Sindupalchowk is a mountainous district over 100 kilometres from the capital, but Tikaram took what he calls “a shortcut”, trekking as-the-crow-flies over the foothills of the Himalayas in order to get back to his wife and four young children as quickly as possible.
Roads had been shredded in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Landslides covered main routes and village tracks. Virtually all transport halted.
So Tikkaram Bhattarai had no choice but to walk. Or wait. He reached his family to find that their house was gone, reduced to rubble.
Their eldest son, Anjay* was injured. Nine years old at the time, Anjay was inside the house when the earthquake hit. The roof of the house fell on him, leaving a scar on his face.
I don’t want to go to Kathmandu for work. I want to stay here and live and work with my family
Today, the three youngest children are playful, cheeky even, much like you expect young children will. But Anjay is much more quiet and withdrawn. He has been every since the earthquake. His parents say he’s scared there is going to be another one.
A Region in Ruin
Sindupalchowk was one of the most severely affected areas in Nepal, home to more than one third of the almost 9,000 people casualties. Mountainous, and extremely poor, most families in this region of Nepal make their living through backbreaking agricultural work. At the end of the day, it is not uncommon to see people walking along the rutted dirt roads with a massive hand plow slung over their shoulders.
Tikkaram’s family home was one of 66,000 houses in Sindupalchowk that were either destroyed or severely damaged by the quake.
When Tikkaram arrived back home, his family were sleeping outside, with no shelter, as aftershocks continued to roil the mountain they live on.
In Sindupalchowk, emergency shelter materials, iron sheets for roofing, and training for disaster-resistant construction techniques were provided by Plan International through a grant from Global Affairs Canada and Canada National Office.
Today, the hillsides of Sindupalchowk glisten with the sun reflecting off the corrugated iron shelters. But this is still all just meant to be temporary. Rubble still hasn’t been cleared in most villages, and these temporary houses are meant to be just that- temporary, until communities are able to build transitional, and ultimately permanent housing.
For this to truly happen though, Nepal needs much more financial support from the international community.
Across Nepal, 3 million people remain in temporary houses. These families have already spent one winter in makeshift shelters, and if permanent facilities are not built soon, people will have to spend the coming monsoon season, and possibly even a second winter, in these same basic, weathered structures.
Sheltered, but a Full Recovery is Still A Long Way Off
One year later, Tikaram and Maiya’s family of six now lives in a temporary shelter built from corrugated iron sheets provided by Plan International. The house is tiny, a single cramped room, but at least it offers protection from the coming monsoon season. Tikaram hopes to rebuild as soon as possible, utilizing the iron sheets for a roof, tools, and training opportunities on safe construction. But he doesn’t have the money to do so.
Tikkaram, an experienced labourer, finds it difficult to secure work. He says that if reconstruction were allowed, he could earn 1,000 Nepali Rupees a day (approximately $10 USD) on construction projects in the area where he lives. In Kathmandu before the earthquake, he earned 700-800 Rupees per day (USD $7-8), but also had to pay for room and board, all while spending most of the time away from his family.
“I don’t want to go to Kathmandu for work. I want to stay here and live and work with my family,” he says. But until they are allowed to rebuild, Tikkaram and Maiya search for day labour whenever they can.
When reconstruction begins again, Tikaram hopes to be able to make a more regular wage working on building projects, including houses and schools.
Tikaram knows all too well that rebuilding after the 2015 earthquakes has only just begun. While they have expressed their immense gratitude for all the relief aid that have received, they also want to be able to rebuild their home and their lives, and make sure that their children have access to a decent education.
Like parents everywhere, what Tikaram and Maiya want most is safety and security for their children.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of children living in vulnerable areas.