21 April 2016

Returning to Nepal, a year after the earthquake

Elitsa Dincheva with Sujal, now three-years-old, whom she met a few days after last year's earthquake at a Kavre relief centre. Photographer: Michela Morosini

Elitsa Dincheva was on holiday in the Himalayas when a powerful earthquake hit central Nepal on 25 April 2015.

“It was like the whole mountain was moving”, recalled Elitsa, who works in marketing at the Hermann-Gmeiner-Fonds Deutschland (HGFD) in Munich, which helps support SOS children and programmes worldwide. While she and the rest of her climbing group were unhurt by the quake, they could hear rockslides in the distance.
 
The earthquake was the world’s deadliest natural disaster in 2015. Together with a powerful aftershock in 5 May, some 9,000 people died and more than 24,000 were injured. The damage caused by the quake and its aftershocks is estimated at $6 billion. Thousands of homes, along with schools and other public buildings, collapses or were badly damaged.
 
Elitsa returned to Nepal a year later to take a first-hand look at the recovery effort and what SOS Children’s Villages is doing to help. She visited SOS programmes and families in Sanothimi, Jorpati, Kavre and Sindhupalchok and talks about her observations.
  

You saw first-hand the extent of damage a year ago. How would you assess the progress of recovery to date?

Honestly, it is difficult to talk about much progress. Some kind of normality is there but the ruined houses are everywhere. Most of the victims of the earthquake still live in temporary shelter close to their damaged houses. You can see heaps of bricks – people saved them from the ruins but reconstruction has been slow.
 
The government promised to give 200,000 rupees [around €1,663] to each family that lost a home, but the whole country is in a holding pattern. In recent days there were reports that the government provided support for the first 700 victims, but 300,000 are in urgent need. It is estimated that 600,000 are waiting for government support.
 
It is really ridiculous – the Nepali government has been too slow in providing help for those who need to rebuild their homes, even though there has been financial support from all over the world. I was told that some elderly people and children lost their lives during the winter because of the lack of adequate shelter. This makes me angry.
  

You have visited several SOS programmes and families. Describe how they are doing.

The SOS beneficiaries still live in difficult conditions, and some of them are still in temporary shelter. Still, you can see hope in their eyes. This is the main difference between the people in our programmes and those who don’t have any support. The others live in a permanent expectation that things are going to change, but a year after the earthquake they are getting more desperate. Our beneficiaries still don’t have new houses, but their lives have changed because of SOS Children’s Villages. They received support from us and they trust us – we helped them restore their trust in the future.
 

How important is the assistance that SOS Children’s Villages has provided through its emergency response programme?

Right after the earthquake, SOS and many other organisations responded to the emergency. But some have already scaled back their work, while SOS has extended its emergency response programme.
 
We identify children who have lost their parents and support their relatives financially so that these children can grow up with a family. We cover the school fees for thousands of children whose families have been in great financial difficulty since the earthquake. Without SOS some of these children wouldn’t be able to continue their education. And all the children that I met were really happy that they are back in school.
 
We have provided a ‘home-in-a-box’ to families in need. This is a starter kit with clothing, blankets, hygiene articles, food, crockery, and other supplies. We have provided counselling to help them rebuild their lives. We provided many farmers with buffalos, chickens or goats to they can carry on with their work, earn income and not end up in hopeless poverty.
  

What kind of feedback did you get – especially from the children and families you met?

The most powerful encounter I had was with Sujal. I met him a few days after the earthquake in the Kavre relief camp – he was two-and-a-half years old with a broken leg and cast. His mom died when their house collapsed, and his father works in the United Arab Emirates and can’t take care of his son. A year ago, Sujal’s future was very uncertain. I left Nepal last year with a heavy heart thinking about this suffering boy.
 
I was so happy to meet Sujal during this visit – SOS supports his aunt who is caring for him. We help her financially, and offer psychological support.
 
I visited Sujal at his aunt’s house in Jorpati and found a happy boy full of joy and energy. He even jumps like a little tiger – his leg recovered completely. I left Nepal this time with much lighter feeling in my heart knowing that Sujal is doing so well.
  

What more needs to be done to help Nepalese children?

It may sound crazy, but at first we need to educate the parents. We need to raise awareness about children’s rights, child protection and health. That’s why we are working very closely with the communities. We organise workshops, we improve parenting skills, we pay school fees for many children – this helps us to be in contact with the families at risk. In this way we can ensure that children are not alone and grow up in a strong family environment.
 
  
More on SOS Children’s Villages in Nepal
 
SOS Children’s Villages has had a presence in Nepal since 1972. With programmes in ten locations, we were able to respond rapidly to the needs of children in the immediate aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake. The response focused on providing child friendly spaces, humanitarian support for families in need, reuniting children with parents, and offering alternative care for children who could not be reunited with parents
 
Since the initial recovery efforts, we have delivered programmes that help parents meet their families’ basic needs, and helped those who need to take on parental responsibilities. We have provided families with blankets, mattresses and other basic household goods. In addition, we are helping to rebuild schools and houses that were destroyed by the earthquake. More than 17,000 people received our help in the months following the earthquake.