Sunday, September 13, 2015

Nepal: Chhori's Post-Earthquake relief efforts

April 25, 2015 is a day that will be remembered in Nepal for generations. Our world was literally shaken up, our foundations cracked, and our ancestral villages reduced to rubble. We were incredibly lucky that all members of Chhori were safe and physically unharmed. However, all around us we could see the destruction, devastation and grief, and it broke our hearts. Within the first week after the earthquake, Chhori started strategizing with INGOs and coordinating immediate relief projects in an effort to do whatever we could do to heal.

Kathmandu's central Ratna Park filled with tents 3 days after the earthquake.

Several of our members are closely connected with the VDC (Village Development Committee) of Belkot in the district of Nuwakot, one of the 11 districts heavily affected by the earthquake. We were able to get specific numbers on how much and what kind of food, shelter and medical supplies were needed directly from villagers on the ground. On May 1, with help from Planete Enfant Nepal we were able to deliver aid to 141 families. 

Delivering food in Belkot

 Our second visit after the earthquake was to Sankhu, a community 20 KM east of urban Kathmandu. On May 6, we were able to deliver aid to 5 families. While in Sankhu we conducted an assessment of increased risk of trafficking of women and children, and found that people were aware and concerned about their own vulnerability and the safety of their daughters at this precarious and stressful time. We spoke with one woman who was so worried about the safety of her daughters that she requested we find a safe shelter for them immediately. Fortunately we were able to oblige her request and found a safe place in Kathmandu. More recently, we have been able to open a fully functioning shelter in Sankhu for other at-risk women and girls to help combat trafficking.

Many of the village buildings had collapsed

About 2 weeks after the earthquake, news reached us that a large number of displaced families were still living under tents in the Gongabu Buspark area of Kathmandu. While conducting an assessment in this area on the 17th of May, we encountered two pregnant women and two single women with young children. Due to the poor conditions they were living in, we relocated the women and their children to our office space temporarily. We were able to provide financial support to the two pregnant women and their husbands, helping them to afford food, water, shelter and healthcare for 2 months. 

Children of single mothers enjoying activities while sheltering in our office.

During our assessment in Gongabu, we found that many people were simply stranded in the Kathmandu area with no money to get home and nobody to help them. From May 17-30, we provided money for bus tickets for 30 people to 16 various districts in Nepal and Darjeeling, India. With the help of Geneva Global, we were able to coordinate emergency food support to people in staying in a large futsal shed in Gongabu. We reached 107 people over a period of 10 days. We were also able to provide psychological first-aid, counselling, medical checkups and sanitary napkins to 110 people in 3 different tents in the Gongabu area.

Chhori's nurse providing medical check-ups in Gongabu

As the President organization of the Campaign for Rights network, Chhori organized meetings on May 5th and June 15th with many grassroots NGOs working to support and empower girls and women working in the entertainment sector in Kathmandu to determine the effect of the earthquake on this population. We found that many of the girls had lost their rented rooms and were struggling to find new ones. Many had returned home to their villages (many young people did this in the week following the first earthquake). Most of the businesses that they work at, including bars, restaurants and massage parlours had been closed for weeks, leaving the workers without a source of income. Several groups had confirmed deaths among their contacts, and many more women and girls were unaccounted for. Chhori became even more determined to provide increased shelter space for these women and girls.

Campaign for Rights Network meeting

In Mid-may we visited a group of families who had set up a temporary shelter in Kathmandu's Model College in the south part of the city. These families had been told that they would be ask to leave in a week's time in order for the school to reopen and resume classes. Many of the families told us they had nowhere to go, and were unsure of their futures. Chhori provided psychological first aid to many of the parents and children here.

Children playing beside their temporary shelters at Kathmandu Model College

From late May to June, after the psychologically devastating May 12th earthquake, Chhori worked with Planete Enfant again to organize a psychological first aid, counselling, medical checkup, mediciane and sanitary napkins for 300 people in Kirtipur, a village on the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley.

Psychological First Aid in Kirtipur

Our next stop was the VDC of Chaugadha, again in Nuwakot district. On June 20th, we brought sanitary napkins and safe-menstruation awareness brochures. We also provided psychological first-aid, counselling and medical checkups with a focus on reproductive rights for the villagers. While we paid special attention to women and girls, we included men in our services as well, recognizing that all people were traumatized by the earthquakes and needed support.

Our private counselling tents

We then heard from our contacts in Belkot, Nuwakot, that four families were desperately struggling to get back on their feet. On June 25th, with help from private donations from abroad, we were able to provide these 4 families with sheet metal to make monsoon-proof temporary shelters and some cash for purchasing basic supplies and food. In Jiling, another VDC in Belkot, we were able to provide tents and clothes to 15 more families that were struggling to stay afloat. Temporary shelters had become the critical item in post-earthquake survival, as monsoon season makes it impossible to safely build new houses.

Delivering heaps of lentils and rice

In late June we shifted our focus towards the special challenges facing women and girls in this post-disaster time. We had witnessed girls being forced to practice chaupadi even though their whole families were sleeping in makeshift shelters. Chaupadi is the practice of isolating menstruating women from the household and men in the family. Usually they live and sleep in a small shack apart from their house. In the best of times it is an unfair and unsafe practice, and during the post-earthquake the risks have increased. After witnessing this injustice, Chhori started to advocate for improved awareness of menstrual health, encouraging other organizations to include sanitary napkins in their relief packages. 

We were made aware of another area in Nuwakot called Urleni, where girls were vulnerable to traffickers. From the first of July we were able to establish an emergency shelter for girls in this area. Overall, throughout the aftermath of the earthquake, we provided shelter for women and children in Nuwakot, Sankhu and Kathmandu, and several young women and girls are still living in our new Kathmandu shelter and being supported to pursue formal education. Additionally, several women received financial support to re-establish their lives after losing their homes in the earthquake.

Chair-person Hira Dahal talks to girls in their chaupadi hut

Our most recent action, as of July 5th, has been through our association with the Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC) to petition the government of Nepal to provide specific care and support to pregnant women, new mothers and their newborns, and to ensure that women are included in the relief and rebuilding decisions being made at the local level.

Chhori, like most Nepalese these last few months, has been doing everything in our power to help those worse affected by this heartbreaking disaster. Drawing on our strengths and prior knowledge and experience, we were quick to focus in on the needs of women and girls in some of the worst affected areas, knowing that there was a risk they would be ignored in this critical time. Our staff worked very hard and were extremely brave throughout this time, even as the aftershocks continued and we slept outside for weeks. We owe much gratitude to Planete Enfant Nepal, Geneva Global and private donors from overseas via our foreign volunteers, all of whom were quick to offer and deliver support and provide the financial backing for our actions, interventions and advocacy. We’re so relieved that the sense of emergency seems to finally to subsiding, giving us the time and clarity to focus on long-term recovery and rebuilding and growth as our country shifts its focus to instituting a new constitution.