Where do families go when their village is in ruins?


May 20, 2015

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  • Ram (center) and her family are now living in a chicken coop with 16 other families after Nepal's deadly earthquake. All photos: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

After Nepal’s deadly earthquake hit last month, Ram Devi Maharjan and her family of seven didn’t know what to do — almost everyone in their small village was left homeless.

“I stayed inside until the tremors stopped. It didn’t fall but it has lots of damage,” says Ram, 39, of her family’s home near Kirtipur, about 45 minutes outside of Kathmandu. There are 22 families living in the village, and 17 of them now have homes that are either completely destroyed or too damaged to be livable.

Ram shows us her new home — a long, mud-brick chicken coop. All 17 families have laid out sleeping mats and blankets on the floor, but it’s hard to imagine how 85 people could fit into such a cramped space to sleep.

There are old suitcases, baskets and bags stuffed in every corner, with whatever food or clothing families were able to salvage from their ruined homes.

Just next door is an identical coop — as we talk with Ram, we can see through the poultry mesh to the other side, where a sea of hundreds of chicks and chickens mill about. Despite being close to Kathmandu, Ram’s village feels surprisingly rural. Most people farm wheat to earn a living.

“I miss my home,” says Ram. “I have to wait to return until it’s rebuilt, but I don’t know how long that will be.” In the meantime, her daughter-in-law Radhika helps her take care of the other five family members while they figure out how to rebuild their lives.

A Mercy Corps staff member distributes emergency supply kits and sleeping mats to people in Ram's small village.

Soon after the initial earthquake, Mercy Corps delivered emergency relief kits to Ram and the rest of the village. The kits included a tarp, sleeping mat, blanket, soap, water purification liquid and other emergency items.

In the rush to deliver aid to both Kathmandu city and the country’s most isolated regions, a ring of smaller towns and villages around Kathmandu were initially overlooked. When we reached Ram’s village, it was the first time they had received any help after the disaster.

Ram and Radhika are especially grateful for the water purification liquid. Since the earthquake, Radhika has been walking two miles every day to and from the nearest functioning water tap. There, she must wait an hour for her turn to collect water for the family. “It’s at least two hours every day,” she says.

Ram (top) and her daughter-in-law Radhika learn how to use the water purification liquid from their emergency kits.

Many of the local water pipes cracked during the earthquake, so several villages are now crowding to use just one. The water is flowing, but it’s not safe to drink. Families must either boil or purify the water themselves. But boiling costs valuable firewood.

The water purification liquid from Ram’s emergency kit is helping the family stay clean and healthy until major repairs can be made to the water pipes. Just a small amount can purify a large jerry can of water so that the family can use it for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Like the other families in their village, Ram and Radhika don’t know when they’ll be able to return to their home. Even the crowded chicken coop may soon no longer be an option for the family.

“The biggest problem we are facing now is the owner is telling us we have to move,” says Radhika. “But to where? Our houses were damaged. Some of them were destroyed. He wants us to leave because he’s bringing chickens and needs the coop. We have no other options.”

Across Nepal, our teams on the ground are helping people survive by continuing to deliver much-needed emergency supplies to families like Ram’s. While it will not bring their homes back, having shelter, clean water and food will support families like hers until they can get back on their feet.

How you can help

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