Only a few more weeks before Maxine and Chulie go back to Nepal to pick up where they left off during their trip in April. We’ve been back to distribute earthquake relief but now need to move forward with projects and reassess priorities. This would be a much harder task if not for our wonderful Project Manager, Bimala Khatri. Bimala deserves recognition for single-handedly managing events on the ground in Kathmandu, despite her own hardship during the weeks following the earthquake. Though homeless herself she took on the difficult job of locating all of our ladies, personally distributing relief where necessary and even helping some with shelter. As sole provider and carer for her ailing mother, Bimala is no stranger to responsibility and showed strength and maturity far beyond her tender age. WONDERWorks is very grateful to have such an amazing young woman on board!
We asked Bimala about her experience and she has kindly allowed us to share her story.
‘The day was just like any other Saturday. I’d started to prepare our lunch on the stove and the smell of cooking was wafting around our small kitchen. Mum was resting on the bed and we were chatting as our lunch bubbled away – and then it hit us. It struck without warning and it struck hard and fast. I scrambled for my mum and we got onto the floor, hugging each other tightly, praying for it to end and for the roof to hold. There was nothing we could do but wait for the shaking to stop, our only exit being a step ladder down to the ground floor which was far too risky.
It was eerily silent when the shaking stopped. A kind of disbelief washed over the entire neighbourhood as we all stumbled into the courtyard. Our landlady had fallen down the stairs and badly hurt her back. We knew there would be aftershocks and it wouldn’t be safe to re-enter our homes but the men dashed back in to fetch blankets and other essentials. My mum told me to rush up to our kitchen to turn off the gas in case of a fire and I grabbed her oxygen tank and the funds Chulie and Maxine had given me for a WONDERWorks project on the way back down. My mum kept that money inside her blouse for days to make sure it was safe. Every time the dogs were barking loudly and the crows were squawking we seemed to have more tremors, so we all camped out in the open. We stayed this way for ten days, living in a small, open garage with our neighbours and their pet dogs, unsure of when it would be safe to resume our lives.
My mind was cluttered with worrying thoughts, especially for my mum’s safety as she is reliant on oxygen. She hadn’t slept or eaten properly for more than a week and with her lungs weak, I had to get her away from all the dust and debris. As the phone signal was finally back I called my cousin who came to collect her in a van and took her to Chitwan. I knew it would be safer for her there as the earthquake hadn’t damaged that part of Nepal. My cousin didn’t want to stay any longer in the city than he had to and before I could think of how to say goodbye to them, they were gone.
I was feeling very alone in Kathmandu but my mind shifted to WONDERWorks. I had no idea what had become of both our ladies and their businesses but I needed to find out and help the best I could. Many of them had gone back to their villages because their homes were damaged and they were afraid to remain in the city because of the aftershocks. Others had set up camp
under tarpaulin on open ground. I tracked down one missing mother of two little babies and helped them move into a shelter home because her room had been destroyed. I tried to keep up with all my responsibilities as best I could and distributed money for food relief from WONDERWorks to those who desperately needed it. Eventually it seemed like things were getting better, even though we were still experiencing big aftershocks every day.
Then, on May 12th, I was making my way to the Change Nepal Drop in Centre in Thamel and was stopped in my tracks. I can’t describe the sinking feeling when the earth started to shake once more. I was completely surrounded by tall buildings and there was nowhere to go. People were screaming and telling everyone to run but my mind just went blank. I froze where I was standing and when the shaking stopped I found myself in a deserted street filled with empty cars and motorbikes, with their engines still running. There was nobody in sight. I felt so alone and afraid that evening and decided to go to the temple. On the way I got a call from Chulie and Maxine and it made me feel so much better to know that someone was thinking of me.
I stayed in the open for five more days with my landlady and her family, taking turns to sleep in a jeep, which was crowded but slightly more comfortable. It took time but once again I managed to track down all the WONDERWorks ladies and was relieved to find them all safe.
About five people in my neighbourhood died in the earthquake. Gongabu, the area where many of our ladies live and work, was decimated. Much of the rubble still hasn’t been cleared so bodies are still underneath it all. It’s now like a ghost town at night and some even say that you can hear the cries of people calling for help.
It’s been a couple of months since the second earthquake and the tremors are coming less and less often. Sometimes I don’t even feel them! I’m one of the lucky ones. It was really difficult to find new premises because prices have gone up and so many buildings are too dangerous to live in. I’ve now managed to find somewhere however and my mum has returned home. I have to take three buses in to work but we thankfully have refuge where so many don’t – and we’re very happy to be reunited.
University has got underway again and I’m studying hard for exams. Last month WONDERWorks sent two ladies on a barista training course and our tailoring students were able to go back to their classes. For the past few weeks I’ve been running workshops to prepare ladies for the new businesses we’ll be setting up in September. I have hope that we’ve finally left the bad times behind us and feel much more positive about the future.’