One Year Later, Girls’ Voices Are As Critical as Ever In Nepal’s Earthquake Recovery Efforts

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.

Nepal Earthquake: A Personal Reflection

Post Written by: Reeti, a Women LEAD young woman leader. The following are excerpts from Reeti’s personal blog The Black Caterpillar. Reeti reflects on the current situation in Nepal and the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake. 

Reflection, Day 1 (Sunday, April 26th): 

Acouple of years ago I’d written a short story and it began like this:

I was standing there, strayed in the street, unnoticed amidst the crowd. My eyes were searching for something and someone. I fell down. Probably someone had pushed me. I tried to stand but somebody pushed me again so I fell really hard on the street once more. Cursing the fellow who pushed me, I finally stood up. I stretched and looked as far as I could but my family was nowhere to be seen. I did not know what to do. My eyes were wet, my heart was beating loud, my legs shaking. I did not know whether it was from nervousness or due to the shaking of the earth. Yes, the ground was literally shaking. Our city was hit by an earthquake. Everyone was running here and there, pushing every individual like bowling balls hitting pins. I was standing on the street like a lifeless statue. All the houses were collapsing. The people were shouting and children were crying. The street was filled with chaos.

I never imagined this piece of fiction would turn into a reality. Yesterday, Nepal was hit by a 7.9 Richter scale of earthquake and the aftershocks have still not ceased though it’s been more than 18 hours. There have been more than 25 aftershocks and the country is in great chaos.

At noon on Saturday when the earth started shaking vigorously, I was at Patan Durbar Square, a place known for culture assets and listed as UNESCO world heritage site. I held a bench cemented in the ground and within seconds watched my country’s asset turn into dust. Everything started collapsing in front of my eyes. I  thought it was the last day of my life. The scene was horrible and terrifying. People started screaming and crying. Buildings started collapsing and there was chaos all across Kathmandu.

I was there to meet a friend but we could not meet and I returned back with my dad. The motorbike ride from Patan to Jawalakhel was the scariest ride where I watched the destruction in the city first hand.

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Photo Credit: Reeti

Many cultural sites have been damaged and 1,500 people have died with the death toll still rising as the ruins are being cleaned. The aftershocks have not stopped and there are chances of a larger earthquake occurring within 48 hours. My family and I are camping with many others outside for the night. We prayed for the rain not to pour down because everyone would be in distress.

The night was spent with sleeplessness, earthquakes and mosquito bites. And yes, gentle showers of rain for a couple of minutes. Ambulance sirens, anxious cries and the sudden angry roar of the earth are heard and felt frequently. Well for now, my friends and family are fine and though there has been destruction done to their physical infrastructures, no harm has been done to their health. So all we can do is stay put and pray for earthquakes to end.

Reflection, Day 2 (Monday, April 27th):

We have now had more than 80 aftershocks and it still has not ended. We are being told it will continue for 72 hours. As I am writing this, we have already experienced 2-3 more aftershocks measuring at 6.6 on the Richter scale. Now, after being hit many times, the gentle shakes do not even matter. We are camping outside in a field. The sun is extremely scorching and it is difficult for us. Yesterday night it rained heavily. We spent the night shivering and huddled together. We have had two sleepless nights and I do not know how many more are to come!

Reeti
Photo Credit: Reeti

I do not know what to say about this week. I am in utter shock. I have been hearing news about people dying, some known while others unknown.  I realize the worth of human life and understand anything can happen anytime.

Who would have thought this can happen to us?

I remember yesterday morning dancing to party songs and hula hooping, without any care in the world. Only a few hours later, I had left the house with such excitement of showing my friend around Patan Durbar Square. Who knew I would have to hold onto a bench and shake vigorously watching the entire thing turn into dust?

There have been many realizations about being prepared for natural calamity. I do not know about other realizations as my mind is really not working well and as there have been sleepless nights full of fear. Please pray for Nepal and if you want to help, there are links to my previous blog post. I will be updating soon when the internet is working well.

Women LEAD is committed to supporting our community in Kathmandu as they identify and respond in real time to their own communities’ most pressing needs. We ask for your support as we provide our staff and the 100 young women we’ve trained and mentored with the resources they need to effectively respond to this disaster. All funds donated to the “Nepal Earthquake Reconstruction Efforts” option under the list of programs will go directly to our leaders and the projects they choose to run to help their communities in this difficult time. We will need additional core funding as prices in Nepal rise and as we coordinate these efforts. If you wish to support our operations, select “Women LEAD” instead. 

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