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Three Years After Quake, Families in Nepal Continue to Rebuild

For Samir Biswokarma, the earthquake is pre-history. It happened before his young parents married, before his birth, and before he was carried into the small home that is now his whole world. At just a few months shy of his second birthday, Samir is part of a new generation in the hills of Nepal—one that will grow up hearing about the chaos and heartbreak of the 2015 earthquake, but will never have known the people who died that day in the village, or have any memory of the houses that stood before the ones that stand here now.

Samir’s parents, Subitri and Tilak, have spent the past three years starting a family amidst the debris of the earthquake. For them, this April comes with a growing sense of stability and pride. The young couple—who had been living under tarps and tin sheets—built a new one-room house and moved about a year ago. Their local Nepal Red Cross volunteers have been there every step of the way.

“The Red Cross helped us with the house,” says Subitri. “And then they came and helped us build the toilet. And before that they gave us a mosquito net for the baby as well.”

Unlike her son, Subitiri remembers the earthquake vividly and says the best thing about the new house is the safer building practices that went into it. “The difference from the old houses is that with this one we don’t have to worry as much about earthquakes,” Subitri explains.

The family is one of more than 2,900 to receive cash grants from the American Red Cross to rebuild their homes. In addition to cash, the Red Cross supported training and certification for over 1,000 masons to lead safe home reconstruction and is funding architects and engineers from the organization Build Change to consult on the design of homes and ensure they are better withstand future earthquakes and line up with government guidelines.

Roughly half of the households that have collected cash grants from the American Red Cross have finished construction; many others are at varying stages of the building process.

Help Beyond Housing

Houses are a key part of recovery efforts, but they’re not the only thing families needed help with after the disaster. The American Red Cross has used generous donations for other priorities, too, like strengthening local health systems, providing new equipment for rural birthing centers and outreach clinics, and training Nepal Red Cross volunteers with skills to help them check for signs of malnutrition, provide basic first aid, and to ensure babies like Samir are immunized.

The Red Cross has also helped thousands of people with improved access to clean water, which is crucial for families working to recover from the effects of the earthquake. Water access helps masons as they mix cement and sprinkle water on freshly laid floors to keep them from drying out too fast and cracking. It also helps families keep clean and healthy.

Aetaram and Sushma Thing became new parents, too, after the earthquake. The couple used to spend hours carrying water from the river each day, so when the Red Cross asked them to contribute labor to build a new water system in their village, they were happy to oblige. The Red Cross supplied the building materials and technical expertise to construct a water system, so Aetaram and Sushma provided sweat equity. Working on the water system wasn’t easy, but as Aetaram says, “There’s no happiness without a little bit of hardship.” Their village water system is one of thirty built in Nepal after the earthquake with funding from the American Red Cross.

The couple’s labor paid off, and they now have a water tap in their own front yard as well as a new toilet from the Red Cross. The tap gives them easy access to water for household cooking, cleaning and laundry—something there’s a lot of now that they’re raising a 15-month-old daughter, Sofia. The tap has also opened a new source of food and income for the family. A hose connected to the tap has meant they could start a small vegetable patch. “We have ginger, turmeric, chilies, and the flowers people wear during the Tihar festival,” says Sushma, “and the potatoes we eat in winter too – we have everything!”

Rebuilding Livelihoods

Strengthening and diversifying incomes is another key component of the Red Cross’s earthquake recovery efforts. When people have a dependable means of earning income, they can rebuild quicker and be better prepared for future disasters. That’s why the American Red Cross and other Red Cross partners from around the globe have invested in boosting people’s livelihoods in Nepal.

A series of community infrastructure projects like irrigation systems and improved foot trails have been built using a ‘cash for work’ method—in which the Red Cross gave 750 people from highly vulnerable families the opportunity to earn income.

In addition, more than 1,700 people affected by the quake were trained on livestock and vegetable farming techniques. They were also provided with cash grants to establish or grow small businesses.

Both Sharan Khatiwada and Shiva Kumari Poudel were selected for Red Cross livelihoods support. For Sharan, learning more about veterinary care, nutrition, and proper shed conditions meant he was confident in using the Red Cross cash grant to purchase three new goats—all three of whom are expecting kids this spring. He’s now full of optimism and has even invested money to buy a male goat for his growing herd.

“If I raise goats, three can become six, and then it will be easier to cover the costs at home,” remarks Sharan.

Shiva Kumari marvels at the difference that has come from investing her Red Cross grant into greenhouse plastic, bamboo, and a micro drip irrigation system. These additions to her small farm mean that she can now grow vegetables that are out of season on most other farms, which command a higher price on the local market. “I was selling bundles of spinach for maybe 10 rupees [about $0.10 USD] each,” she says. In contrast, she recently sold a single buyer 27 kilograms of ripe tomatoes for 8,000 rupees (approximately $80 USD). “I’m so, so grateful to the Red Cross,” she says. “Thanks to you, I’m able to make a living from this earth.”

After a disaster as big as the 2015 earthquake, every family has unique and often overlapping needs for recovery. For some, like Sharan and Shiva Kumari, finding ways to improve their livelihoods and creating more lucrative ongoing sources of income to help support family members who cannot work themselves presented an extra challenge. For others, the restoration and improvement of basic services like water access and health systems is what is required to keep their families healthy and safe as they work to rebuild. And for families like Subitri and Tilak’s, a secure home to call their own is the start they need to raise the new, post-earthquake generation.

It’s been nearly three years since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal – devastating families and communities. Red Cross teams delivered critical aid in the disaster’s aftermath and are still helping people recover in the Himalayan country. The American Red Cross is working alongside the Nepal Red Cross, the Spanish Red Cross, and the Canadian Red Cross on helping people rebuild their homes; spreading health and vaccination messages; constructing water and irrigation systems; replacing medical equipment; restoring people’s livelihoods; and more. For information about the American Red Cross’s work helping communities recover from the 2015 Nepal earthquake, visit redcross.org/Nepal.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.