When the 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, late morning on a Saturday, many of us were unprepared for what would follow. The last big earthquake at this scale was almost 80 years ago. In what seemed like the ground was moving constantly, we experienced more than 113 earthquakes above 4.0 rector scale in the first 72 hours.
Our appeal to headquarters for diversion of project funds from ARCH, a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for our response to project area in Kathmandu Valley was fruitful. Within days of resuming office we were ready with a package of basic essentials such as mosquito nets, water purifiers, soaps, and buckets fitted with a tap to either store drinking water or to use as a hand-washing station. We also included some basic food items for a day or two, a piece of clean cloth, and sanitary napkins. We decided to focus our efforts in Bhaktapur, one of the most affected districts in Kathmandu Valley.
In coordination with the District Disaster Relief Committee and a team of Helen Keller staff, volunteers, and army personnel, we requested access to remote unreached communities and went to ones that were assigned to us. We were saddened to witness that all 37 houses in the first community we visited were completely destroyed. The community was very happy to receive our package of basic essentials.
Next we went to the Majir dalit community, who had already set up a communal kitchen as damages to their homes were extensive. We connected this community with the district authorities in charge of food rations as they requested support for basic food supplies.
As our first round of response was wrapping up, we were receiving requests for support to additional areas in Bhaktapur. With over 19,000 households completely destroyed, we decided to focus our response on the most affected 1000 day households, which included pregnant women, postpartum women and women with children under 2 years. We coordinated with the District Public Health Office, District Women’s Development Office and the Female Community Health Volunteers to identify our beneficiaries who lived in temporary shelters or tents.
We were now doing what we do best: focusing on nutrition counseling in a new context. Our response package was modified to include fortified flour which could serve as an extra meal for pregnant and lactating women. We included screening and counseling. We demonstrated how to prepare nutritious recipes before we provided our basic public health and nutrition kit that now included a bucket with a lid to store water, a mug to drink from, water purifier, a mosquito net, rice and lentils to prepare complementary food for the young child, and fortified flour to prepare healthy snack for pregnant and lactating women.
Throughout the process we made many friends, forging alliances that fostered mutual support during our response in Bhaktapur. We connected families and children in dire need to a Nutrition Rehabilitation Center that had let us use their vehicles during our early response in Bhaktapur. We provided our basic public health and nutrition kits to women living with HIV/AIDS in Bhaktapur, with support from a local NGO working with these women. Our spirits were lifted when a Female Community Health Volunteer thanked us for the wonderful program approach we had designed, something which she had also communicated to the district Women’s Development Office. We were moved when a pregnant women came to thank us after our program for the wonderful counseling we had provided, above and beyond what she had experienced during her visit to a health care worker.
We are proud to report that we will reach over 1200 beneficiates, spanning all of Bhaktapur’s administrative units.
Not a day goes by when we are not happy to be alive, to be serving, and to be supported in our efforts to help. We are especially thankful to all our Helen Keller staff and volunteers who enthusiastically worked long hours though the weekends and holidays in an effort to help, in the spirit of Helen Keller!