By Nerida Williams, Save the Children Media and Communications Officer.
One minute was all it took for a 7.8 magnitude earthquake to destroy 600,000 homes.
One minute took away countless health centres, schools and sacred monuments that had stood the test of time for more than 500 years.
That minute occurred at 11:56am on the 25 April, 2015. It was a Saturday.
They say large-scale earthquakes like this are inevitable in Nepal. One happens about every 80 years.
A strange kind of ‘luck’
The fact that this one occurred on a Saturday – the one day when children are out of school, the one day of the week that weddings take place outside and people are in their fields tending to their crops – was lucky, I’ve been told.
Lucky that thousands of children weren’t inside school buildings. Lucky that thousands of adults weren’t inside their offices. If they were, the death toll of 9,000 could have been much higher.
Lucky isn’t normally a word you would associate with an earthquake. But it sums up the essence of the Nepali people – their resilience and positivity; their community spirit.
Time and time again I’ve met people who lost everything in the quake. Their home, their clothes and sometimes their loved ones. When I have asked people about the earthquake, so many have replied that they weren’t just upset for their loss – but for everyone else’s loss too.
Teachers at our temporary learning centres told me that, for a long time afterwards, children would appear startled at the smallest noise.
Children are often unable to express their trauma in the same way as an adult. So, we’ve been using art therapy to help them express their fears and anxieties.
One 13-year-old student, Dipesh, told me new activities now included in the post-quake curriculum – such as yoga and meditation – have helped calm his nerves immensely.
I met Dipesh in a village high in the mountains in the district of Kavre. Sitting with him in the temporary learning centre we’ve built, I was immensely impressed by his articulation and confidence.
We walked together, down a winding dirt track, to his home. Next to a pile of bricks that used to be his two-story house stood his new temporary home. A small shack made from wood and corrugated iron sheets, it now housed his brother, mother and father.
Inside was a cooker and kitchen materials – retrieved from the rubble by his older brother – and a bed which they all shared. The family were slowly getting back on their feet with the assistance of their village and charities like ours.
Dipesh told me that the nightmares he used to have after the earthquake have all but gone. But he is still scared when storms whip through the mountains and rattle his temporary home – and his nerves.
Rebuilding homes and communities
Rebuilding in Nepal could take up to five years. When formal reconstruction does commence, the aim will be to have safer, earthquake proof structures.
Save the Children is training thousands of masons with skills to ‘Build Back Better’. This is part of a the government initiative to ensure that new homes, schools and buildings will be better able to withstand another quake.
A few days ago I met a woman named Bimila in her village. We spoke sitting in a new temporary shelter built adjacent to her animal shed.
With the faint sounds of baby goats bleating in the background, she told me that her original house – which stood metres away in complete rubble – was built with such pride, and all her savings, 15 years ago. A daily reminder of loss.
Before the quake, Bimila was already one of the government’s female community heath volunteers. She’s still dedicated to her community and gives her time to help others.
When the quake struck she was one of the first to respond and assist her local villagers. She remembers pulling a four-year old neighbour’s body from the rubble. She tended to the wounded.
It was only the next day, when the adrenaline had subsided, that she realised she had badly strained her ankle during the quake. It’s still difficult for her to walk on it properly.
Hands and hand-outs
After the earthquake, many people took it upon themselves to band together and assist each other to build temporary shelters. They pooled resources to create their own village loan system.
We started responding within 24 hours of the earthquake. We have already reached over 500,000 people through temporary shelter kits, cash transfers, setting up child-friendly spaces and running temporary learning centres.
When you meet Nepali people, even those who have lost everything, their hands don’t come together to make the gesture of begging. Instead, they come together in the sign of prayer with the words ‘Namaste’ – ‘I see the God in you’.
One year on, there is still a way to go. As we enter the third phase of our earthquake response, we aim to reach the most marginalised and vulnerable families.
We hope to provide the support communities in Nepal need to fully rebuild, restoring over the coming years what took one minute to take away.