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Following the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal on 25 April, 2015 ChildFund Nepal implemented an emergency response project to provide urgent relief to families in need and help rebuild their communities.

Almost overnight the earthquake left millions of people homeless with no reliable sources of food or water.

Among the worst-hit districts was Sindhupalchowk, where more than 3,000 people died. Thousands more were injured by falling debris caused by the quake or aftershocks, which included one measuring 7.3 on 12 May.

The earthquakes were the worst Nepal had seen in 80 years.

In total more than 8,700 people died, and more than 22,000 others were injured. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged.

ChildFund’s response project, which ran for 2½ years, ensured children and their families in the Sindhupalchowk and Ramechhap districts received emergency aid in the immediate aftermath of the quakes, as well as ongoing support.

Another key focus was to restore sense of normalcy and safety for children by rebuilding schools and creating safe spaces where they could learn and play.

Immediate aftermath

In the weeks after the earthquakes, ChildFund staff overcame fuel shortages, ongoing aftershocks and the threat of landslides to ensure children received the help they needed.

Food baskets including rice, dhal, salt and cooking oil were delivered to more than 3,000 families (12,000 people), and tarpaulins and groundsheets were provided to set up temporary shelters to weather the monsoon.

Child-centred spaces provided children a safe refuge where they could play, learn and receive trauma support. This intervention was crucial for child protection as schools had yet reopened.
Apsara Khadka, head teacher at BS Dhuskaun, one of the affected schools, said the spaces helped alleviate children’s fears following the quakes.

“At home all the children were scared,” she says. “At the child-centred space in our school, children got a chance to sit and talk with their friends and hear stories together.

“They played Nepali drums, sang songs, and performed dance … They were happy.”

Build Back Better

After immediate needs were met ChildFund began working towards returning children’s lives to normal, by supporting schools so they could reopen.

Sanwar Ali, senior adviser of ChildFund Australia’s emergency response programs, said it was important for ChildFund to continue its work beyond providing immediate aid to ensure children and their communities were better off in the long term.

“Our projects in the last 2½ years supported families to cope with and survive the immediate aftermath of the disaster, helped them rebuild their lives and bounce back from the adverse situation,” he says.

“The vulnerable communities in Nepal are now better prepared because of our long-term recovery and rehabilitation and disaster risk reduction work.”

One year after powerful twin earthquakes devastated Nepal, ChildFund staff report families are finding strength in the face of huge challenges, as they focus on rebuilding their homes and restoring their livelihoods.

“People are still living in extremely difficult conditions,” says Mariko Tanaka, ChildFund`s country director in Nepal. “Many remain in makeshift houses and suffered through the severe winter. Without resources or savings to rebuild and get back on their feet, families are largely reliant on the government or NGOs to support their needs.”

For the past 12 months, ChildFund has been providing food, shelter and other relief items to families in the rural villages of Sindhupalchowk and Ramechhap districts, with staff overcoming fuel shortages, ongoing aftershocks and the threat of landslides to ensure help made it through.

In fact, one year on, the aftershocks continue, not only making the recovery effort more difficult but causing significant psychological distress for children and their families.

“The feeling of uncertainty and fear is still prevalent for everyone living in Nepal,” says Ms Tanaka, adding that people have been injured from rushing out of their houses in a panic, thinking another earthquake was coming.

“Right after the earthquake, children would mostly be seen with their mothers as they were afraid to be away from them. At our Child Centred Spaces, we ran activities that slowly encouraged the children to let go and find the confidence to be on their own again.”

At school, teachers have observed that some students have become withdrawn and their studies are suffering as a result. In other instances, when there are loud, sudden sounds, students can also become frightened and agitated.

Ten-year-old Anil is one of those affected students, having lost his older brother, Sunil, in the earthquake. Sunil was attending his final years of high school in the capital Kathmandu, where his father owns a welding factory, but had come home to spend time with his mum for Mother`s Day. The 18-year-old boy was watching TV on the ground floor of their three-storey home when the earthquake hit and the house collapsed. He was one of seven people in their village who died that day.

“There are times when Anil cannot sleep, recalling the earthquake,” says his distraught mother, Lalita, whose husband remains in a state of shock at the loss of their eldest son and can no longer work. “He cannot concentrate on study and his scores at school are declining. He has had a dark expression ever since he lost is elder brother who took so much care of him.”

Teachers at Anil`s school have been given basic counselling training through ChildFund, to help them identify signs of trauma and provide psychological first aid`. ChildFund staff are also monitoring cases like Anil`s to ensure him and his family are receiving the support they need.

Anil`s mother says that school is a place where her son can, for a moment, disconnect himself from the tragedy that has befallen his family and enjoy spending time with his friends: “He would rather be at school than at home because the family is in sorrow and it reminds him of his beloved brother.”

Anil, who says his favourite subjects are social science and maths “because I like the teacher”, concurs with his mum: “I like school very much. I like school days better than holidays.”

ChildFund Australia would like to thank our colleagues in Nepal for the remarkable effort they have put in to assist children and families over the past 12 months, with particular acknowledgement to those staff members who pursued this humanitarian work despite suffering their own losses of homes and loved ones in the earthquake. And the work does not stop now. ChildFund will continue to support children and communities in Nepal for as long as it takes to get families back on their feet.