Reema, 14, is dancing around gracefully, clearly in a happy place, surrounded by fifteen or so children. Everyone is watching her in admiration. “Reema used to live in a district of western Nepal, a long way from here," explains Uma, a woman who manages an orphanage in Kathmandu.
She was six years old when she arrived at the orphanage. Her father died when she was a little girl and her mother abandoned her. She had phocomelia, a congenital malformation, and her foot was attached to her knee so she couldn’t move around by herself. I used to carry her around Kathmandu. I can still remember the stares we used to get in the street: ‘She’s already a mother at her age?’ ‘That child is disabled.’ I think of Reema as my daughter,” she added.
Unable to walk for many years, Reema talked to a local journalist about her experiences when she was nine years old. The interview was published and someone showed it to HI, who arranged to meet her. The organization examined her left leg and decided she needed an immediate amputation. After surgery, our rehabilitation team immediately started working with Reema to strengthen her muscles and prepare her leg for a prosthetic.
Once her leg had completely healed and it was strong enough, our team fitted Reema with her first prosthetic leg. “That was the first time we saw Reema walking. Shortly after, she started to dance. It’s incredible,” says Uma.
Last month, Sudan Rimal, a physical therapist with Humanity & Inclusion visited Reema to examine her leg. “Her stump isn’t firm enough,” he explains. “Reema needs to do more exercises to strengthen her leg muscles. Soon, she’ll be back to the rehabilitation center so we can adjust her prosthesis.”
Thanks to the support she’s received from Humanity & Inclusion, Reema dances every morning before school. Her dream is to become a professional dancer. “I want to go back to the village where I was born, to see my mother, brothers, and sisters again. I think I must have a big family.” Uma adds: “I’ll take her there one day. I promised her.”
In Nepal, most primary school students are unable to read at grade level. The outlook is dire for Nepali children with disabilities, since Nepali children’s capacity and adaptability to learn are rarely screened.
Starting this month, Humanity & Inclusion will tip the balance so more Nepali children can thrive at school and become strong readers. The project, Reading for All, is possible thanks to a generous USAID grant.
The transformative project comes at a perfect moment. In 2017, Humanity & Inclusion (then working under the name ‘Handicap International’) conducted a pilot screening. With funding from World Education and UNICEF, our teams met children between the ages of four and seven years old to assess them for functional limitations. The teams found 26% of children were at risk of at least some kind of hearing, sight, mobility, communication, learning or concentration limitation, with 9.4% classified as having a disability.
“We are thrilled that USAID Nepal placed its trust in Humanity & Inclusion by funding this important reading project,” said Willy Bergogne, Country Director for the Nepal office of Humanity & Inclusion. “Together, we’ll reach thousands of Nepali children with disabilities, supporting them to achieve better reading outcomes and promoting inclusive education all over Nepal.”
The three-year project focuses on children in grades 1 – 3 in the 16 districts participating in Nepal’s early grade reading program. Working together with local and national partners, the project will improve data quality on children with disabilities.
The team will also enhance institutional and technical capacity to deliver quality reading instruction and support to children with disabilities. Currently, Nepal’s teachers are highly dependent on traditional teaching methods, with little supportive supervision and feedback from the children. The result is a significant communication gap between educator and learner. By 2021, Reading for All will have reached 6,775 head teachers in each of the targeted districts.
Finally, the team will test inclusive instructional models so they can benefit more children with disabilities. Trainers will ensure that teaching and curriculum development professionals in Nepal have the skills to improve and sustain the Reading for All tools and results.
Partnering for success
Partners at World Education, Nepal Association for the Welfare of the Blind, National Federation of the Deaf Nepal, and Disable Empowerment and Communication Center are helping to implement the Reading for All project.
“With strong partners in the Government of Nepal, among the USAID Nepal team, and with other local actors, this ambitious initiative is set up to help Nepali children with disabilities to succeed,” Bergogne adds.
In the project's first year, Reading for All will reach 2,071 schools in four districts (likely Banke, Surkhet, Bhaktapur, and Kaski). Teams will train head teachers, who will then lead early detection screenings for 178,117 children through grade 3. In its second year, after fine-tuning the process, Reading for All will roll out to the remaining 12 districts, reaching about 557,828 students.
Photo caption: Deaf students learn in an inclusive classroom in Nepal.
On April 25, 2015, Nepal was hit by a violent earthquake. Hundreds of miles apart, Nirmala and Khendo were both buried under the rubble.
“I was at home with my family when I felt the earth shake,” says Nirmala, 10. “I tried to run like the others, but a wall fell on top of me. I don’t remember anything else. I woke up in hospital in Kathmandu without one of my legs. I was really frightened.”
Rushed to hospital, Nirmala and Khendo each had a leg amputated. The girls met shortly thereafter while attending physical therapy sessions with HI’s rehabilitation team.
“I met Nirmala and Khendo shortly after the earthquake,” explains Sudan Rimal, a physical therapist with HI. “I massaged their stumps and taught them exercises to strengthen their leg muscles. They were fitted with artificial limbs and learned how to walk again. They come back to the center on a regular basis for check-ins. We need to adjust their prostheses every six months because they’re growing so fast. We’ve formed a strong relationship based on trust.”
Three years have passed and Nirmala and Khendo are almost never apart. Nirmala’s family has moved to Kathmandu where her father works in a textile factory. Khendo lives without her parents, who have moved back to Sindhupalchok district. During the school term, the two girls stay at boarding school.
“We sleep in the same room, in the same bed,” Khendo explains. “Whenever Nirmala cries, I cry. We do everything together. I haven’t seen my parents for a year. I really miss them. I love living in town and buying clothes in shops, but I want to see them again.”
Khendo enjoys science lessons at school. “We learn things about the human body and our lives. For example, it’s bad to smoke and to drink alcohol. When I grow up, I want to be a primary school teacher or a nurse and care for the injured.” Nirmala adds with a twinkle in her eye, “I want to be an actress. In fact, I already am in a way. I’ve already acted in a film! I want to be famous.”
On April 25, 2015, the earth shook in Nepal, killing more than 8,000 people and injuring 22,000. Already present in the field, HI launched an immediate response in aid of those affected, providing assistance to more than 15,000 people. Ramesh, 20, was one of them.
“I was working in a small hotel when the building fell on top of me,” Ramesh explains. “I was pinned under the rubble for at least an hour, conscious and in pain. Afterwards, I needed to have an amputation. I wanted to do something good with my life. After the accident, I felt like my life was over.”
Here, Ramesh smiles as he finishes a training swim for the 2020 Paralympic Games. Thanks to HI donors, Ramesh has the independence and motivation to compete in sports competitions. He's even won 22 medals!
Over the past three years, HI has continued providing support to thousands of people who, like Ramesh, have been affected by the earthquake. We have completed more than 34,000 rehabilitation and psychological support sessions for more than 15,000 people and supplied 6,300 prostheses, orthoses, etc. to people with injuries.
Our teams have also distributed more than 4,300 kits containing tents, cooking kits, hygiene kits, blankets, etc., to more than 2,200 families. We organized the storage and transport of more than 5,400 tons of humanitarian equipment in remote villages to ensure that no one is left behind.
More than 1,500 earthquake-affected households have been given financial support in order to get them back to work through goat breeding, setting up small stores, etc. In addition, in the winter of 2015, we supplied warm clothes, blankets, etc., to more than 9,000 people.
We’ve enabled the most vulnerable people to access humanitarian services, such as education, healthcare, etc., offered by partner organizations. We also continue to organize awareness-raising sessions for more than 3,000 people to ensure the most vulnerable individuals are taken account in natural disaster risk management.
HI currently has a team of 70 people in Nepal. We support five rehabilitation centers in the country, help earthquake casualties earn a living, and makes sure children with disabilities have access to school. HI also assists victims of the floods of August 2017 by helping restore their livelihoods.
When an earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015, Ramesh, 18, found himself buried, fully conscious, under the rubble. “I was working in a small hotel,” Ramesh explains. “I’d just finished for the day when the earth began to shake and everything collapsed. Two people near me died. I was pinned under the rubble for at least an hour, conscious and in pain.”
Ramesh was badly injured and had to have both of his legs amputated. The loss of his limbs was a big shock. “I used to dream I could do everything. I wanted to do something good with my life. But after the accident, I felt as if my life was over.”
HI immediately organized rehabilitation sessions for the young man. “Ramesh had to do a lot of exercises to loosen up his joints and strengthen his leg muscles. Otherwise, fitting and using his prostheses would have been impossible,” explains Sunil Pokhrel, a physical therapist with Humanity & Inclusion in Nepal. Ramesh has been given a wheelchair and two prostheses, and is gradually learning to walk again.
Three years on, Ramesh is still receiving rehabilitation care from HI. “I felt seriously depressed for a while,” he continues. “I was really lonely after the accident. But thanks to HI, I’m walking again now. And I’ve discovered sport. It’s therapeutic and helps take my mind off things. I do a 90-minute workout every morning before school and swim in the afternoons. I play tennis and basketball on the weekends.
“People told me I didn’t know how to dance, so I took lessons and won the “Differently Able Idol” dance competition. I’ve won 22 sports medals. My new goal is to take part in the 2020 Paralympic Games. But it’s going to be tough. I need a sports coach to train me and I need equipment. But I can’t afford it. I feel really broke.”
Ramesh is back at school again, after an absence of seven years. “I’m the oldest child. I give my prize money to my parents and brothers and sisters. Their living conditions are very poor, and they live far from here. I decided to go back to school because I want to get a job and support myself.”
Ramesh, who does more than 20 hours of sports each week, is incredibly brave and very determined. He has risen to every imaginable challenge. We can’t wait to see where his determination takes him next!
Floods and landslides have hit southern Nepal over the past week, causing 123 deaths. At least 35 people are missing, while thousands of houses were inundated across the Terai, the southern portion of the country. The disaster has so far affected more than 1 million people, according to the Office of the Resident Coordinator Nepal. Farmers report that the rains have destroyed at least 80% of the region’s arable land.Read more