Renuka Shrestha recalled the moment when the earthquake hit her Nepali village: “I was reading a book. Suddenly everything was shaking and I was so afraid. I tried to escape, but my home was gone and there was nowhere really to go. It was such a difficult a time. I cried a lot with my family. Even though we were together, we couldn’t do anything, we didn’t know what to do.”Ever since the earthquake on April 25, 2015, the strongest in recent memory at magnitude 7.8, life is different—even as relief and rebuilding continues in this impoverished country.
More than 8,460 were killed and 480,000 homes destroyed, many in remote areas of the country. ELCA partners in Nepal—the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Lutheran World Relief and the United Mission to Nepal—reached out after the disaster to care for those affected, providing temporary shelter and emergency food assistance to more than 30,000 individuals. Gifts from ELCA members and congregations to Lutheran Disaster Response helped fund some of this work.
A second major earthquake struck Nepal May 12, 2015, with almost 400 aftershocks, causing continued waves of panic among people near the epicenters. ELCA companions and members responded again.
Now, just over a year after the first quake and with aftershocks still rattling people’s nerves, life is slowly getting back to normal. But it’s a new normal, one in which people are continually reminded of the great destruction disasters bring.
In Tawal, located in the northern Dhading District and close to the epicenter of the earthquake, Angela Tamang’s house was among some 300 that were destroyed or badly damaged. It has taken awhile to get established again and, “for now, that’s how we’re surviving,” she said, pointing to a tin (galvanized metal sheet) temporary shelter positioned on leased land.
“We are grateful for the Christian organizations that have helped us during this time,” said Tamang, who remembers initially receiving food and tents from them. “Afterward, we received seed, galvanized sheets for the temporary shelter and winterization materials.”
Tamang’s farming family is confronting another reality that has made recovery difficult—water is scarce. Tawal hasn’t had much rainfall this season, and water from the mountain is no longer reliable since the source was disrupted by the earthquake, she said. “Fortunately no one in the family was killed or injured,” she added. “But all we want to do is rebuild our home and life.”
Now the Nepali government is poised to provide $2,000 to each family, like the Tamangs, to rebuild their destroyed homes. This is coupled with the requirement that the houses be built with earthquake-resistant features.
The ELCA partner organizations’ major focuses have been working among the marginalized Nepalese, such as the Dalit (the outcasts in the traditional Hindu communities). “[The Dalit] are poor already and socially marginalized,” said Roshni Paryar of Kusumpariyar Thali village. “We are at the bottom of everything, even when the disaster struck. LWF was the only one who came to provide for us.”
The LWF brought mats and blankets, hygiene training, medicines and seeds to help with vegetable farming.
While the LWF is now providing small business grants for individuals to reposition themselves anew with their shops and trades, plans are being made to provide training and education grants to help Dalit people move beyond their socially dictated trades. In referencing these trades, Paryar said, “We feel that’s not the only thing we can do.” She wants to be a journalist or a social worker rather than doing Dalit-specific tailoring.
Coming together amid challenges
In Sanagoun, where Shrestha still lives, she remembers how the LWF was there “at the very beginning, distributing help.” They offered rice, lentils, tents, kitchenware, hygiene kits and water filters to her family and others.
Today Sanagoun is a model village in which the people make bricks to reconstruct houses. Water and sanitation systems will be established, small business grants will be awarded and livelihood training will be conducted via the work of ELCA partners like the LWF.
“Before the earthquake, we rarely came together, often just to celebrate festivals,” said Pundeshori Shrestha. “We didn’t know each other well. But now, after the disaster, we work together, we communicate, we know each other much better as we come together.” She has seen young and old people join forces to rebuild: “This all has united us together for a better future. We are powerful together.”
Those in Sanagoun all agree that, even as things have gotten better, life will be beautiful again only when they have their quality of life back. Subama Shrestha, a community leader, summed it up this way: “Coming together was not our choice. The circumstances brought us together.” Pointing to an ELCA visiting group, she said: “You are here. And you have been here and you will be here, we know that.”
The ELCA, through Lutheran Disaster Response, works with its partners in Nepal—Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran World Relief, United Mission to Nepal and Shanti Nepal (a primary health provider and hospital)—to provide ongoing relief and development to those affected by the disaster.