“They say that in Nepal, it will take 10 years to recover physically and economically, but that woman will probably never recover. She will always remember the earthquake as the day her baby died.”
There’s something about coming home at the end of the day. It’s not all about the building, of course, but as I get closer I long for my comfortable couch, the smell of dinner cooking and my garden. Home is cosy and safe.
But what if it isn’t?
On April 25, 2015, Nepal was devastated by an intense earthquake measuring 7.8. Whole villages were destroyed, and in the cities many houses were damaged and centuries-old buildings obliterated. In the following days and weeks, landslides and aftershocks continued to rock the country. Tragically, 8,316 people died and another 16,808 were injured in the earthquake and the damage that followed. Home wasn’t safe anymore.
In May, just a few days after a major aftershock measuring 7.3, David Adcock, the CEO of ERDO (Emergency Relief and Development Overseas), visited Nepal and saw the effect of this disaster on the country. A few weeks ago, he shared his insights with me. “A crisis like this always affects the most vulnerable people, but this one also impacted the middle class. I saw people in the city of Kathmandu living on the streets. Their well-constructed homes were still standing, with cars in the driveways. Some people were sleeping in their cars and some were living in tents, in parks with manicured lawns. They were still going to work every day, trying to maintain normal life. They were afraid to sleep in their houses, as so many around them were destroyed. Home wasn’t a safe place anymore.”
Kathmandu is a city of six million people, about the same population as the Greater Toronto Area. Nepal itself has a population similar to that of Canada. Adcock remarked to one of his hosts that, for a big city, the roads were well constructed and easy to navigate. The man replied, “That’s the earthquake.” Two million people, a third of the population, left the city to go into the villages and help their families. Adcock saw a traumatized country.
He experienced an insight into the trauma when, a few days into his visit, the room where he was staying began to shake. He thought it was a truck driving by until the tremors continued, and he realized he was in the middle of an aftershock. Running from the building, he experienced the panic the Nepalese people must have felt. “Someone checked their ‘earthquake app’ and remarked that it was only a 5.6 aftershock. To me, it was an earthquake.”
Earthquakes don’t kill people; buildings kill people. Many of the villages were entirely destroyed, with every home flattened and numerous lives lost.
Adcock was impressed with how the Nepalese people were responding. He saw a giving people, with churches in Kathmandu helping the people in the villages. “That’s what we do around the world—come close to churches to assist them as they help in communities. The work of the churches is strengthened. When we were helping in the villages, someone asked, ‘Is this just for Christians?’ I replied that it was for everyone. He was quite amazed.”
As is always the case, ERDO worked with partners. Talitha Koumi (The Pentecostal Assemblies of Bangladesh), Assemblies of God of Nepal, and the Gospel Echoing Missionary Society were all active in the relief efforts. In phase one, food stations served over three thousand people a day for three days, providing food and safe water. Emergency kits were distributed to families containing enough food for a month, along with other needed items. Each kit was comprised of food packets containing rice, lentils, salt, sugar and oil; basic survival items consisting of blankets and sleeping bags, a plastic sheet, a flashlight, basic medical supplies and water purification tablets.
Distribution was challenging. “The Himalayan mountains look picturesque until you have to drive them. Google maps says from the main road to the villages is five kilometres, but it took two hours to get there. We were in a big vehicle which couldn’t easily make the mountain turns. Sometimes we would have to unload the vehicle in order for it to make the turn, and then load it up again.”
In one of the villages, the enormity of the tragedy became personal. “I was introduced to a woman who had lost her three-year-old year old daughter. It hit me at that moment—stop being a humanitarian and just be a parent. We classify disasters into categories one to five, and the categories are based on several indicators, one of which is how many people died. In Nepal, thousands died, but to someone who loses a family member, it’s about that one person. They say that in Nepal, it will take 10 years to recover physically and economically, but that woman will probably never recover. She will always remember the earthquake as the day her baby died. It struck me that even if we spoke the same language, I didn’t have any words. I sat with her for a few minutes and thought about my own children.”
Phase two involves shelter. Now that the monsoons have begun, it is miserable to live in tents. “Our design of semi-permanent shelters has been approved, and ERDO is now building over three hundred of these in the villages and rural communities.” Each will keep one family dry. In the fall, they will move into phase three, working with communities for the rebuilding of livelihood with tools, seeds and farming equipment.
Adcock emphasized the affirmation and gratitude ERDO and the people of Nepal have for our Fellowship. “We received an outpouring of support from individuals and congregations right across our country. People don’t know a lot about Nepal, yet they responded in quite remarkable ways. I’m impressed with the generosity of our people and our desire to put legs and hands to our faith in thoughtful and intentional ways. We seek to honour the people we come alongside and allow them to contribute to their own solutions.”
One of the high points of his visit was attending a church service in a makeshift building which had been constructed out of stones, pillars and a tarpaulin from a church that was destroyed during the earthquake. Adcock sat at the back and watched this congregation celebrating communion in the midst of the rubble. The 50 people attending were not broken by the disaster. They were not in a cathedral, but they were definitely having church.
They were home.
ERDO (Emergency Relief & Development Overseas) is the humanitarian agency of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ERDO is involved in four key areas: Crisis Response, Food Relief, ChildCARE Plus (Child Sponsorship), and Community Development. Visit www.erdo.ca. Ann Peachman Stewart is a freelance author from Mississauga and a longtime ERDO supporter.