Soap and a toothbrush, a welcome relief in Nepal


Soap and a toothbrush, a welcome relief in Nepal

By Naresh Newar

For now, the simple necessities provided by UNICEF hygiene kits are a happy sight for families in Nepal’s remote mountain villages who lost everything to the devastating April earthquake, but the needs remain great.

GORKHA DISTRICT, Nepal/ HONG KONG, 21 May 2015 – A packet of clean toothbrushes, a tube of toothpaste, water purifier and a few bars of soap might sound like a token disaster relief package for a devastated family that has lost their home and their farm in Nepal’s recent earthquake. But for 46-year-old Balbahadur Ghale and his family, a hygiene kit is a lifesaver.

© UNICEF Nepal/2015/Panday
Elina Gurung washes her face using soap that was included in a UNICEF-provided hygiene kit in Baluwa village, in Nepal’s Gorkha district, while another young girl brushes her teeth nearby.
“This is the first time someone gave us such things, which we have been trying hard to find for a long time,” says Mr. Ghale as he checks out the contents of the blue bag.
“Everyone comes here with rice and tents but not soap, mosquito nets and all these things inside this bag,” he says, explaining that there is a huge shortage of soap in the market for the villagers, especially now when they need it the most.
Timely support
Nearly 200 km west of Kathmandu, Baluwa and its small marketplace are a centre point connecting several remote village wards, including Simjung Village Development Committee (VDC), where Mr. Ghale lives, and neighbouring VDCs like Sworpani, Manbu and Barpak, which have all been hit especially hard.
More than 44,000 houses have been destroyed in Gorkha district, and with the roads heavily damaged, Baluwa is the last village accessible by road.
Hundreds of people, mostly women, walk for hours to Baluwa to get relief supplies.
“While food relief is very crucial, my concern is sanitation and hygiene, as there are not enough hygiene materials, and UNICEF’s support has been very timely,” says local community leader Prem Gurung.
As a social volunteer, Mr. Gurung is helping to coordinate the distribution of the UNICEF-provided hygiene kits, which each contain hand soap, laundry soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a nail cutter, sanitary pads, towels, undergarments, water purifier, a comb, a clothesline and a bucket. Families are also provided mosquito nets.
Mr. Gurung is one of those who lost his home in Baluwa, where nearly all of its 99 buildings, housing nearly 5,000 people, were completely destroyed in the 25 April earthquake.
“They couldn’t save anything, not even a toothbrush,” he says.
© UNICEF Nepal/2015/Panday

A man walks amid the rubble of destroyed houses in Baluwa village.
Brushing after weeks
“I haven’t brushed for many weeks now,” says 12-year-old Til Kumari Gurung, lying down because of her injured leg. While she looks unhappy about losing her school books and her favorite things, she is relieved to get her own soap and a toothbrush.
The start of the pre-monsoon rains has many families worried, especially about the hygiene situation, given that they are surrounded by the debris and rubble of demolished buildings, along with waste, gravel, garbage and food scraps.

© UNICEF Nepal/2015/Panday
Sophiya Gurung, 3, looks out from under a mosquito net included in a UNICEF-provided hygiene kit in Baluwa village.
“I’m worried about my grandchildren, but I feel a little relieved to have these hygiene materials, as these will help them from falling sick,” says 60-year-old Kalu Ghale, who usually takes care of the grandchildren each day while their parents try to find food.
“My daughters are now brushing twice a day and cleaning their hands many times, and my wife is happy to get her sanitary pad,” says Lal Bahadur Gurung, who had to travel all the way to Abu Khaireni, the nearest town, nearly 40 kilometres downhill, to buy soap, lucky to find any at all.
It is a necessity most families cannot even afford. And while the hygiene kits are a help, they will need more supplies soon, Mr. Gurung says, as his village is already running out of stock.
There are just too many families to take care of, he says.
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