.”

But rebuilding will not repair all damage or make amends for every loss.

Fulkumari recalled the horror of realizing her daughters were dead, lying beside her, their faces hidden by cloth.

“They were dead, they were right there!” she said. “If I would have died at that time it would have been much better.”

Even if Fulkumari’s leg is slowly healing, even if she can walk again, she will never have her daughters back.

“I don’t know what to say about hope, my two daughters passed away. Wherever I go, I feel sad,” Fulkumari said. Her eyes gleamed in the sun, shining with tears. “I don’t know what to do. I cannot live hungry, I cannot stay naked. No matter what, I have to make a living, rebuild and eat.”
Fulkumari Tamang is still grieving the loss of her two daughters. Though she is unwilling to move on fully, she is resigned to the fact that she still must survive. "I cannot live hungry, I cannot stay naked," she said. "No matter what, I have to make a living, rebuild and eat" - photo courtesy of Ramesh Man Maharjan.

Fulkumari Tamang is still grieving the loss of her two daughters. Though she is unwilling to move on fully, she is resigned to the fact that she still must survive. "I cannot live hungry, I cannot stay naked," she said. "No matter what, I have to make a living, rebuild and eat" - photo courtesy of Ramesh Man Maharjan.

Nepal is still shaking. Shaking from aftershocks that continue to this day, shaking from the grief of destruction and loss. Some look back and see death - life lost. Others look back and see life preserved. Butel thinks of how his error that Saturday - a small thing on any other day - kept his church congregation from harm.

“It’s a strange plan of God. He has saved many of us and that’s what we understand,” Butel said.

Rebuilding is both an inescapable fact and a wilful choice. It is something that must be done - not only by the Nepalis but also those who are willing to continue to come alongside the nation.

“A year on, people still feel hopeless and without help they cannot survive,” said Gabriel Jens, SIM Nepal director. “We so often shift our thinking to another disaster, but the people in the former disaster are still in that disaster. There are Nepalis still living in tents and under tarpaulins. Let us not forget those still suffering. Continue to pray for Nepal.”
The Red Cross estimates that 4 million people in Nepal - many of them inhabitants of the often harsh highlands - are still living in temporary shelters - photo by Mark Morrison.

The Red Cross estimates that 4 million people in Nepal - many of them inhabitants of the often harsh highlands - are still living in temporary shelters - photo by Mark Morrison.

Share This: