By Mallika Aryal
Nuwakot, Nepal – On a foggy Friday morning, twenty-year-old Ganga Aryal was sitting next to a rotating heater in a UNICEF shelter home. She was bundled up in a cap, shawls, woollen sweater and socks. It had been a few days since the nine-month pregnant woman arrived at the Trishuli District Hospital in Nuwakot, some 75 kilometres northwest from the capital Kathmandu. The hospital is mostly in ruins, destroyed by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal in April 2015.
Immediately after the earthquake, and as rescue and relief work was taking place, UNICEF set up medical tents at hospitals damaged by the earthquakes in the 14 most affected districts so that health care services could continue despite the destruction. Later, additional UNICEF tents were set up as shelter homes for pregnant women, new and lactating mothers and their babies. Over the last nine months, these tents have been home to many new and expecting mothers like Ganga where they receive post and pre-natal care.
“This is a safe space for expecting mothers like me,” said Ganga as she warmed her hands by the heater.
The tent was warm and cozy with 10-12 beds neatly lined side by side. There were cotton sheets lining the roof to prevent the dew from falling. The tent was insulated against the cold and the floor too had thick plastic sheeting to keep the chill away. There were heaters and blankets and rugs on the floor.
“This is worlds apart from the cold floors of the temporary shelter my family has built in the hills,” Ganga added.
As a part of winterisation initiative, UNICEF with the local National Public Health Association (NAPHA) insulated the tents early in the winter so that expecting mothers, little children and postnatal mothers have a warm place to stay.
Ganga’s family home in Kabilash village, some 30 kilometres from this hospital in the eastern Nuwakot, was completely damaged by the earthquake. Ganga had just learned that she was expecting a baby when the earthquake struck, so her family’s primary concern was to make her as comfortable as possible so she could have a safe pregnancy.
The summer and monsoon months were hard for the Aryal family. They lived under a tarpaulin tent, waiting for autumn when the rains would stop. Like many families in the earthquake-affected areas, the Aryal family lost everything, have no savings and have been waiting for government assistance to rebuild their fallen homes. Nine months after the earthquake took place, the family had only been able to clear the rubble and could not even think of rebuilding because they didn’t have the resources.
This was especially harsh for Ganga, who had just completed her nine months term of pregnancy.
“It has been a long wait,” said Ganga.
She was cold and felt unsafe in the temporary shelter her family built. She was also worried that she would fall sick and that the hospital was too far from her home village in case of an emergency.
As a first-time mother Ganga was nervous about giving birth. But in the tent primary caregivers such as Laxmi Ghimire, a staff nurse who had been monitoring Ganga’s pregnancy, kept an eye out for her comfort. Ghimire and her team was available for consultation and care for new and expecting mothers.
“This tent is a safe place for women who are expecting and have just given birth,” said Ghimire. “We make ourselves available for the patients here and there are doctors available at the hospital who can take on more complicated cases.”
She also added that after winterization of the tents, expecting and new mothers have felt not only warm but also safe.
Ganga reconfirmed Ghimire’s observations. “I have many worries—I worry about my home in the village, my family and when we will rebuild, but at least here in this tent I know my baby will be safe and warm when he or she is born,” said Ganga.