Rebuilding dreams, rebuilding hopes – a melancholic reflection


June 25th, 2019

Almost 200 kilometres west from Kathmandu lies a small village called Rainas in Lamjung district. It is one of the villages which was hard hit by the 2015 earthquake. 83 year old Sape Damai lives with his 86 year old blind wife, Dalli Damai in a small temporary shelter in Rainas-8, Lamjung. They have been through thick and thin and are still going strong. All of their seven kids died during birth. “We were cursed, none of our kids survived,” says Mr. Damai as he wiped his tears. Nonetheless, the couple has nothing against their misfortune, “we were destined to deal with these problems, which I gracefully accept it,” says Mr. Damai with a hesitant smile on his face. Mr. Damai was in the field during the earthquake. As soon as he felt the shake, he rushed to his house and saw his house crumbled right before his eyes. His wife was sitting right in front of the house, not knowing what was going on. “Everything just happened in such a short span of time, I helplessly watched my house collapse right in front of my eyes,” shares Mr. Damai.


Pic: The love birds (Sape Damai and Dalli Damai) in front of their temporary shelter

Life can be so cruel sometimes but with the right company and attitude one can still move mountains. This was the case with this power couple. Both of them are in the twilight years, yet they bear no grievances or complaints. While I was sitting there talking to them, Mr. Damai slowly pulled his wife’s shawl that was hanging low and adjusted on her shoulder. It was the sweetest thing ever. Forget about the fairy tales, their affection was as pure as it can get.

The next stop for me was at Bharati, Dhorde-1, Lamjung, where a 63 year old Nanda Kumari Giri lives by herself. Her husband passed away some 26 years ago. “Even though I was a widow I was blessed with two sons and one daughter. They were my source of motivation. I never felt alone but all of a sudden things changed,” Ms. Giri said with a trembling voice. There was a long pause and she just could not continue. I too sat there without saying a word. After sometime I asked her if she had any siblings. She wiped her tears and said, “I do but they are far away, they are in Syangja.” Then she asked where I was from. I told her, “Pokhara.” She looked at me with those brooding eyes and said, “Oh, so we are from almost the same area,” with a brittle smile. I just shook my head and smiled back to her. She kept looking at me for a while and said that I resemble her older son. I could tell that she has been longing to see her son for quite some time now. Her older son was recruited by the Nepal Police during the Maoist insurgency. He used to send her money every now and then but later he got sick and had to quit the police force. Since then, he has not been able to send money. “I understand that he also has his own family to support, so he might not have enough money to send it to me,” says Ms. Giri to console herself. Whatsoever, she does not have anything against her son. More tragic was to follow after her eldest son’s injury.


Pic: Nanda Kumari Giri in front of her rundown house

She got bed-ridden for almost five years. She just could not get out of the bed. Her daughter and younger son had to do everything for her; from spoon feeding to taking her to the bathroom. Since they could not diagnose the problem, she had to be admitted to a bigger hospital in Chitwan. They prescribed her some medicines and told her to watch her diet. She was having severe vitamin deficiency and was malnourished. The doctors strictly advised her to eat nutritious meals. “It was a miracle by the grace of god, I never thought I would be able to walk but slowly I regained my energy and power,” smiles Ms. Giri. Just when things started to take shape, another tragedy struck. Her daughter eloped with some stranger but things did not work out. So, within a month she came back home but again she ran away with another man. Right after that, her younger son also got married and shifted to another place with his wife. “During mela, I used to save my food and bring it home to my son. I even sold my last piece of earring just so that he could appear for the SLC entrance exam. I thought I could lean on to my son during my old age but everything went in vain,” says Ms. Giri as she wipes her tears off. In the end, she was left alone in a desolate house which was struck by the earthquake.

More than 600,000 houses were destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. Four years down the line, people like Sape Damai and Nanda Kumari Giri are still forced to live in either a temporary shelter or a run-down house. Four thousand rupees received as an old age pension is the only source of income which is hardly enough to feed them, rebuilding a house is a far cry. Practical Action’s “Leave No One Behind” (LNOB) project funded by the UKAid is helping people like Sape Damai and Nanda Kumari Giri rebuild their houses. The main objective of LNOB project is to support 1500 marginalised and vulnerable households from Makwanpur and Lamjung districts to build resilient houses addressing the barriers to housing reconstruction and enabling them to access government’s cash grant support.

Likewise, 200 kilometres east from Lamjung, lies another small village called Takuwa in Makwanpur district. The story of 13 year old Santosh Neupane is also woeful. His dad left for India when he was a small kid and never returned. His mom remarried and left him with his baby sister. Their house was also destroyed by the earthquake, so he and his sister had to move in to his uncle’s house after the earthquake. I was briefed by one of the field mobilisers about Santosh’s story, so I was keen to meet with him in person.

It was a hot sunny afternoon in Takuwa, I could feel the sweat rolling down my spine, as I waited for Santosh at his uncle’s house. As I was having a chat with his uncle, he pointed me towards Santosh and said, “Oh, finally he’s here.”  I saw Santosh coming from the other side in a sluggish pace. He had a bandage wrapped around his wrist. I introduced myself and offered him a seat next to me. He hesitantly sat next to me. Sweat was running down his forehead, his eyes looked wan and tired. When I asked him what happened to his wrist, without looking at me, he said, “I sprained my wrist while playing football,” in a hushed tone. Bingo! That was an ice-breaker for me. We share the same passion, I said it to myself. Then I shared my football experiences with him and he got really excited. At first, he hardly spoke but after some time, he slowly opened up. I told him I did my ankle multiple times and also my ACL while playing football and he just gave me a smirk. Finally, I guess I made him smile.


Pic: Santosh Neupane struggling to smile with his sprained wrist

The story of Santosh is nothing similar compared to the rest of the kids his age. He wakes up around six in the morning, prepares breakfast, feeds his baby sister and helps her get ready for school. In the meantime, he also gets himself ready for school. After school, he comes back home, prepares snacks for his sister and they sit down together to do their school assignments. After they are done with the assignments, his sister goes out to play while he goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner. “Most of the times, as soon as I go to bed, I pass out immediately,” says Santosh. While the rest of the kids his age are busy playing with their toys, Santosh is obliged to baby-sit his little sister. When asked about his future aspirations, he just smiled and said, “I want to be a footballer.” Whereas, for his sister, he wants her to be a teacher and help the kids in his village with their studies. That was the most humble answer I have ever heard.

The financial contribution of Practical Action might seem very minimal but I am sure a big change starts small. Nonetheless, the role of Practical Action should not be undermined. It is helping to bridge the gap between the earthquake victims and the government. I just cannot wait to see those houses being rebuilt and the smile restored on the faces of Sape Damai, Nanda Kumari Giri and Santosh Neupane. Hoping for more of an ecstatic, rhapsodic reflection the next time around!

 

2 responses to “Rebuilding dreams, rebuilding hopes – a melancholic reflection”

  1. Anna Durrance-Bagale Says:

    Beautifully written, sad and hopeful at the same time. You’re doing brilliant work in Nepal. Much respect and gratitude.

  2. Prabin Gurung Says:

    Thank you Anna.

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