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Bright Futures in Resilient Nepal

September 11, 2015

It’s been four months since a calamitous earthquake devastated parts of Nepal. The earthquake affected one in three Nepalis, and one in ten lost their homes. But after a week visiting our partners on the ground, I was inspired to see Nepali people moving forward from tremendous damage and loss toward brighter futures.

Vital aid for women and children

Tewa (Philanthropy for Equitable Justice and Peace), one of UUSC’s first partners in Nepal, has been working through a large entrusted network of community-led organizations to support women and children in the wake of the earthquake. Its Hamro Tewa Gaon-gharma program (which translates to “barefoot shadow volunteers”) enlisted volunteers in providing critical assistance, such as child care, to local women so that they could begin clearing out their homes and rebuilding their lives. The reach of Tewa’s relief efforts is significant:

  • 15 districts
  • 112 communities
  • 23,271 households

Beyond ensuring equitable relief, Tewa has also been campaigning to ensure women’s equal representation and protect women’s rights in the Nepali constitutional reform debates.

Chetana, another UUSC on-the-ground partner, has been setting up transitional classrooms and providing school supplies in affected areas. Its reach: an estimated 2,300 students, including a significant number of Dalit children, who are often discriminated against. Chetana’s safe zones have provided children a chance to resume normal daily interaction with their peers and given teachers an opportunity to provide the students with counseling and support.

Healing from trauma

One thing immediately clear in the aftermath of the earthquake was the vast need for mental health resources, especially in rural and remote districts most affected by the disaster. With a rich history of providing such support, UUSC partnered with the Trauma Resources Institute (TRI) once again to provide community-based trauma resiliency skills.

With the Nepali people reeling from the trauma of multiple earthquakes and persistent aftershocks, rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and related mental health challenges spiked. Though reliable survey data does not yet exist, experts have used World Health Organization estimates to predict that roughly 5–10 % of the country’s population will suffer a mental disorder as a result of the earthquakes — that’s 1.5–3 million new cases. An untold number of other Nepalis are struggling to cope with feelings of powerlessness, despair, and self-blame after the disaster. Support from the United Nations and the Nepal government meets only a fraction of the need.

Within days of the earthquake, UUSC and TRI started planning a training of trainers on the Community Resiliency Model (CRM), which uses accessible and culturally adaptable body-based skills to treat the effects of trauma. In August, TRI worked with UUSC to train 92 service providers from diverse sectors working with earthquake survivors throughout the country. Over the next 12 months, the CRM skills will be used to provide 13,000 people, including children, with the support they need to heal from trauma. Chetana sent 24 teachers from six districts to the training, and they will use these skills to provide 1,000 students with psychosocial support.

Our training participants arrived overworked, ridden with anxiety, and traumatized by the extreme suffering they’ve witnessed. After a few days, their personal transformation was stark — smiles emerged and spirits lifted. By the end of the week, the participants were engaged in nightly dancing and a laughter that was infectious to all of our trainers, who also joined in.

Resilient and hopeful

After visiting affected communities, talking with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), hearing the stories of women in displacement camps, and participating in our training with TRI, I had a major epiphany: despite the tremendous human casualties and the ruinous state of much of the country, the Nepali people remain resilient and hopeful.

While there continues to be much uncertainty and heartache, there were also signs of rebuilding, people working together, community groups meeting, and local NGOs leading the charge at every corner. The Nepali people never gave up hope. Their faith in a better future — and their willingness to struggle toward it — shows that empowerment and healing can still be found in the face of terrible loss. The future of Nepal is clear — it’s a future emboldened by optimism and opportunity.

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