THE BLOG

Nepal Earthquakes: Three Months on We Mustn't Forget

03/08/2015 22:55 BST | Updated 03/08/2016 10:59 BST

In the second of two blogs, Jo Joyner writes about her trip to Nepal where she met communities severely affected by the recent earthquakes. Read the first post here

As they respond to the earthquake, the team from CAFOD's partner Caritas Nepal gather the names of all the residents of each village they go to from local elders or committees. They then post the list up in the middle of the village so that the community are able to check if anyone is missing, or indeed add their own names. Experience has shown that this is a good course to take, particularly in areas where the community does not acknowledge some people.

I'm not sure if this method is how they found Kamala, but thank goodness they did. Kamala is a Dalit woman, from the most socially excluded of more than 125 castes that exist in Nepal - one that we in the West may have heard of as 'untouchables'. As such, Kamala and her children live outside the village on a patch of land, low down on the edge of the mountain.

To reach Kamala, we drove down a steep mud track. Visible at the end was a lonely, clay ruin down the mountain that we could only reach on foot. We took some umbrellas as walking sticks and began the slippery trek through the cornfields and clay paths, with the humid drizzle a welcome relief.

When we finally reached Kamala and her two girls, not for the first time on this trip, I felt completely useless. What must she be feeling? Three months ago her meagre world was destroyed and her husband was killed. What little money or grain she had is gone, and so is her sole protector, the only other adult able to support her.

Now some healthy, wealthy woman from England had come to point a camera in her face and ask her what felt to me like stupid and futile questions. And after I went what would become of her and her girls?

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Jo Joyner meets Kamala Mijer, 35, and her two daughters. Kamala's husband died in the earthquake. CAFOD/Bikash Khadge

I wanted to tell her that it would help, it would in the end. That by sharing her story she would hopefully prompt more fundraising at home, that more schools might do a sponsored run like my kids have, that people might pick up the phone and make a donation to an organisation like CAFOD. That without the kind donations people had already made she would never have been found, she wouldn't have her makeshift home, her three month health supplies and the promise of help in September after the monsoon to rebuild. I hope that she understood.

Kamala's 14 year old son was in Kathmandu when the earthquake hit - having made the brave journey alone some months before. Kamala told us that when he missed an exam at school and wasn't allowed to return, it was decided that he should go to the city to try and become a pot washer or another of the jobs that Dalit people are allowed to take.

Two weeks after the earthquake he had made his way back home to find that his father was dead. I thought of how he had made that journey without a penny, not knowing what he would find, fearing the worst and hoping for the best. I felt sick to the stomach at the thought of this child now, back in the city with more weight on his shoulders than ever: a mother and two girls depending on him, a country boy of the lowest caste, a child and alone.

The next day, we visited Mary Ward School in Kathmandu, which Caritas Nepal has been supporting for more than ten years. The girls at the school are the daughters of migrant workers from the countryside, who have come to the city from villages like Kamala's. As I met them, I thought of Kamala's son and hoped that one day he would be in a position to send his future children to a school like this. I hoped that they might finish the education he was denied.

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Jo Joyner joins primary school children at Mary Ward School in Kathmandu as they do handcrafts. CAFOD/Bikash Khadge

When the earthquake hit, the school was closed. Most of the girls came from the poorest areas of town and lived in the oldest or weakest buildings, and so many of them were left homeless. People were afraid that there would be aftershocks, so instead of returning to what was left of their homes, they slept outside. The city's open spaces - the stadium and parks - soon became makeshift campsites. Can you imagine Wembley Stadium full? Rows of tents covering Hyde Park or Hampstead Heath? That's what happened in Kathmandu.

Over the next few days, more than 30 families came to Sister Asha, the Head Teacher whose name means 'hope', to ask for help, because they had nothing left - no food and no shelter. She provided them with tarpaulins and was also able to make the free school meals provided by Caritas Nepal stretch to feed many more mouths.

When the school reopened a month later, Sister Asha declared that there would be no formal lessons for the first few weeks. Instead there were workshops involving art therapy, music and drama. These gave the girls an opportunity to talk about what they had experienced, to share their stories and to feel supported.

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Jo Joyner joins primary school children at Mary Ward School in Kathmandu as they have lunch. CAFOD/Bikash Khadge

Three months may have passed since the first earthquake hit, but it's important that we don't forget the many people who are still in urgent need. It will take years for Nepal to recover completely, and the scars brought about by the earthquake run deep. But with the help of organisations like CAFOD and Caritas Nepal, as well as hundreds of other charities and the Nepali government, there is no reason why this beautiful, hopeful and proud country cannot be rebuilt.

To donate to CAFOD's Nepal Earthquake Appeal, visit: cafod.org.uk/Nepal or call 0500 85 88 85