One year on, adolescents struggle to harness normalcy in life at the epicentre of Nepal earthquake
By Avinashi Paudel
Gorkha, Nepal – Fifteen-year-old Sabina Sunar’s life in Barpak village was a quiet and calm one, typical of a mountainous village in Nepal. That was until the village became the epicentre of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25 April 2015. Sabina’s life then turned upside down as her house toppled down and the entire village got blanketed in the dust of destruction right in front of her eyes.
Sabina and her family had to flee from their village to dodge the continuous mudslides triggered by the earthquake. They took refuge in fields a little further from the village along with other 50 displaced families. Shattered and uprooted by the quake, picking up the pieces in a makeshift shelter meant added chores and errands for an adolescent like Sabina.
“The initial days were very difficult, chaotic and tiring,” she said. “I had to help my parents in every possible way. It was overwhelming taking on roles and responsibilities of adults!”
Even though the intense crisis of the initial phase following the quake is easing out, the bane of growing up as an adolescent girl in the quake-ravaged village has not receded a bit even after a year.
“We have only four toilets for 50 families in the camp and not a single enclosed bathing space,” Sabina said.
Most of the families live in one-room chambers made of corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets with no privacy for adolescents.
“The locks are so rickety, I feel unsafe,” she added.
Fraught with Fear and Distraction
Jaswan Ghale, 16, of the same village shuddered as he recollected the time he saw a snake that had crept into his tent a few months ago.
“That was the first time that I had seen a live snake,” he said.
Jaswan also added that the constant fear of aftershocks deters him from concentrating in his studies. In April he is appearing for a national exam that Nepali students take at the end of their tenth grade.
Jaswan said that until a year ago, he had been quite hopeful about his studies, but after the quake all his hopes have been replaced by fear.
“Fear of aftershocks, fear of facing exam without proper preparation, fear of new grading system, just too many fears,” he said.
Amidst fear, this year’s education did not go well for Jaswan. He was confronted with an insurmountable amount of distraction both at home and the school throughout the year. Under the CGI roof, it was too hot during summer, noisy and leaky with the monsoon rains, and freezing cold and wet due to condensation during winter. With the onset of spring, it is gale force winds and thunderstorms that have added to their woes.
“I wonder whether life will be normal again, or not” said Jaswan.
Adolescents bearing the brunt
Sabina and Jaswan both attend Shree Himalaya Higher Secondary School located at the heart of Barpak. The school has suffered a huge loss during the earthquake and teaching learning process is limping under CGI sheets in the classroom crammed full of students. There are nearly 100 students in the two sections of grade 10.
Mr. Ramji Subedi, a teacher in the school, laments at the impact of the stressful year on the children and adolescents living in the epicentre of the quake.
“This has been a rough year for them, more so the adolescents, due to added anxiety and tasks” said Mr. Subedi. “I am worried about the impact this will have on their future.”