UNICEF supports quake-affected teenager's choice to stay resilient in post-disaster Nepal
By Avinashi Paudel
Dolakha, Nepal – 10-year-old Munal Basnet is excited about the arrival of a new calf. His intuition tells him that the cow will give birth in a few hours. But his sister Monika, 14, says it won’t happen until next month.
Their discussion is interrupted, but not concluded by their grandmother’s call for morning meal. The conversation over the meal still hovers around the cow’s due date. Their grandmother asks them to hurry up so that they can reach school on time.
After the meal, Munal picks up his school bag while Monika carefully folds a chart paper full of small pouches of homegrown seeds of various plant species to submit as her class assignment. Then the duo sets off for school which is a 45-minute uphill walk away. Their school also has temporary learning centres that UNICEF provided support to set up.
Looking at these chatty children striding eagerly towards school - following the contours of green fields of wheat, potatoes and yellow rows of mustard - it is impossible for one to guess what these children have gone through in life.
Monika and Munal live in Jilu village in Dolakha, one of the districts hardest hit by the April 25 earthquake and the epicentre of the May 12 earthquake. The children, who had lost their mother long time back, also lost their father during the earthquake.
They say that the exploding sound of their house collapsing and the wails of crushed cattle inside the shed still echo in their ear. Their keepsakes, their memories, including photographs of their parents, trapped beneath the rubble surface every now and then.
But the Basnet siblings have chosen not to dwell on what is gone, rather, focus on getting on with what remains in their lives.
As their father used to be away mostly, following their mother's death, it has been Monika mainly who has been taking care of her brother, their grandmother Nainshova as well as other household affairs.
When the earthquake struck, Monika had just come home after selling home-grown potatoes in Charikot, the district headquarters of Dolakha and a 1.5 hours' uphill walk away.
The teenager has a lot on her shoulders, and it often shows when she becomes pensive. Yet she says she hasn't allowed herself to break down “even in the hardest of times.”
Her ‘never give up’ attitidue is the reason why Monika has always wanted to join the army when she grows up. Her aim hasn’t changed even after witnessing the army personnel risking their lives to save others during the earthquake.
“It got reinforced actually,” she said. “And when I retire from the army, I will come back to my village and grow cucumber, garlic, mustard and potatoes in my farm.”
When disasters hit, it takes nuanced and concerted efforts to save these tender aspirations and dreams like those of Monika. Orphans like Monika and Munal are vulnerable to the risk of being separated from their extended families, often with the unwarranted promises of better future elsewhere.
“Once an organization offered me free residential schooling away from home,” Monika said. “But I did not go because I love my family, village, school, friends, teachers.”
Impelled to stand on her feet both by force and by choice, Monika’s struggle to rise from the rubble of earthquake and stay put was bolstered by UNICEF. As part of its family preservation support, UNICEF, through partners, provided essential food items, blankets, stationery and NPR 10,000 (approximately USD100) cash to Monika’s family. They used the cash to buy additional school supplies, slippers, shoes and warm clothes with the cash.
Following the earthquake, UNICEF has been working closely with the Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB), its district chapters and local partners at 14 most affected districts to identify more than 13,000 vulnerable children and provide them with emergecny cash or in-kind support to enable them to stay with their families so that they are protected against trafficking and expolitation.
Despite living under the CGI sheets, Monika has not let the noise, power-cut, cold, heat or any other disturbance to meddle with the rhythm of her life. Monika’s approach to life has always been one of positivity and fearlesness. And it grew even stronger after coming face to face with death and devastation caused by the earthquake.
“Monika is an attentive and hard-working student,” said Bishwa Mani Chaulagai, Principal of Shree Sarba Secondery School where Monika goes to study. “Her class participation, assignments and grades have been consistent.”
Rubble of Monika’s destroyed house still remains nearby but it is superseded by the lively buzz of cattles, goats, chickens and various shades of greens of vegetables and cereals surrounding Monika’s new shelter.
“Everyone’s parents pass away one day, it’s only matter of time,” said Monika, gazing pensively at the sombre relic of what once was her beautiful home. “We cannot avoid earthquakes, but we can at least prepare to be safe.”