A token of love to the IFAD Staff Help Fund from Nepal

By Lorina Sthapit 

25 April 2015. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake rattled Nepal, killing more than 8,000 people and leaving more than 1.7 million children affected. Overall damage has been estimated at nearly half of the national GDP.

That day I was at the Metta Center Children’s Home in Kavre, about 30 km east of Kathmandu. The plan was to spend a beautiful day with the 15 girls who live at the Center. The plan was to tell them about the proposal approved by the IFAD Staff Help Fund (this fund is an independent group organized in May 1996 to help finance, through private contributions, small-scale educational projects in developing countries). The plan was to celebrate!

The children at the Metta Center Children’s Home in Kavre
©IFAD/L. Sthapit

The girls were quite excited that day; dressed in their favorite kurthas, giggling and running around, humming popular Nepali songs, throwing me we-know-why-you-are-here smiles. They even insisted on preparing lunch themselves.

While we were waiting for lunch, I suggested that we sing and have some fun. One of them came forward and said she would like to sing a song so that I could tape it and show it to my friends in Italy. It didn't come to mind at that time, but now, revisiting the meaning of the song, the coincidence is chilling.

Marne kasailai rahar hudaina (nobody dreams of dying)
tara na mareko prahar hudaina (every minute somebody dies)
bhagera jau kun thau jau (where to run and hide)
manche namarne sahar hudaina (there is no city where people don't die)

After lunch, we talked about IFAD and the Staff Help Fund. The girls were overwhelmed to know that new books and computers were arriving and they would soon be able to study under bright lights after the solar panels were set up. They were even more excited when we told them that they could select five books each for the library. “I already know my list,” said one of them, “Harry Potter!” 

The children at the drawing table creating an artwork to thank the IFAD Help Fund
©IFAD/L. Sthapit

“We want to send something to IFAD as a thank you,” they said. And so we headed to the library, on the top floor of the orphanage. On a big piece of paper they started making beautiful drawings and designs. Seeing them work on it with such dedication and love, I told myself this will probably be one of the best gifts that the Help Fund will ever receive. But just when they were putting the final touches to the drawing and writing their names, the building started shaking and swaying. The crayons and pencils started to roll off the table, shelves started falling, chairs sliding, windows vibrating as if they were going to explode. We could hear strange noises that sounded like a bomb exploding. Terrified, it took us a moment to come to our senses and realize what was happening. It was an earthquake. And it was big.

We had no time to decide what to do next. Should we get under the table? Should we stand under the door frame? Should we just run outside? Do we have to get our shoes? What about the artwork? Should we carry it with us or leave it there? But there was simply no time. As the building started rocking violently, we hurried to get out of the building. But we could not even walk without stumbling into each other. Bricks started falling from above as we struggled to pass the entrance gate. It felt like the world was coming to an end and there was nothing we could do to save ourselves. After what seemed like an endless minute, we finally made it to the garden where others were waiting. I could see the tension in their faces, they were worried about whether we would make it or not. Everybody was pale and in shock.

The ground was still shifting. And before we could catch our breath, there was an aftershock. And another one. And another one. For the next hour we sat in a circle and prayed as strong and frequent aftershocks kept coming…it felt like the end was near…

Fortunately, I can report back that all the girls are safe. Life is still very unsettled, but thanks to the Help Fund, they are eagerly looking forward to choosing books for the new library.

Some weeks after the disaster, I discovered that somehow all the voices and sounds of that fateful minute was accidentally recorded on my camera. It gives me shivers every time I listen to it. While I can hear myself saying "thik cha" (it's okay) to the girls, I knew that nothing was okay and would never be again.

One month after the earthquake the Nepali people still live in fear of another big tremor – since the second powerful earthquake (magnitude 7.3) struck on 12 May and took away any sense of normalcy that the people had slowly been regaining. Things may gradually be getting back to normal for those whose homes were unscathed and whose family and friends unhurt, but for those who lost loved ones and whose homes are uninhabitable and are taking shelter under flimsy tarpaulins while searching for or building temporary shelters as the monsoon arrives, the future is still very dark and unsettled.

The artwork created by the girls on that fateful day to thank the IFAD Staff Help Fund is exhibited in IFAD's foyer.