This post was written by Aparna Singh, Women LEAD’s Communication and Programs Associate, and Stephanie Arzate, Research and Communications Fellow

Imagine the longest fifty-six seconds of your life.

This is how I remember the April 25th Earthquake that struck Nepal exactly one year ago today. That Saturday morning, I was at the Women LEAD office facilitating a workshop with around fifteen girls in our year-long leadership program when the office began to shake violently. For a mere minute, we watched as the office swayed in every direction. By 11:57 AM, we emerged from the office to find that our country had changed forever, sometimes in ways that we could never imagine.

The April 25th Earthquake brought us closer to death than anything else many of us will ever experience, and unfortunately took away the lives, homes, and hopes of thousands of people. But amongst all the sorrow and pain that came from that tragic day, I remember seeing something that was truly magical. For a year, Women LEAD selects 30 high-achieving girls in the Kathmandu Valley and equips them with the skills they need to become leaders in their communities. The Nepal Earthquakes presented our program participants, or “LEADers,” with the ultimate test. After a couple of days, Women LEAD’s work resumed—albeit slightly differently—and I watched as the girls in our program, both past and present, sprung into action. 

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Program alumni, Sujata, distributes supplies following the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes

The leadership displayed by the girls in this devastating time was truly amazing. Women LEAD staff and alumni prepared basic supplies to distribute to the LEADers, staff and families affected by the earthquake. Two of our alumni, Reeti and Samikshya, established the “LEAD Education Relief Project,” which provided study kits to high school seniors who had lost their books during the earthquake, but were facing rapidly approaching exams. Saniya, a 2013 LEADer distributed mosquito nets and flashlights to 53 families in one of the hardest hit districts in Nepal: Sindhupalchowk. And 2012 LEADer, Sujata, launched a crowdrise campaign and raised over $500 to sponsor school uniforms, textbooks, stationery, and exam fees for 10 students affected by the earthquake. In a time when the voices and needs of many individuals were not being heard, these girls stepped up and became the inclusive, responsible leaders Nepal needed. 

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Participants collecting and distributing supplies to those in need.

When I look back on how far we’ve come since that day, I can’t help but to think about time. In fifty-six seconds, we lost over 8,000 lives. In  fifty-six seconds, centuries-old temples turned to rubble. In  fifty-six  seconds, everything changed. And yet, while the exact moment of impact was short, a year has not given us enough time to recover. Just months after the earthquake, Nepal faced a blockade that prevented a shortage of fuel, food, and vital supplies from coming into the country. It took the  National Reconstruction Association (NRA) over nine months to begin post-earthquake reconstruction effort. Women’s rights activists have urged that the NRA, which oversees the country’s rebuilding process, have more women involved to ensure the needs of women and children are heard, with little success. Meanwhile, reports have found that incidents of violence against women have increased and thousands of children, mostly girls, have been trafficked since the earthquake

In many ways, what we’ve seen a year since those devastating fifty-six seconds in Nepal has been a leadership failure. And what I’ve learned in the time since the April 25th earthquake is that women and girls must be key players in the reconstruction of our country moving forward. As Samikshya powerfully told us, “Girls’ voices in Nepal’s earthquake relief efforts are important because without their voices, the problems of many survivors cannot be heard.” Like Reeti, Samikshya, Sujata, and Saniya prove, girls’ voices in Nepal’s earthquake relief efforts are as vital as ever. 

Featured image credit: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi / UNDP Nepal.

Originally published on Women LEAD.

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