Bright Futures in Resilient Nepal

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.

Trauma Resiliency Training in Nepal

A photo from a training on trauma resiliency skills that we partnered with the Trauma Resource Institute to offer to the teachers of Chetana Nepal and other community organizations as they recover from the devastating earthquake. The training had 45 participants, who will in turn be able to return to their communities and teach the skills to others, including schoolchildren! Chetana participants did a community-based field training with the kids at the Sri Krishna School in Dhapakhel.

Partner Profile: Chetana in Nepal

The earthquake that devastated Nepal in late April completely destroyed 5,000 schools and left the human right to education of more than 1 million students in danger. UUSC partnered with Chetana, a grassroots teacher-run organization, to ensure that students who already faced barriers to education before the earthquake are returning to their lessons.

Because Chetana consists of a network of teachers already on the ground and familiar with the social landscape and current conditions, the organization is ideally poised to identify the students most in need and efficiently act to meet those needs. Rachel Gore Freed, senior program leader for UUSC’s Rights at Risk Program, says, “We eagerly partnered with Chetana because it is run by teachers. If we’re going to support schools, working with teachers makes the most sense.”

With support from UUSC, Chetana has already enabled more than 700 students to return to school by setting up temporary classrooms, helping run classes, providing materials like paper and writing utensils, and offering nutritious midday meals. Chetana is focusing on junior schools in the Gorkha, Lamjung, and Tanahu districts of Nepal, where student populations are respectively 38%, 70%, and more than 80% from scheduled castes and tribes (Dalits), who are historically discriminated against in Nepal.

“Chetana is a small organization, but they have big dreams. . . . These teachers are hyperactive right now in the face of enormous need,” shares Sunil Pant, a Chetana supporter and member of Nepal’s parliament who assisted UUSC in connecting with Chetana.

Pant worked with Chetana teachers for several years through the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), a group he founded that advances the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Nepal. From 2011 to 2013, BDS worked with Chetana to train several thousand teachers on gender, sexuality, and reproductive justice as well as the challenges that LGBTI students face and how to create friendly school environments for these students. In part because of this work, the Nepal government moved in 2013 to include gender and sexuality into standard curriculum.

Pant describes what inspires him about Chetana: “Their genuineness and almost kind of revolutionary spirit. . . . They’re innovative, always willing to learn and broaden their knowledge. . . . They’re very proactive and inclusive.”

In its work with Chetana, UUSC recognizes that enabling students to return to the classroom not only restores the human right to education, but also can help normalize life in the face of trauma. The earthquake, which killed than 8,6000 people, destroyed entire communities, and left many surviving families with few, if any, material resources, is a significant source of trauma. To further support students’ healing in the wake of the disaster, UUSC plans to include Chetana teachers in a trauma resiliency training with the Trauma Resource Institute in Kathmandu in August. Chetana teachers are eager to ensure that all teachers understand how to help children suffering from psychosocial trauma.

UUSC looks forward to deepening its partnership with Chetana as its relief and recovery work in Nepal continues, thanks to generous donations of more than $320,000 to the UUSC-UUA Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund. As Pant points out, “Chetana is preparing the future of the country, so [this work] is hugely important and hugely influential.”

Read more on UUSC’s work in Nepal.

Students Moving On from Fear in Nepal

Toward a brighter future

With steps of deep courage, children across Nepal are returning to school this week for the first time since an earthquake struck the region on April 25. The massive earthquake killed more than 8,6000 people, destroyed entire communities, and shattered local school systems. UUSC has teamed up with Chetana, a teacher-run partner organization in Nepal, to ensure that students’ human right to education is restored.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, approximately a million children have been severely affected by the earthquake. More than 32,000 classrooms have been destroyed, and officials have estimated that roughly $24.1 million is needed to construct new learning centers to accommodate students.

In recent decades, Nepal has taken many steps to further education, increasing primary school enrollment from 64% to 95% since 1990. However, literacy levels are still among the lowest in Asia, with a disproportionate effect on Nepali women. Nepal’s entrenched political, economic, and social fabric has also prevented children who are traditionally discriminated against (such as Dalit children) from having meaningful access to schooling.

Nepal relief efforts made possible by the UUSC-UUA Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund have prioritized quality education for vulnerable children both in the emergency and in longer-term recovery plans. We recognize that local teachers who understand the culture, politics, and barriers know best how to address students’ unique needs. This is one of the reasons that our Rights at Risk Program chose to partner with Chetana, an organization run by teachers whose mission is to create a friendly and enabling school environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as well as girls and children from remote areas and castes that are discriminated against, such as Dalits. Chetana is committed to ensuring that these children have equal access to education and the opportunity to resume their lives.

Even as the tremors continued after the initial earthquake, Chetana staff sprung into action and began working around the clock to distribute relief aid kits and school aid kits. In partnership with UUSC, Chetana has been working over the past month to set up temporary classrooms in the affected Gorkha, Lamjung, and Tanahu districts, where respective student populations are 38%, 70%, and more than 80% Dalit. They have also made provisions to serve midday meals for the displaced students. Chetana hopes to reach roughly 450 students through three temporary classrooms that will begin their sessions this week.

Resuming normal life is one step of the healing process after a disaster of this sizable proportion. Schools offer a safe place for children and often play a critical role in offering respite and distraction that can help children transition back to daily life. In emergency situations like that in Nepal, schools can serve to keep children away from trafficking and child labor predators — a task that is especially vital to ensure the safety of young girls.

Throughout the coming months, it will be critical for teachers from Chetana and other aid organizations to be equipped to address the severe emotional and mental trauma that many children will face and continue to face throughout the aftershocks. UUSC and the Trauma Resource Institute, our U.S.-based partner, will hold a community-based trauma resiliency training in August for community workers and professionals from local nongovernmental organizations. Stay tuned for more information about this and other relief and recovery work in Nepal.

On-the-Ground Report from Nepal

Yesterday, we received word from the Sadhana Shrestha, the executive director of Tewa, the women’s fund in Nepal that UUSC is partnering with to deliver aid to displaced women in the wake of the April 25 earthquake. On Tuesday, Shrestha had been traveling with some of her team members on a relief mission to a very remote village — Buntang, in the severely affected district of Nuwakot, a seven-hour drive from Kathmandu — when they experienced a 7.3-magnitude earthquake. Here is her account, with minor edits for length and style:

“The road was very precarious with landslides due to the heavy rains of the night earlier. We were going to distribute relief items and cash support to 90 households in the village that had collapsed. These were Tamang women, an indigenous group, mostly illiterate, and no other group had reached there since it was so far.

“Half an hour away from the village we felt the tremor, and suddenly we saw dusts of houses collapsing, falling, and villagers out on the road. We were awestruck and couldn’t decide what to do. Finally all of us continued to the village, where the women were all waiting for us, in spite of big rocks and landslides. They had nothing, and the houses that were cracked in the earlier quake had fallen due to the one just a half hour before. Our hearts were in our mouths, but seeing the faces of the resilient women smiling in spite of all odds and saying they would buy tin sheets out of the money we gave so they could have roofs — I was amazed!

“Yesterday’s quake has left us all shaken — emotionally, physically, mentally, psychologically. We are back to sleeping in camps and cars outside in public spaces, and we wish there were no tremors or rain, which will aggravate this dire condition. But Tewa’s team is very active, and we are doing all we can, mobilizing more than 100 staff, volunteers, members, friends, and family, and reaching out to communities hit hardest by the earthquake.”

We are so happy to hear that the Tewa team is safe and that they were able to deliver much-needed supplies to the women of Buntang. We look forward to continuing our work with them and helping make sure no one is left behind in the relief efforts.

If you would like to support this and other UUSC-affiliated recovery work in Nepal, please donate to the UUSC-UUA Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund at uusc.org/nepal-fund. Thank you to many generous supporters, who have have already donated more than $205,000.

 

Delivering Aid and Ensuring Education in Nepal

UUSC supporters have generously stepped forward with more than $160,000 in donations to the UUSC-UUA Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund for relief and recovery efforts. Within hours of the initial earthquake tremors, UUSC assessed the humanitarian situation on the ground and has since developed partnerships with two local grassroots organizations that are working to provide relief in the affected areas.

What these two partners — Chetana and Tewa — have in common is that, together with UUSC, they aim to serve people who are most traditionally ignored in relief efforts and those who may be particularly at risk given the political, social, and cultural context. In Nepal, this means a focus on women, girls, children from castes that are discriminated against, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.

In addition to working with the partners below, UUSC will pursue additional recovery work as we continue to monitor the situation and needs on the ground. Our focus is both on immediate relief needs and on addressing long-term recovery and sustainability.

Chetana: ensuring education for all students

Chetana, a teacher-run organization near the earthquake’s epicenter, focuses on creating a friendly and enabling school environment for LGBTI students, girls, and children who are discriminated against based on their caste. They will provide relief in the Gorkha, Lamjung, and Tanahu districts for these children who are now facing the loss of their schools that have been destroyed by the earthquake. Chetana is undertaking the following with UUSC’s support:

  • Distributing relief aid kits, including medicine, solar lamps, and shelter supplies
  • Setting up temporary classrooms with blackboards, chalk, pens, pencils, and notebooks
  • Providing at least one midday meal for displaced junior high students
  • Creating a temporary school classroom that will serve at least 150 students while the government rebuilds local schools

Tewa: delivering aid to displaced women

Established in 1995 as the first women’s fund in Asia, Tewa provides funding to women’s organizations in rural Nepal to pursue gender-based social justice programs and facilitate the sustainability of women’s groups. Headquartered in Lalitpur, Tewa is already actively providing relief for pregnant women, women in labor, and nursing mothers. Activities Tewa will continue with UUSC support include the following:

  • Providing prenatal and postnatal care to displaced women who are not getting adequate help or help at all
  • Working in makeshift camps in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur, directing women where they should go, distributing clothing and food, and providing shelter from the rain
  • Assessing the situation in temporary camps and starting a campaign on health and hygiene awareness to stem the dangers of unsanitary conditions
  • Distributing water purifiers, masks, and tents
  • Supporting a local maternity hospital in great need

If you would like to support these efforts and other UUSC-affiliated recovery work in Nepal, please donate to the UUSC-UUA Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund at uusc.org/nepal-fund.