One Thousand Homes in Nepal
On 25 April 2015, a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, resulting in tragedy: 9,000 people were killed, with hundreds of thousands more losing their homes. Just a few weeks later, a second earthquake struck the country, killing 200 people and injuring 2,500 more.
On 25 April 2015, a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, resulting in tragedy: 9,000 people were killed, with hundreds of thousands more losing their homes. Just a few weeks later, a second earthquake struck the country, killing 200 people and injuring 2,500 more. Many of us can still remember watching this tragedy unfold in the news. At the time, I was working in a remote part of the Nias Islands in North Sumatra, Indonesia. My first thoughts went to the victims as well as to colleagues in relief organisations whom I knew were based there. From where I was, I could only imagine the enormity of the task they faced.
Medair’s emergency response team was on the ground within 48 hours of the first earthquake, working together with other organisations to provide desperately needed relief to communities. The scale of the tragedy didn’t go unnoticed. Tens of thousands of people around the globe were moved to give, allowing humanitarian organisations like ours to do our job. Yet inevitably, once the initial shock and outpouring of emotion had passed, attention was drawn to something else in the world. But for survivors, the grief and the feeling of utter loss remained: what do you do when you no longer have a home? When your livelihood lies in rubble? When you lose the child you cherished more than anything in the world?
When I arrived in Nepal, I found the answer very quickly. As I got to know and spend time with families, I saw just how resilient they were. They kept going. They were determined to rebuild their lives. That’s why we decided to launch a reconstruction programme working directly with affected communities. The goal? Train hundreds of local masons, both women and men, to rebuild 1,296 earthquake-resilient homes, in a very remote part of the country. By working alongside families, we got to know them well and together we planned how to make this project a success. We brought groups of 8 to 10 families together in clusters, where they then helped to build each other’s houses. By doing so, we were able to help them save costs in the demolition of crumbling homes, salvage materials, and rebuilding.
Through this method, there is a great sense of ownership over the reconstruction process, and seeing the sense of achievement that homeowners have when they finish rebuilding their homes makes it all worth it. At the end, many have learnt a new trade, understand the national building code and how to incorporate earthquake safety measures. They develop tools and skills that will endure long after our organisation leaves.
I can think of nothing more rewarding than being part of a project that is changing lives for the better. Take Subash, for example, a 16-year-old boy whose father died and mother remarried, leaving him and his younger brother on their own. Thanks to this project, he now has the physical and emotional security of a home to live and grow up in. He can once again hope to achieve his dream of becoming a policeman. And how about Goma Devi? An indefatigable 80-year-old woman, who had to live under a tarpaulin, after her earthquake-damaged house finally collapsed in on itself. She carries the paperwork for her new home in a rucksack, along with most of her other possessions, wherever she goes. Trained masons are now supporting her in the construction of her home.
Last month, we reached the milestone of 1,000 houses rebuilt. A thousand families who now have a safe place to call home. As we enter the final phase of this project, I cannot help but look back at everything that has happened here, ever since that fateful spring day of 2015. Communities have had to overcome so much sorrow, so much pain. Some have had to live in conditions you and I can scarcely imagine. Yet, through it all, one thing never left them: an unwavering determination to rebuild their lives.
Carl Adams is Medair’s Country Director in Nepal.
Photos: Medair/Tamara Berger