In this article I'll try to bring together all of my thoughts and summarize a four-month experience of social work in Nepal, both during and after an earthquake.
My arrival in Nepal was unplanned, almost by accident, in April 23 2015, 38 hours before the earthquake started. The aftershocks continued almost every day for nearly two months. I therefore became a witness to many things unfolding simultaneously in many dimensions: event-related, emotional, political, economic, & social. Despite the difficult conditions in the country during this period, I decided to stay and adapt to such circumstances. As a backdrop to the tragedy, impregnating the air of Nepal, there was a hard to handle total outflow of people from the disaster area. One by one all friends and people I knew left the country. The streets of the city were deserted within a week, the doors of the countless shops were closed, and there were no Nepali's in Kathmandu left who hadn't lost a family member or friend within the ruins. Together with this, it seemed, that the government took no action to help, at best just greasing the wheels of NGOs attempting to raise funds and send humanitarian assistance in remote areas.
The total cost was:
Metal constructions – 92 550 rupees
Pipes – 7000 rupees
Pans – 6860 rupees
Transportation – 5000 rupees
Sand, stones, cement, labour – 36,800 rupees
Total: 148 210 rupees ($ 1429)
+ bank transactions (transfers, currency conversion, card commissions) about $ 90
Some of the toilets we will be used by more than one family as there are a number of shelters nearby where there are no toilets. So, before starting the project, we researched the area to find right places to build the toilets. We were looking for the most needy people, who have no outside help, and we mainly focused on single women with kids, or who were in difficult situations. After the selection of the places was complete, we asked the families to prepare everything and dig a hole. After one week we discovered that only three families had fulfilled our request. For the three other places we hired the workers as those people were really not able to dig the hole by themselves. At another place we decided not to essentailly relocate to another place. Because there were only a few houses, and several adult males, we asked them to dig a hole three times, but the work was never done.
1. Devaki Lamichhane lives with her two daughters and son of school age. Her husband left them 7 years ago to work in Malaysia, and since then they have never heard from him. Devaki gets no benefits as a single mother as officially she is considered married. She works during the season in the local farm & fields with a daily salary of $2. For the same work in Nepal men get up to 10 times the salary, and in this case men receive $12 per day. Devaki’s house is in line with the houses of 3 other families. None of these families were able to rebuild a proper toilet shelter; they have built sheds and attached them to the dilapidated houses. We have build one toilet for all 4 houses here.
2. Niru Maya Taman is 45 years old and she lives with her two children. Her son is 22 years old and her daughter is 17. Her husband is dead. The woman and her son work the fields when there is a work. The family house was completely destroyed in the earthquake.
3. Rathna Devi Taman is 62 years old. Her husband died 9 years ago and she never had children. Rathna lives far from the village on a mountain. She makes a living from breeding goats; some of which died during the earthquake.
4. Sunita Taman lives with her 11-year-old son on the mountainside. Her son goes to a public school in the village. Sunita's husband left them and now lives with another family. Some time ago Sunita received 15,000 rupees support from the government and repaired her shelter as best should could. Sunita and her son have no ability or finance to construct a toilet themselves.
5. Tuli Maya Taman, whilst we were waiting for our the constructions delivery, passed away. She lived in her parents' house with her two brothers and their families. Their parents died a long time ago. Tuli, and one of her brothers, has been seriously ill for a few years and are not able to work. Their house was badly damaged by the earthquake and the community of Telkot had helped them with the construction of a temporary shelter. The family still uses their old house, like a lot of other people do. Her other brother and family members are working in the fields, with their salaries just enough to feed family. There was no possibility of building a toilet.
This place turned out to be quite a problem for us; despite the fact that the woman had died, we decided to still build a toilet here. However, the brothers did not fulfill our conditions and had not prepared the place, and not dug the holes. One of the brothers did not work and was constantly drunk, and the rest of the family we never saw at home because they worked in the fields, and the children were in school. But at the last moment, when we were ready to move the project to another location, they did the hole.
on the picture Tuli Maya Taman while our firs visit there
6. Chandrabati Moktam is 31 years old. Since childhood she has suffered from mental illness. Her parents died a long time ago and she does not have brothers or sisters. She is living alone in a remote area of jungle, without roads and no visible path to her house. We made our way to the hut through some bushes. Neighbors help her with food and her house was completely destroyed in the earthquake. Telkot volunteers helped her to build a simple shelter out of leftovers from her destroyed house.
This place also became problematic, because the woman there has no support, and when we came to check the toilet, she aked us who would clean the cesspool. We assumed that this place will be difficult, but because of this womans situation, we could not remove her from our list. On the other hand she had more trouble with this toilet than without it. However Chandrabhati was happy for the help we did for her.
7. Seti Maya Taman is 80 years old. Her husband is dead and the children married and left home. Local children help by delivering food, but they are very poor and are not able to do much. Seti's home was completely destroyed. Volunteers helped her to build a simple shelter, but there was no opportunity to build a toilet.
Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries. The difficult geopolitical situation adds more problems. Situated between two fires – India and China, Nepal is entirely dependent on these two countries. To engage in social work here one needs a clear plan of action and a clear understanding of the ultimate goal. Experience shows that if you come here with aid or any construction plan, it will become like a double-edged sword (unless, of course, its the inital aid in the first month after the earthquake). It often happens that when you come with food support, people simply stopped working. Sometimes they just re-sell the things which you have brought, not just for the money, but to be able to say they have not got any help. We are faced with the fact that when we asked people to dig a hole for a toilet, these people are required to pay for what they have dug because the authorities thought that the construction of toilets was a "Western project". I saw gratitude but also aggression, domestic violence, and alcoholism in the villages. We talked a lot about what we can do for Nepal and how to help. And we all came to the same conclusion, that only the development of self-reliance and mutual help, development of education, and the supply of resources can make a difference. Nepal is no different from any other country in that séance, and the whole revolution and evolution should take place in the minds of the people. You can come in and give people something; but it doesn’t work. But you can help by facilitating the understanding of self-supporting and sustainability. In the long term it may help to improve the situation in this country.
Our team members of Blossom Sustainability Project are still in Nepal and are engaged in first aid, collecting funds for water filters for the affected areas.
The rest of the funds raised will be used for future projects of similar NGOs, such as the purchase of land for the victims to grow food, for the organization of training courses and workshops in the villages for children and adults, and so on.
Larisa Matteyssen, Joost Matthejssen, Marie Colibri, Daniel Novikov
English edition by James Ward