By Mariana Palavra.
After two earthquakes struck Nepal just weeks apart, leaving thousands homeless and health clinics in ruins, UNICEF is helping provide young mothers like Preeti Thami urgently needed shelter and medical attention.
CHARIKOT, NEPAL/ HONG KONG, 10 June 2015 – On 25 April, Preeti Thami left her 8-month-old baby girl sleeping alone at home to quickly buy some food in a nearby guesthouse.
And then the worst happened.
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck, severely hitting her village Ahlampur, in Dolakha district, east of Kathmandu.
The 19-year-old mother rushed out of the guesthouse, which collapsed behind her, and ran as fast as she could to get to her baby girl.
“I felt the worst fear ever. I went up to the second floor of our shaking building, and I found my baby screaming,” she recalls.
Taking her baby in her arms, Preeti ran out of the building. She was hit by falling debris before reaching the street.
A few seconds later, her apartment building collapsed.
“I hardly remember the way out. I kept running and holding my baby tight against my breast until I found my neighbours, who were already mourning our death,” she says. “I had a mission, which was to save my child. I didn’t care about myself. It took me a while to realize I was injured and in physical pain.”
That night, fearing more aftershocks and landslides, Preeti and her husband left the village with their baby. They walked for three hours through the night before reaching Charikot, the district capital, where they could seek help.
The first three nights they slept in a truck, but as the baby started shivering with cold and falling sick, they pieced together a tent for themselves in a camp for displaced persons.
When her husband had to return to their village to organize the funeral of his nephew, who died during the earthquake, Preeti was left alone with her baby.
After almost a month of living outside, Preeti is no longer homeless. She found a space in a UNICEF-supported shelter home installed on the grounds of Dolakha’s Department of Health.
It is the first of 22 shelter homes established by UNICEF in the districts worst hit by the 25 April earthquake and another major quake that followed on 12 May. The homes are intended to care for pregnant women with complications, lactating mothers and mothers and newborns discharged from hospital but with no home to return to.
Twenty-year-old Ayusha Khanal is a nurse working at the shelter home. On 25 April, she was working at Manmohan Memorial Teaching Hospital. “I will never forget that day – hundreds of victims from the earthquake sought our help,” she says. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t save many of them. From one o’clock to four in the afternoon, at least 20 people died in our hands.”
After the second earthquake, Ayusha Khanal made a big decision. “I saw a message on Facebook asking for health staff volunteers to come to Dolakha,” she recalls. She immediately contacted the national coordinator of the Centre for Public Health Development, a UNICEF implementing partner, and offered to be a volunteer.
“I wanted to help the most affected people from the earthquake,” she says.
Ayusha became one of four volunteer young nurses working at Dolakha’s shelter home. They all came from Kathmandu and are now sleeping in tents. “I don’t have any regrets. I am learning so many things,” she says. “I am building my self-confidence, and I help these mothers to build theirs. I will never forget this work experience.”
UNICEF has not only provided the two tents for the home, but also the furniture, blankets, hygiene and medical kits.
“We are working with local health staff, training female community health volunteers, social mobilizers network and different national and international partners, who have a fundamental role in identifying and referring young mothers who desperately need a safe haven to these shelters,” says Indira Koirala, UNICEF Nepal Programme and Planning Officer.
Preeti Thami could not agree more.
“Here I feel secure. My baby is safe,” she says. “I lost everything, but I saved the most important person in my life. We are safe and we are alive, so we will be able to do anything to rebuild our lives.”
And to start all over, Preeti has the greatest inspiration in her little daughter, whose name, Rashmi, means ‘light’.