StrengthSMStrength

Gatlang was a beautiful rural village in the heart of the Tamang area of Nepal north of Katmandu. The traditional houses of the village stood together in rows, three or four houses connected by one common wall in the back linking them together. The people lived on the first floor and the animals on the floor below. Their front doors and windows were beautifully carved out of wood, each one different from the next.

At least, such was Gatlang before a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the country on April 25, 2015. With Gatlang near the epicenter of the quake, those common stone walls buckled, making the houses uninhabitable. While some sturdier houses resisted collapse that day, they too went uninhabited because of the danger posed by constant aftershocks. The village was mostly deserted – its residents were now living out in their fields under tarps and in tents. The hillsides were newly dotted with these brightly colored swathes of plastic the people now called “home.”

“After the earthquake, however, rural poverty meant living on the razor’s edge of survival where a single, distant event could have catastrophic, cascading results.”

The 2015 earthquake had devastating consequences for an area already fragile, struggling as one of the world’s poorest countries with ~20% of its population living in rural poverty. Before the earthquake, living in rural poverty meant subsistence farming in rugged, isolated regions, malnourished, and with little or no access to health care, safe drinking water, education, sanitation or other basic services. After the earthquake, however, rural poverty meant living on the razor’s edge of survival where a single, distant event could have catastrophic, cascading results.

A team from emBOLDen Alliances witnessed immense strength in the weeks that followed that catastrophic day, found in the eyes of Nepali mother and grandmother, Dawa. Dawa had grown-up here in Gatlang and had raised her own family here in turn. Living at such a distance from resources and with no functional government programs, Dawa and each of her family members were critical in contributing to day-to-day tasks and survival.

EmBOLDen was in Gatlang to help a small local NGO with their monitoring and evaluation of a greenhouse project. Dawa’s son, Binot, was the local contact person for the project and had been working hard to ensure its success in order to improve the lives of the people in his village. He built his own greenhouse of stone rather than plastic, which kept the plants warmer and safe from animals. He also took care of the shared tools and equipment used for the project, lending them to villagers who needed them. In addition to being Dawa’s primary source of support, he was also an important pillar of the community.

“Binot’s sudden death was a tremendous loss for his village and for his family. Dawa had now not only lost her house, but now also her son. And to compound this devastating personal loss, she had now also lost her primary support. But Dawa picked up the pieces of her shattered world and forged on.”

Binot was traveling to another village to learn simple, inexpensive ‘earthbag’ construction – whereby bags filled with soil and rock are used to construct durable structures – so he could bring this valuable skill back to his village. At the time, Nepali and Indian governments were jockeying for influence and power, and a dire fuel shortage was just one manifestation of the standoff. The shortage left hundreds of fuel trucks on the border in India waiting to cross, causing increased hardship for millions already struggling to recover from the earthquake. Transportation was consequently limited, and the buses that were available were severely overcrowded, with dozens of passengers forced to ride atop the roofs. As with many others, the bus Binot and a companion boarded was carrying too much weight, and on this day the bus could not make one of the steep mountain curves.  The bus toppled, falling over the edge. Binot and his companion were both killed.

Binot’s sudden death was a tremendous loss for his village and for his family. Dawa had now not only lost her house, but now also her son. And to compound this devastating personal loss, she had now also lost her primary support. But Dawa picked up the pieces of her shattered world and forged on.

While the details of Dawa’s story may be unique, her situation is far from it. The reality for countless people around the globe is dire – no resources, no support, no opportunities – and is often shaped by external factors far beyond their control. But despite this, Dawa and her counterparts the world over continue on, with remarkable resilience, strength, and dignity. If we cannot prevent the situations that disproportionately affect those least equipped to overcome them, let us recognize – and remember – those that struggle so valiantly through.

Copyright emBOLDen Alliances 2016.

Art by Bill Rohs, www.artbillrohs.com.