Sapana Gurung, 24, does not remember many details of the day a 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal.
What she knows now is that the day changed her life.
It was Saturday around midday. Sapana was at home in Thulogaun village, about 30 miles north of Nepal’s capital. The ground started to shake and the whole house collapsed on her. She was buried in the rubble and dust. Luckily, her father and other family members managed to dig her out of the debris. After her sisters washed the dust off, she realized that something bigger was wrong.
“I did not understand what was happening with my feet and waist. I could not feel or move them at all,” Sapana recalls. It would be three full days before she could get care at a hospital—a helicopter ride away. There, Sapana learned that she had a severe spinal injury.
“That day I knew I will not be able to walk ever again or live the life I was living before the earthquake. I was depressed and cried a lot,” she says.
Recovery takes many forms
Now, more than four years after the earthquake, Sapana has some new perspective. She sits in her wheelchair on the terrace of a newly-built home.
Sapana’s house was built by local construction workers—thanks to funds and technical assistance from the Nepal Red Cross and the American Red Cross. In Thulogaun village, Red Cross supported the rebuilding or repair of nearly 500 homes impacted by the earthquake.
Read about more families who rebuilt their homes in Nepal >>
In addition to helping people in the village regain shelter, the American Red Cross has completed projects related to clean water, restoring people’s incomes, vaccinations and more. The earthquake recovery projects aren’t limited to Thulogaun. Instead, the American Red Cross has worked in 18 villages in the districts of Nuwakot, Rasuwa, and Makwanpur.
An accessible home
Sapana was able to return to her home village about a year after her injury. Because her home had collapsed, she at first stayed in a temporary structure made of iron sheets. The ground was uneven, doorways too small. When she wanted to get out of her room, even for the toilet, she always needed someone else.
So when Sapana’s family finally managed to rebuild their home with financial and technical assistance from the Red Cross, they placed special emphasis on making it wheelchair-friendly. The new house has a wide hallway and doors, plus a ramp. The features make the house more manageable for Sapana to navigate and to evacuate if another disaster strikes.
“Now I can move everywhere, even to the courtyard, by myself. The most important support Red Cross has given is the toilet where I can get easily even with the wheelchair,” she says with a wide smile.
Red Cross trains construction workers to build back safely
Ishwor Gurung also remembers the difference between the old and the new houses in Thulogaun. He is one of 1,000+ construction workers trained to help his neighbors repair or rebuild their houses in Nepal.
In addition to funding the in-depth training of masons like Ishwor, the American Red Cross also funded architects and engineers from the organization Build Change to consult on the design of homes—to ensure they are built in a way to better withstand future earthquakes and line up with government guidelines.
“The whole village is now very different, much better. We don’t have to be afraid of the earthquakes anymore as the houses are built with modern engineering techniques,” Iswhor says proudly. Of course, no home can be 100% earthquake resistant, but the construction workers take measures to make them stronger and more resilient.
Read about the “alo-palo” approach to repairing homes in Nepal >>
Kamala Adhikari—who used to volunteer for the Red Cross teaching sanitation skills and helping people restore their livelihoods—echoes his point. “Even though the Red Cross project has now finished, the good things brought by it are still here. Every house has its own toilet, women-led saving groups are still running, and the respect of the Red Cross is very high.”
The future of Thulogaun looks bright. Kamala dreams about having more livestock, better roads and even tourists in her village.
Sapana too has some plans for the future: “I hope to establish a shop in one of the rooms and run a business. That’s how I could also contribute to our family’s income even though I have a wheelchair,” she says.
For more information about post-earthquake work in Nepal, visit redcross.org/Nepal.