Reconstructing trails and rebuilding lives at the epicenter of Nepal’s earthquakes
A trail of yellow hard hats marks a line on the horizon. A Himalayan vista behind them, the women wearing those hats have heavy pickaxes at the trail at their feet. Their laughter belies the hard work.
The trail they’re working on was damaged during the earthquakes of spring 2015. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, with its epicenter in the village of Barpak (Gorkha district), and multiple large aftershocks, took over 8,500 lives across Nepal and destroyed over half a million homes. Now, Barpak residents face the long task of rebuilding their homes and their lives.
“Women in this village aren’t used to doing construction; they used to do the work of breaking small rocks, but they didn’t actually know how to use them in construction,” says Pushpa Ghale, field officer with People in Need (PIN).
In April 2016, with funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Department (ECHO), PIN started a project in Barpak and Laprak to reconstruct trails damaged during the earthquake, and provide an opportunity for survivors to make money, which they could use to reconstruct their damaged homes. The most vulnerable members of the community -- female headed households, big families with only one source of income, families with very young children or elderly members, and otherwise marginalized community members – were selected to work on the teams. The completed trail increases accessibility to the remote region as well as opportunities for tourism.
“When they participated in the trail work, they did the construction themselves,” Ghale says of the women who participated in construction work for the first time. “Earlier, villagers used to say that women are weak, they can’t break the stones or carry loads.”
Mini Maya Bishwokarma, 40, worked on the trail project for 10 days Money is tight for the single mother of three, and things have been even tougher since she lost her home in the earthquake. “I had a very hard time deciding whether to buy notebooks for my children, feed them, or buy spices or oil with that money,” she says. She earned 7,000 Nepali rupees (£ 52.26) on the project, but said the amount felt like much more to her. “I feel like I’m receiving 700,000 rupees (£ 5225.95),” she says.
Overall, 1,512 households benefitted from the cash for work program, and 7073 meters of trail were restored in Gorkha district.
Another component of the project involved paying over 200 earthquake survivors in Barpak and Laprak to knit warm clothing (socks, mufflers, and caps), which was distributed to other members of the camp. “Before, during winter when my son wanted to wear a wool cap, I had to buy it for 400 Nepalese Rupees (£3)," says Barpak resident Ash Kumari Ghale.
Ghale, 43, survived the 2015 earthquake, but it destroyed her two-story house and she was left with nothing. A single mother of two, Ghale was her family’s only earner.
“My husband married another woman and is supporting their children. I am left with these two children to take care of. I have to educate them; I shouldn’t express my problems in front of my children. I was worried about how to pay for my son’s exam but then all of a sudden People in Need, together with EU came with this knitting project and I’m very happy,” she says.
Ghale said the knitting project not only gave her the skills to knit warm clothes for her kids and earn some money, she was happy to be included in work that vulnerable women like her are often excluded from.
“Usually the development projects that come to the village focus on men or very strong women, but this knitting project is for us,” Ghale says.