A mother's heart
by Annila Harris, World Vision Communicator
"Are you ready to go?" asks World Vision's Operations Manager, Faith Chastain.
Was I ready to venture on a five hour long drive to one of the worst affected districts, by the earthquake, in Nepal? The images of the devastation that were all over the news still lingered in my mind; buildings crumbling to the ground, hospitals overflowing with injured families and death toll figures rapidly escalating. People desperately hoping that loved ones trapped within the rubble were still alive.
With the tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags and gear all loaded onto the vehicle, we head out to Gorkha. As we drive past the outskirts of Kathmandu, sights of dilapidated structures and people taking refuge under tarpaulins no longer feel like glimpses of news stories, but a desperate reality that now faces the Nepalese people.
Soon the picturesque countryside, with its lush green foliage and high breathtaking mountains, takes me back to a tranquil time before the 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the country. How long it will take for the people to move from a state of constant panic to one of stillness and calm, I can’t imagine; the transition seems far away.
Nine-year-old Bishal plays with his younger brother Sansaar in the open space close to where their parents work. Many schools are closed due to damage, and the boys’ educations have been put on hold.
"I love school because I get to read and play there. But my school is closed now because of the earthquake. There are cracks in the walls. I am waiting for my school to open, I want to meet my friends. When the earthquake came I was in the field with my relatives. The field was shaking and I was about to fall. I just held the ground till it stopped. I was scared and shouted 'what is happening?' but I did not cry," Bishal remembers.
Unlike his brother, little Sansaar takes time to approach me. Enticed by the yellow safety-whistle hanging around my neck, he slowly moves closer. In a flash, he blows hard on it, making a loud whistling noise. A sheepish grin beams across his face. Excited about his new experience he runs back to his mother, clutching onto her dress and occasionally peeping to see where I am.
Picking him up, Sansaar's mum, Sita, recalls being in the house when the earthquake struck.
“The house jolted and I was thrown to one side. When I got to my feet I ran out of the house and went to search for my children. Thankfully my children were safe. But our house is damaged.”
“As a mother I have lots of plans for my children. I hope for them to study and have a brighter future for themselves. The earthquake has affected my children’s studies. All schools are closed. The school building is cracked.”
“The heart of a mother wants safety and security for her children. I know of cases where both the mother and child have lost their lives because of the earthquake. But I imagine those cases where the mother has survived and the child died, or where the child survived and the mother died - my heart goes out to them. We cannot compete with nature but for those who have survived we need to try to live happy lives.” It's at times like these, Sita says, that we really value what we have and what we could lose.
Driving through the mountainous terrain, we stop at a roadside restaurant before pressing on towards Gorkha. At the empty restaurant 38-year-old Sabitri is busy with preparations for the day, in the hopes that travellers will be stopping in to buy food.
A mother of two, whatever Sabitri earns is invested in her children’s education. But she tells us that her business has taken a severe beating since the earthquake.
"Tourists used to come visit the nearby temple. They used to come to my restaurant to eat my famous fish. But now, after the earthquake the business has gone down. I see no tourists now but relief workers. My sons are in college and were due to have exams but they have been postponed because of the earthquake. The college is damaged too," she says.
As a working mother, Sabitri clings to the hope that her situation will soon improve. As we continue our journey, we encounter similar scenes of destruction across the rural landscape. The earthquake spared no one.
Finally, we arrive at a small village that had recently been a spot for tourists to rest and immerse themselves in the local culture. But the earthquake left no stone unturned as it swept across the country, destroying the entire village and reducing it to dust. Here, Savita, a mother of a seven and a three -year-old describes her brush with death.
"When the quake hit I was washing clothes. I just left everything and gathered my children, clutching them closely, and ran out into an open space. I screamed 'help, help!'. The house shook like the trees sway when strong winds blow. I saw my house collapse before my very eyes. For 18 years we have been in that house. My children were born there. All my memories of motherhood are attached to that house. But it is just a house, I have my children with me and they are safe," she says.
Finding temporary shelter under the tarpaulin provided by World Vision, Savita is trying to piece her life back together, but is still contemplating where to begin.
As I make my way through the bludgeoned, torn-down village, some villagers are still trying to salvage what they can find.I take a moment to try and grasp the mammoth loss suffered by the people of Nepal. In a flash, the earthquake stripped many of them of everything they'd ever possessed - their homes, their livelihoods, their material possessions. But the quake was unable to tarnish the vivacious spirit of the Nepalese people.
Upon arrival to her devastated house, 82-year old Durga offers me a banana. “You have to eat something. These are organic bananas from our field for you.” In the midst of all her loss, she shares her limited stock of food with me. Durga was in her house when the earthquake struck. Holding on tight to the doorpost she survived. So did her entire family.
As we left for the day, I reflected on Sanasaar and Bishal, and thought of their mother and the other incredible women I had met. Motherhood is universal. The heart of a mother looks out for her child, their protection and their safety, no matter the circumstances. As she fed me bananas from her garden, Durga kept telling me that she sees herself in me. She left me with a motherly advice – always be good.