April 25th 2016 marked the one-year anniversary of the disaster that devastated our tiny Himalayan nation. On that day, a violent 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal—followed weeks later by a 7.3-magnitude aftershock—and we lost almost countless lives, thousands of people were left injured, and more than 800,000 homes were damaged or completely destroyed. It was a lot to suffer for a poor country that already had majority of its population living well below the poverty line.

Anjana has some wounds in her body including nose

Anjana got injured when she jumped out of the window to save herself during the earthquake. She stands in front of her house that also got damaged.

When a disaster like this strikes in your home country – it is devastating to be so far away. While it was very tempting to drop everything and go back to our loved ones – we knew this was not a practical solution.  With the nation already facing resource strain, we were told that unless we had specific disaster relief skills the country needed it would be best to be patient and pray for recovery. As for myself, being a board member for an organization that has been working to support girls’ education in a rural area of Nepal for the last 5 years, I felt like we could at least contribute directly to the relief effort.

Rukmini Foundation’s Efforts for Earthquake Survivors

Rukmini Foundation is not a relief organization so we had some concerns as a board about our capacity to provide meaningful services, but what we had was a dedicated team that was trusted by the local communities. With this advantage, we were able to jump in, and our response in the weeks following the earthquake included damage assessment, relief package distribution, mobile health clinic and temporary shelter set up. Once the relief efforts were done, the work shifted to rebuilding schools and hosting programs such as disaster preparedness awareness, mental and emotional health counseling, and an effort to help families who lost their homes to find shelter. RF’s efforts led to 20 temporary shelters being made, 44 homes being assessed in 14 different villages, 275 individuals from 9 different villages were seen in the mobile health clinics, and 150 children engaged in wellness program.

KopuGaon Collage

Our team member managed to help 275 individuals in nine different villages with the mobile health clinic.

We were also able to use sports as a nice distraction, especially for girls who do not typically get those kinds of opportunities. (Read more about our relief work in our Earthquake Relief report). This would not have been possible had we not received a remarkable amount of donations from our friends and supporters throughout the world. The funds we raised were used to provide relief and rescue materials for RF scholars, their families and the surrounding communities and to start thinking about how to rebuild better.

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In a time of peril, sports were a great distraction for the girls

Filling the vacuum left by a lack of fully-functioning government

Disasters of this scale would challenge any government, and while the government’s initial response was commendable, its inability to provide meaningful support and guidance regarding redevelopment has left the country paralyzed. They have promised to give every family that has lost a home $2,000 towards the cost of rebuilding. It has been a year and the families in Pharping like families in many other places are still waiting for that money. Many of our scholars lost their homes and are living in temporary shelters that RF helped build through the Temporary Shed Management plan. Reconstruction of homes was the next phase of our efforts – but we are unable to move forward as the families are worried that if they start rebuilding their homes, they might lose out on the relief money. Failed promises made by the government have shattered hopes and have left Nepalese people in a worst situation.

3 pramila jee observing temp shed of Anjana poudel

Temporary shelters were better alternatives to the barely covered tents, but they are not homes to raise a family in

A lot could have happened in a year, but unfortunately time seems to have stood still in Nepal. When the disaster first struck, the country received an overwhelming international media attention, which lead to communities around the world coming together and pledging almost $4.1 billion dollars to help with the rebuilding and reconstruction process (this does not include the money raised by individual organizations like RF). However, due to the incompetency of the government and the constant bickering of political parties – that money has not been allocated.

In an effort to try and speed up the reconstruction efforts, the government tried to promulgate a new constitution that has been in discussion since 2008. Unfortunately, fast-tracking the constitution had the opposite effect, as the Madesh region (lower region between Nepal and India ) was unhappy with their representation in the constitution and this ethnic unrest ultimately led to a prolonged blockade of the border. Since Nepal relies heavily on imports, especially food, medicines and fuel from India – the dire situation was made even worse.

Results of Nepal Blockade

The blockade resulted in gas lines like these being commonplace

I had gone back to visit family members during October and it was heartbreaking to see families still living in tents 6 months after the initial quake. These people had braved the horrific monsoon season and were now having to go through winter without a proper shelter. People who had enough money had started rebuilding their homes – but according to RedCross a striking number of 4 million people are still living in temporary shelters. The blockade had further deteriorated the situation – with families not having means to cook or heat their homes with lack of gas and fuel. Everywhere I went, I kept on seeing endless lines at petrol and gas stations, people waiting for days for a litre of petrol. In every house – the conversation revolved around blockade and the black market. UNICEF released a statement that said that more than 3 million children under the age of five were at risk of death or disease during Nepal’s harsh winter months, because of a severe shortage of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines.

Despite the lack of transportation, I managed to go visit our scholars and partner schools in Pharping and talk to our team on the progress of reconstruction work. It was remarkable to see how much our staff had managed to do in Pharping and the surrounding community and I was filled with hope again. I was even more impressed to see our team’s optimistic take on the current situation. They didn’t let the blockade dampen their spirits, but instead focused on having programs that highlighted the positive aspects of the season, such as various festival. Speaking with the team and the scholars mollified my own frustration and anger and I was bursting with pride to see how unbreakable they were. The team’s resilience showed me that no matter how dire the situation – our team was able to see the positive side. The blockade was hampering the school construction and building the LitClub library, as majority of the goods came in from India. Instead of stressing out, the team saw this as an opportunity to increase local business and invest in local trade. Their creativity and resourcefulness was commendable and made me proud to be part of the RF Nepal team. The borders finally reopened in February, after four months of harsh blockade.  

Opening of LitLibrary by Jennifer

Despite the delays caused by the blockade, the LitClub library was inaugurated in time by Jennifer Estrada  ( Director of Her Story Initiative and representative of LitWorld/Global G.L.O.W)

Looking Ahead to the future

Families are still facing the aftermath of the earthquake a year since it happened. We were well aware that rebuilding lives and communities would not be an easy feat, however we never predicted it would be made this hard either. While our foundation does not have the capacity to build houses for the ones who have lost everything – we are making an effort to bring back normality in the families lives by ensuring the schools are kept open and the children are getting the education they need. Our work is nowhere near done, with families still living under tin roof with no home to call their own.

Congrats SLC Graduates

We were so proud of our eight scholars who took and all passed the SLC exams last year. They brought us some much needed joy in a difficult time.

Despite the devastation, Rukmini Foundation had some wonderful news to celebrate when we learned that 8 of our students graduated. We held many programs to remind our girls that no matter how hard life’s challenges can be – with education and the right support – you can still move forward.  The reconstruction of the new school is almost complete and the LitClub library has already opened its doors to the students and community members. The new school year is also about to begin and we will be welcoming 8 new scholars to our program.

Our work would not have been possible without the support of our donors worldwide, our wonderful team in Nepal and the US. As a sign of gratitude for your tremendous support, our scholars in Nepal made handmade Thank You cards, which were mailed to our supporters. On behalf of our entire team, thank you for helping us get through a difficult year, and here is to looking ahead to a better year for us all.

Priti Bhattarai
Vice President, Rukmini Foundation

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