Yesterday in Switzerland – and in much of the Western world – we celebrated Mother’s Day. In Nepal there is also a particular day for honoring mothers and motherhood, called Mata Tirtha Aushi, which falls on the new moon of April or May. This year it occurred just a week before the earthquake, and is thus likely to stick in the minds of many as the last family festival before their lives changed forever.
The stories sent over the weekend from our team in Sindhupalchowk are of community resilience, and of recognition of the particular needs of mothers with small children. The rain-spattered picture above was taken in the VDC (Village Development Committee) of Palchowk. It shows three young mothers – Namrata (aged 22), Champa (aged 30), and Sabina (aged 28) Shrestha. As their shared surname suggests, they belong to the same community of Newars. Each has an infant aged less than one year old, and because of this, local residents agreed that they should have priority in sharing the simple common shelter that can be seen. They are joined there by their relative Laxmi Shrestha, who was heavily pregnant at the time of the earthquake, and gave birth shortly afterwards. The shelter is only temporary, and will afford limited protection from the monsoon rains – but it is a lot better than nothing. All four women are glad to be alive; not everyone in their community was so lucky. In the VDC overall, 16 deaths were recorded. They included a woman who could only be extracted lifeless from the rubble of her house with the body of her small child. Through Helvetas support, Namrata, Champa, Sabina and Laxmi have received tarpaulins and chlorine for water purification. It is also planned to distribute to them the nicely named “dignity kits” which contain sanitary pads and other small items for personal hygiene.
In another community, Shanta Tamang (aged 15) and Anjali Bhandari (aged 13) (both to the right in the photo), received tarpaulins last week. Both are students of Bhumishwori school of Kiul – a school to which Helvetas has strong ties as it is one of those in which the COPILA project operates. This community education project raises awareness about climate change and adaptation strategies, but adapting to the results of the earthquake requires all the girls’ ingenuity. They are using the tarpaulins both as shelter for their family members, and for keeping dry the grain stocks that they have managed to salvage from their ruined homes. Shanta and Anjali are not sure when school will reopen as the building was also damaged by the earthquake. However, they hope that rebuilding will start soon so that they can continue with their studies.
Our team notes that young people such as Shanta and Anjali have been a huge encouragement to their community, as in general they have been quicker to accept the situation and to find ways of coping. Gradually people are sifting through the wreckage of the buildings and pulling out anything that can be re-used. The scale of the reconstruction task that lies ahead is nevertheless huge. The official District Disaster Relief Committee figures for the eight VDCs in which Helvetas is providing support – Helambu, Mahamkal, Ichowk, Kiul, Talamarang, Palchowk, Duwachaur and Malamchi all show 95% of buildings destroyed – with the exception of Duwachaur, in which it is 97%. Yet for now everyone must focus on immediate survival; the fields of wheat and rice are ready for harvest, and this work is urgent in order to at least have food for the coming two to three months.