Helen Pattinson visited Nepal in May 2015 in the aftermath of two earthquakes that killed thousands of people and left millions homeless. She found scenes of utter devastation; families torn apart, living in tents, children too frightened to sleep. Since then ActionAid has been working with Nepalese communities to rebuild homes and provide shelter to the most vulnerable. Six months after her visit in May, Helen went back to see how the families of Nepal were faring as the bitter winter sets in.
It’s been exactly six months since I’ve seen Krishla. She is shy at first, but her mum Rama says that she and her sister Kristina remember me. They begin to smile – very different little girls to the ones I met in May – and it’s clear they want to play.
I’ve thought about these little girls frequently in the last few months – the brave survivors of a devastating earthquake that took the life of their cousin. They were playing with him on the roof garden of their house when the quake struck and the children were buried in the rubble. Both girls were injured – and according to their mother, the psychological wounds are taking longer to heal.
Rama tells me: ‘Kristina still gets very frightened. She hears the noises of the dogs barking and associates it with the earthquake. After the earthquake the dogs barked a lot, and it still really upsets her. She thinks there is going to be another earthquake and she cries a lot, especially at night.’
The unreported scars of natural disasters are still very evident – as is the sadness of a mother trying her best to comfort her child in impossible circumstances.
Kristina and Krishla they tell me that they miss their old house - they wish that they could play with their old toys. They have managed to find a small rubber ball on the street, and they throw it between them, counting in English as they pass it back and forth. Whatever pain they are still carrying, there is hope in their games and their smiles. The resilience of brave families making the very best they can of a difficult situation.
'We don't have winter clothes or shoes for the girls'
The family are currently living in a corrugated iron shelter, which has been provided by ActionAid. It’s a small space for a family of five, but Rama has done her best to make it home for now.
‘We are incredibly grateful for this space – it is somewhere we can stay. It has protected us from the monsoon rains so much more than the tent we were previously living in.’
But her worry is still evident: 'It’s really hard – we lost all our possessions in the earthquake and I don’t have any winter clothes or shoes for the girls. I’ve been able to get some wool to knit them hats but they already have coughs and colds. I really fear that they could get very sick in the winter – it will get colder.
'The shelter has been so good for us in the summer, but there are gaps between the walls and the ceiling where the wind blows through and we have started to get dew on the ceiling in the morning.’
A coat for a child costs just £5 - but gives warmth and hope
The family have no money to rebuild their house - and with no home, the approaching winter season is going to be hard. It’s clear despite the overwhelming generosity of the British public in responding to the earthquake appeal, the needs of the people of Nepal are ongoing.
It’s why in the next few weeks ActionAid Nepal will be distributing warm winter clothes, blankets and mattresses to children who are still homeless this Christmas. With temperatures plummeting as winter arrives, it’s vital that we get these supplies to as many children as possible.
The value of a coat or a blanket for children who have already suffered so much cannot be underestimated – as we think of wrapping our own children up against the cold weather. But it comes with a promise too – that ActionAid will continue to be there in the coming months and years whilst families rebuild their lives.
When a coat costs as little as £5, I’d urge you to consider keeping the children of Nepal in your hearts and minds this Christmas time. Because Christmas is about hope – and if there was ever a country that wants to hold onto the healing power of hope, then it’s Nepal.