Nepal earthquake: United in tragedy

Holly Frew
19-year-old Pasang lost her mother and brother in the quake. Sitting on the rubble of her destroyed home, she lights candles to honour her dead family members.

It is hard to fathom that in a matter of seconds, an entire village could be turned into a heap of rubble. But that’s exactly what happened in Baruwa.

Like many of these remote villages in the district of Sindupalchowk (north-east of Kathmandu), access to Baruwa has been cut off by landslides from the earthquake. The only way to get in is by helicopter or foot. So our team drove as far as we could by car, and then hiked the remaining 10 km to Baruwa, where we camped overnight so we could talk to the local people about how to help this village.

As we made the three-hour trek in the heat of the day, I did not realise the level of needs and destruction that lay ahead of us, but I had an idea after we hiked over a treacherous landslide. The higher we hiked, the higher the level of damage seemed to get.

We finally arrived in Baruwa exhausted, to find a village sprinkled with piles of rubble and makeshift tents. We learned that in the entire village district, around 500 houses, and 1,000 buildings, including shops, schools, health clinics and barns, were completely destroyed.

The number of buildings still standing? Maybe five total.

As we explored the village, there were people working together everywhere trying to salvage whatever assets they could from the rubble and debris. One of their biggest concerns is their food stocks. So many people lost their food stocks when their houses came down, and with the monsoon season coming, they have no shelter to house their upcoming wheat harvest.

I saw people sifting through bags of millet seeds that they had pulled from their damaged homes, trying to separate the millet seeds from the dirt and sand, so they could have more food to eat.

The people of Baruwa have lost everything, but as we stepped into their lives, a beautiful sight began to emerge. They have united like one big family supporting each other through this tragedy. They are grieving together, cooking and eating together, pooling whatever assets they have left together and living together.

As an aid worker, I don’t usually cry when responding to an emergency. There is so much work to be done at such a rapid pace that emotions take a backseat, and there is often a level of disconnect due to language barriers that keeps emotions intact. But then I met 19-year-old Pasang who broke those emotional barriers. She lost her home and her entire family in the earthquake. The closest family member she has left is her sister-in-law.

She is seemingly all alone, but the people in the village have taken her in as family.

And they treated our team like we were family too. Although they do not have much food, they made sure we were fed a nutritious meal made with the food they’ve retrieved from their gardens and salvaged from their damaged homes. None of us wished for them to give any of their precious food to us. We were there to help them, not drain their valuable resources! But they insisted.

In the midst of their grief and devastation, the hospitality bestowed on our entire team was quite humbling.

Every night Pasang holds a Buddhist puja on the mound of rubble that used to be her home and she lights candles to honour her dead family members. A puja is an act of worship to a god or higher power. Outside the collapsed monastery, the village’s lama also holds a community puja where everyone in the village worships and prays to honour those who died and those impacted by the earthquake.

With it being only one week after the earthquake, people are still grieving their deep losses here and simply trying to salvage what’s left of their homes. Thoughts and plans of how to rebuild are not really on their minds, but their need for food and stronger shelter are, as they are terrified of the approaching monsoon season.

As our team prepared to head back to Kathmandu, we left some food, tarps and a few safe birthing kits for the pregnant women. Plans were in place for CARE to help with food, shelter and healthcare for the pregnant women and new mothers within a day of our departure.

As we started our three-hour hike back down the mountain, I felt a sense of relief knowing that we would be able to return the kindness shown to us and alleviate some of the suffering that was so unexpectedly heaped upon this village.

Community meeting in Barawa village

The author, Holly Frew, speaking to the village heads, elders, youth and women’s representatives in Baruwa

Holly Frew's picture

Holly Frew is Emergency Communications Officer for CARE USA