When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, Ngima Sherpa followed the terrifying headlines from her home in Jackson Heights, New York. Alongside her sister and mother, she says she cried and prayed. But then, Ngima recalls, her nursing skills kicked in: “It wasn’t good to be sad. We had to do something.”
As an active member of the Nepalese American Nurses Association (NANA), she had a group of colleagues who were keen to help. They were also adamant that any money sent to Nepal would support professionals who were directly helping Nepalis with injuries—especially nurses.
The next day, Ngima grabbed a folding table, a little brown collection box, and posters calling for donations. She set up a stand on the sidewalk, along the path to her child’s school.
Her perspective on the New York spirit changed within moments. “Everyone came,” she says. “They were all ready to help Nepal: the Indians, the Pakistanis, white people, black people, senior citizens, students. It was overwhelming.”
By the third day, NANA had collected about $20,000, as well as enough medical supplies to fill an office. And on May 3, 2015, a handful of nurses traveled to Kathmandu to deliver relevant supplies directly to the professionals they knew they could trust: Nepalese nurses. “We went to every hospital, and left a bag of supplies,” she says. Additional supplies were used to stock two shelters in New York.
The only catch? The Association of about 300 nurses in the U.S. didn’t yet have a place in Nepal to donate the funds they’d raised. And before long, their fundraising results had almost doubled. So, in 2017, Ngima took her family to Nepal, where she set aside time to find a charity that she felt she could trust.
She began to find her match in western Nepal, when a Belgian physical therapist sat next to her on a bus. “He had worked with Humanity & Inclusion (then Handicap International) for years,” she says. “He told me there were a lot of people who needed prostheses.”
Back at her computer, she sent an email to Willy Bergogne, the director of Humanity & Inclusion’s Nepal program, and the wheels started turning. “I felt, ‘this is it,’” she says. “We won’t find a better project than this.”
So far, the generous grant to Humanity & Inclusion has benefited 34 people who lost limbs from the 2015 Nepal quake. These individuals had originally received rehabilitation and artificial limbs at the National Disabled Fund, a Kathmandu-based rehabilitation center set up by Humanity & Inclusion with support from USAID. Three years on from the earthquake, many people’s artificial limbs had worn down from so much use on Nepal’s uneven roads. HI’s younger beneficiaries simply grew, and were ready for replacements.
“We are thankful to NANA for their great support to reach out to almost all the Nepal quake impacted amputees,” says Willy Bergogne, the director of Humanity & Inclusion’s Nepal program. “We’ve been able to replace their prostheses at the right time, enabling the beneficiaries to walk confidently.”
“Ngima Sherpa and NANA are incredible for supporting the critical work of their fellow nurses in Nepal, and for considering the long-term needs of the people whose lives changed so drastically on April 25,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. executive director of Humanity & Inclusion. “By setting up that folding table in Jackson Heights, Ngima, her colleagues at NANA, and their generous neighbors will have helped dozens of people maintain their independence and mobility in Nepal. I cannot think of a better way for these committed professionals to promote, advocate and protect the health, safety and rights of the people of Nepal.”
Sunita Bhandari of NANA visits NDF, a Kathmandu-based rehabilitation center that is supported by Humanity & Inclusion in Nepal.
"When the water shook" is a new series of short videos that follows 10-year-old Nirmala from Nepal. The series includes five short films that feature Nirmala's life: the earthquake, rehabilitation with Humanity & Inclusion, her life at school, and much more. Watch the trailer and the first few episodes, share with your friends, and stay tuned for the next one!
Life in Nepal
Nirmala lives in Nepal. The earthquake which hit the country on April 25, 2015 killed more than 8,000 people and injured 22,000. The Kathmandu valley is particularly exposed to seismic risks. In Nepal, more than 40% of the population live below the poverty line.
Life with a disability
In Nepal, disability is primarily considered a social issue. It is rarely addressed as a public health issue or taken into account in education, health, and economic development. An estimated 78% of children with disabilities are excluded from school and only 1% of population of people with disabilities has access to decent, waged employment.
Why Nirmala loves school
The inseparable duo
Episode 5 is coming soon!
Paving the way for working women in Nepal
Kamala Tamata has made a life for herself, and now she is paying it forward.
When she was less than a year old, Kamala acquired polio, which severely damaged her left foot. Doctors suggested amputating, but her mother wouldn’t let them. Still, walking was extremely difficult for her, and as she grew, other children made fun of her. She and her parents thought her future was limited.
That all changed when she met a community disability worker with Humanity & Inclusion in the Kailali district in southwest Nepal. Thanks to a USAID grant and HI donors, Kamala received a brace for her foot and physical therapy to help her walk. She expressed an interest in being a tailor, so she participated in sewing classes and received support finding her first job.
Today, she works in a dress shop and teaches classes to other women, including some with disabilities. She is also a leader with the disabled persons’ organization in her community. Her monthly wage is enough to support herself and her family. She is even able to put some money away in a savings cooperative.
“The support I received has made all the difference,” she said. “Now that I can walk and work, I don’t feel like I have a disability.”
The Humanity & Inclusion team in Nepal provides support to people with disabilities so they can find meaningful, waged jobs. In addition, we work with employers so they can better understand disability and how to recruit and retain employees with disabilities by providing the tools they need to succeed.
When Dharma Devkota was five months old, she was burned so badly that both of her legs had to be amputated. At the time of her accident, she and her family were living in the western hilly district of Surkhet. After her injury, they moved to Kailali, a district in western Terai.
For years, Dharma was carried to school by her mother, and sometimes by her father. In rural Nepal, children generally start school when they are four or five-years-old. Dharma started when she was eight, and would sometimes miss class when her mother became busy with household chores or agricultural activities.
That is, until she met the Community Disability Worker (CDW) through USAID’s STRIDE project. HI’s partner organization visited Dharma at her home and explained the process of being fit for artificial legs. “I did not believe that my daughter could walk and be independent,” Ranga Devi, Dharma’s mother said. “And I never imagined that she could cycle.”
Today, at the age of 18, Dharma is strong and independent with support from her second set of artificial legs. “She is a girl with strong determination,” her mother adds. “She learned how to cycle in the period of a week.”
Dharma attends school regularly, and travels to and from by bike. Her two brothers help care for her and help her study for school exams. She reads at a 9th grade level and dreams of someday becoming a nurse. “Now I never have to miss my classes and I can go to school regularly,” she says. Her mother adds: “Since she has become regular at school, she has improved her position in class.”
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.
Sudan Rimal, a Humanity & Inclusion physical therapist at USAID's STRIDE project says, “I met Nirmala and Khendo shortly after the earthquake. 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!