By Jacqui Ooi, ChildFund Australia, with reporting from ChildFund in Nepal
One year after powerful twin earthquakes devastated Nepal, ChildFund staff report families are finding strength in the face of huge challenges, as they focus on rebuilding their homes and restoring their livelihoods.
“People are still living in extremely difficult conditions,” says Mariko Tanaka, ChildFund’s country director in Nepal. “Many remain in makeshift houses and suffered through the severe winter. Without resources or savings to rebuild and get back on their feet, families are largely reliant on the government or NGOs to support their needs.”
For the past 12 months, ChildFund has been providing food, shelter and other relief items to families in the rural villages of Sindhupalchowk and Ramechhap districts, with staff overcoming fuel shortages, ongoing aftershocks and the threat of landslides to ensure help made it through.
In fact, one year on, the aftershocks continue, not only making the recovery effort more difficult but causing significant psychological distress for children and their families.
“The feeling of uncertainty and fear is still prevalent for everyone living in Nepal,” says Ms Tanaka, adding that people have been injured from rushing out of their houses in a panic, thinking another earthquake was coming.
“Right after the earthquake, children would mostly be seen with their mothers as they were afraid to be away from them. At our Child Centred Spaces, we ran activities that slowly encouraged the children to let go and find the confidence to be on their own again.”
At school, teachers have observed that some students have become withdrawn and their studies are suffering as a result. In other instances, when there are loud, sudden sounds, students can also become frightened and agitated.
Ten-year-old Anil is one of those affected students, having lost his older brother, Sunil, in the earthquake. Sunil was attending his final years of high school in the capital Kathmandu, where his father owns a welding factory, but had come home to spend time with his mum for Mother’s Day. The 18-year-old boy was watching TV on the ground floor of their three-storey home when the earthquake hit and the house collapsed. He was one of seven people in their village who died that day.
“There are times when Anil cannot sleep, recalling the earthquake,” says his distraught mother, Lalita, whose husband remains in a state of shock at the loss of their eldest son and can no longer work. “He cannot concentrate on study and his scores at school are declining. He has had a dark expression ever since he lost is elder brother who took so much care of him.”
Teachers at Anil’s school have been given basic counselling training through ChildFund, to help them identify signs of trauma and provide psychological ‘first aid’. ChildFund staff are also monitoring cases like Anil’s to ensure him and his family are receiving the support they need.
Anil’s mother says that school is a place where her son can, for a moment, disconnect himself from the tragedy that has befallen his family and enjoy spending time with his friends: “He would rather be at school than at home because the family is in sorrow and it reminds him of his beloved brother.”
Anil, who says his favourite subjects are social science and maths “because I like the teacher”, concurs with his mum: “I like school very much. I like school days better than holidays.”
We would like to thank our colleagues in Nepal for the remarkable effort they have put in to assist children and families over the past 12 months – with particular acknowledgement to those staff members who pursued this humanitarian work despite suffering their own losses of homes and loved ones in the earthquake. And the work does not stop now. ChildFund will continue to support children and communities in Nepal for as long as it takes to get families back on their feet.