Nepal, a country devastated, but far from defeated

September 4, 2015
by 
Stéphane Vinhas, Programs Officer (Emergency Relief)

Nepal is a quintessential tourist destination, considered the stuff of dreams thanks to its mountain peaks, enchanting landscapes, ancient cities, antique palaces and temples, venerable architecture, religions, food, and more. I would have liked to have visited this fascinating country with a lighter heart, but it was the two major earthquakes that hit the country last April and May that brought me there.  

My visit took place three months after the disaster struck, once the emergency phase was coming to an end and reconstruction work was just beginning. Thanks to this visit, I was able to take stock of the situation on the ground, assess the work that was carried out by our partner Caritas Nepal during the emergency phase, and to identify potential local partners for the rehabilitation phase. My visit was also one of solidarity; I carried a message of solidarity on behalf of Canadians, whose generous contributions provided support for victims.  

It was after 24 hours on a plane, two hours in a car on a winding mountain route, and two more hours on rough, muddy roads, that I finally arrived (along with other members of the Caritas network) in the midst of a severely affected community in the village of Jamuné, located in the Sindhulpalchok district. The Jumane community is mainly comprised of the Pohari ethnic group whose economic status has been quite low and are known to be living in abject poverty. We were warmly welcomed with greetings of “Namaste!” – the Nepalese version of “hello,” which means “I recognize the divine presence inside of you.” We were also given bougainvillea flower necklaces, a symbol of welcome. The members of the community seemed full of joy to have us among them and appreciative of the long road that we had travelled to meet them in person.     

The members of the community regularly thanked us for the invaluable assistance provided during the emergency. Sheets and tarpaulins made it possible for them to protect their family members and their belongings from the rain during the monsoon, while at the same time providing security and privacy for families. The hygiene kits and kitchen utensils allowed basic needs to be met and prevented the spread of disease in a context where toilets had been destroyed. All this helped restore peoples’ dignity and made life easier for those who had lost everything. The food distributed after the tragedy was also vital since it freed up the time needed to take care of family members, to prepare for reconstruction, and to do necessary work in the fields in preparation for the next harvest.

In arriving in the village, where everyone had a temporary shelter and where the fields were full of rice and corn plants, one thing seemed certain: the Nepalese are tremendously resilient. The timely support they have been given has enabled them to recover very quickly. One of the villagers explained that he began building his shelter 12 days after the disaster struck thanks to the material that was distributed! We received this gratitude in the name of all those who made it possible to provide emergency relief.

Above and beyond enabling the rebuilding of houses, the support provided also contributed to families remaining together. In a context where civil society organizations are more likely to be considered as facilitators, the only goal of our actions was to support communities in overcoming the consequences of the disaster so that they could quickly return to normal life. When I was about to leave, I asked them what message I should take back to Canada. Naryaniuri Pahari, also called Namita, a 41 year old mother of 4 children, answered in Nepalese: “The earthquake took our houses and members of our families, but we have been able to continue to live and to hope. Thank them on our behalf!” There! Mission accomplished!