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When the massive 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015, Ranju Basnet, a 20 year old mother in the rural, mountainous district of Dolakha, was outside working in her vegetable garden. 

Seconds into the earthquake, right in front of her eyes, her house collapsed.

Fortunately, her infant son was with her and, because it was mid-day, her husband and mother-in-law were also working outside.

Ranju’s home after the earthquake.

While everything the struggling family owned was now gone with the house, Ranju was grateful they still had their lives. Having a vegetable garden to care for proved a lifesaver in a way, and not for the first time.

Ranju is one of many women in the district who have been participating in the USAID-funded Suaahara with Helen Keller International. Through the program she has received valuable nutrition education, agricultural training, and tools and resources to build a thriving garden of vitamin-rich vegetables to better feed her family.

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries with an estimated 40% of its people living in poverty.  Malnutrition is a major underlying cause of child deaths there and 41% of children under five are stunted.

Ranju joined Suaahara so that she could help ensure a better future for her child. “I want my son to become someone when he grows up,” she explained. “I have to make sure he receives the care that he deserves to grow healthy.”

So, after the initial shock of the tragedy, Ranju and her family took stock and made up their minds not to give up. She looked to the skills and knowledge she gained through Suaahara to begin again.

Ranju with her son at her chicken hatch after the earthquake.

After quickly building temporary shelter from what they could salvage from the remains of their house, Ranju is already making plans to revive her vegetable garden and the poultry hatch she learned to build and cultivate by working with Helen Keller. “I had 18 chickens, but I could only save five,” she told us when we visited her recently.

She is determined to increase those numbers again, well aware that the nutritional value of the eggs the chickens produce will be important for her and her infant son in the months to come. Pregnant and lactating women and young children are especially vulnerable to malnutrition in the aftermath of disasters like this.

Using the health education she has received from HKI staff and local health volunteers, Ranju and her family have also been careful to maintain good hygiene and sanitation following the disaster. With their latrine destroyed, they constructed a temporary one with an outdoor hand washing station so that Ranju could clean her hands before feeding her son and cooking.

Since the initial earthquake in April, Dolakha has been an epicenter to more than 70 aftershocks. Despite the physiological trauma and loss, Ranju remains strong and determined. Rebuilding that vegetable garden is part of her plan to build a brighter future for herself and her family.

As part of its disaster response efforts in Nepal, Helen Keller International is working in Dolakha and other hard hit districts with our partners to help mothers like Ranju with supplementary food, micronutrient powders and vitamin A supplements, as well as other efforts to prevent malnutrition. 

The USAID-funded Suaahara program is implemented by a consortium of seven partners, including Tuki Association, alongside Helen Keller International. Ms. Pallavi Dhakal and Suaahara field staff also contributed to the story along with this post .