Mothers coming together
By Carina Wint, Media Specialist, World Vision UK
The earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 devastated hundreds of thousands of lives. Over 600,000 homes were destroyed in the mountainous, land-locked South Asian country, and nearly 9,000 men, women and children lost their lives. The very government offices responsible for reconstruction were reduced to rubble by the earthquake, and the situation was further worsened by the loss of five hospitals. Any development gains that had been made in recent years were severely set back when the earthquakes and aftershocks hit Nepal.
I visited one of the worst affected areas, Sindhupalchowk. Just two to three hours east of Kathmandu, the region is called the pahar - ‘hills’ in Nepali. Only a person who had grown up in the shadow of Everest could call this area ‘hilly’. It’s a region zigzagged with mountains that are both steeper and higher than anything I've ever seen. Most car journeys are long, bumpy and definitely not for the faint-hearted. To make matters worse, this year has also seen a record number of landslides reported by local communities. As WV Nepal helps deliver aid and recovery assistance following the earthquake earlier this year there are a number of areas that need consideration; one is the Nepalese government's unenviable task of rebuilding a nation against a backdrop of constitutional change. A second is Nepal's topography which is a major stumbling block for the international NGO aid effort. A third is the security of our staff and communities as outbreaks of violence arise from time to time.
I saw this difficulty firsthand when I visited last month. If only World Vision had a fleet of helicopters to deliver the food, blankets, tents, water purifying tablets and other essential items that people need to survive. The reality is that there just aren’t enough helicopters to go around and sometimes it’s just not practical to use them.
Instead we’re using donkeys and tractors to get to those hard to reach communities perched in the foothills of the Himalayas. When I was there some of my Nepalese colleagues had just returned from a two day trek to some of the isolated villages to distribute aid. Without our assistance these villages would be cut off. And as the world’s largest international children’s charity we strive to help the over 950,000 (UNICEF statistic) Nepali children who are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Mothers coming together
In Sindhupalchowk I met the family of Phul - a mother whose life was changed forever by the earthquake. She tells me how she survived with her son.
“I was in the house when the earthquake hit. I quickly grabbed my son. As we stepped through the front door the house crumbled around us. It was terrifying.”
Phul now lives with her son in a centre that supports orphans and victims of trafficking. The centre first started working on child protection after a group of local women attended one of our workshops. Inspired by the workshop, the women set up their own centre to help protect the most vulnerable children in their community. Phul now helps care for the orphans and rescued children whose lives were devastated by the disaster.
“In the beginning, many of the children were traumatised. They didn’t speak,” she tells me. “Now they laugh and play.”
Despite having lost her home Phul is pleased to be at the centre - “It’s easier than being in the village. Here my son gets to study.”
Mari, 28, also moved to the centre after her house was destroyed. She was widowed before the quake and lived alone with her daughter in a nearby village. “When the room began to sway I held my daughter close and we ran out of the house as fast as we could. All the villagers gathered in a corn field. We were all very worried,” she says.
When I ask her about her plans for the future, she tells me that she doesn’t have any -“I can’t plan for the future. I’m taking it one day at a time.”
Looking to the future
Some of the children that Mari and Phul care for are victims of trafficking, which has a historical legacy in this part of Nepal. Children from across the region are bought and sold into a life of sexual and economical exploitation. They are taken to Kathmandu and then transported on to India and other countries. In times of disaster, when poverty is at its most acute, traffickers have rich pickings amongst the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost everything.
Phul believes that parents, schools and children need to be informed about child trafficking. "I want the government to stop them from taking our children. I haven’t been to school so I don’t know how to solve the problem. But I do know that some parents are motivated to sell their children for money."
Thankfully, the Nepali government was swift to act after the earthquake. It set up strategic checkpoints across the region. Drivers are forced to stop whilst soldiers peer into their vehicles on the look-out for trafficked children. It has been effective, but many children still slip through the net.
World Vision is one of many international NGOs working with the Nepali government to protect children from abuse. In the five months since the earthquake we have set up child protection committees, trained people in basic child protection awareness, and worked with radio journalists to broadcast anti-trafficking messages. And, not least of all, we are providing psychological support to children that have been rescued from the unscrupulous traffickers that trade in children.