In April and May 2015, earthquakes shook Nepal, killing more than 8,600 and affecting more than 8 million people, many of whom were left homeless. Lutheran Disaster Response, working through ELCA companions in Nepal, was there from the beginning to support relief efforts. 

“Earthquakes, one of nature’s most destructive forces, always remind us about our vulnerability,” said Chandran Paul Martin, ELCA regional representative in Asia. “The ELCA was with its companions in Nepal right from the relief stage, responding to human suffering in some of the most remote places.”  

A second phase, which includes rebuilding homes, schools, a hospital and people’s livelihoods, is now almost complete, bringing to conclusion a $2.5-million effort by the ELCA and its global companions.  

One result of this work is that the most vulnerable—ethnic minorities, Dalits (also known as outcastes or untouchables in Hindu society) and women—are taking charge to bring about societal change. 

Stronger homes and businesses 

Though the government promised assistance to everyone affected by the earthquakes, implementation delays, inaccessible territory and neglect of the socially marginalized delayed much of the work, ELCA staff report.  

In the small village of Suri in the Dolakha District, some 120 miles east of Kathmandu, Chandra and Bhagawati B.K. and their two children lived under a tarp for more than a year before they could even start to rebuild. Their new earthquake-resistant house was built with government funds; supplemental funding from Lutheran Disaster Response helped complete it.  

A further loan of about $240 from the ELCA helped the family rebuild their small business. “We had a small shop before the earthquake,” Chandra said. “Afterward, through dialogue with the community, we decided what kind of business would be viable to generate income.” 

“Earthquakes, one of nature’s most destructive forces, always remind us about our vulnerability. The ELCA was with its companions in Nepal right from the relief stage, responding to human suffering in some of the most remote places.”

Before the earthquake, the family made about $5 to $10 a day. Now they make as much as $20.  

“This is because we have better road access, more mobility of the people and more items to sell,” Bhagawati said. 

Such improvements have come about because the villagers pushed for change. It was self-motivation, especially among women, that was the catalyst for societal transformation, Martin said. 

Women shake up local government 

“We now have these earthquake-resistant houses,” said villager Radika B.K., referencing the 30 homes in Suri rebuilt with ELCA funds. “It used to take us up to two hours each day to fetch water, and now we have water right in our community. And in all the governance we’ve had so far, there never have been any women; now we have women in leadership.” 

To assist with these changes, the ELCA-funded Transformation Education Program (TEP) taught women in Suri about the legislation that affects them as Dalits, their rights and how to access services. Literacy was also an important part of the program. 

As a result, participants provided input in rebuilding efforts and sought redress from the government. This community organizing is now setting the stage for more changes, staff said. 

In the entire Dolakha District, 73 Dalit women were among those elected to fill 200 municipal positions. And a newly elected national parliament and government includes a sizable number of women, many of whom are Dalits or ethnic minorities. 

“We never went to school,” said Radika, who is 50. After TEP taught her to read and write, she hopes to learn more and set an example for others. “Education is important, but what is equally important is our unity,” she said. “We can really bring about change in our community and nation.” 

During many visits, Martin said, “we have met and listened to stories of hope and transformation. The ELCA’s (tagline) ‘God’s work. Our hands.’ has been visible and actual. Our accompaniment has been long, need-based and effective, and we continue to learn from these experiences to be prepared for the next challenge.”  

Nepal rebuilding phase 2016-18 

Primary ELCA companions in Nepal: Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran World Relief, United Mission to Nepal, Shanti Nepal. 

Regions: Dolakha, Gorkha, Dhading, Kathmandu Valley. 

Homes rebuilt: 270. 

Water, sanitation and health improvements: six water sources restored; 150 latrines built in homes and schools; more than 4,260 students have access to safe drinking water through 24 supply systems; four health centers have a safe drinking water supply.  

Schools rebuilt: 19. 

Health care: one local primary health clinic upgraded to a district hospital. 

Livelihood projects: small enterprises, beekeeping, cardamom cultivation, plus some scholarships for higher learning for Dalit women. 

People directly affected: more than 50,000, plus many more children and their families with the school construction. 

Learn more at 

Y. Franklin Ishida
Ishida is program director for Asia Pacific with ELCA Global Mission.

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