Habitat for Humanity begins earthquake rubble removal near Kathmandu

BANGKOK (May 5, 2015) Following the April 25 earthquake, Nepali volunteers are supporting Habitat for Humanity in the long process of recovery by removing rubble from affected areas. The program began recently in Opi Tol, about 30 minutes’ drive south of the capital of Kathmandu. The community is located in Harisiddhi village development committee, Lalitpur district.

“We chose an area which was really affected, where no aid had arrived yet,” said Sushma Shrestha, resource development and communications manager for Habitat for Humanity Nepal. “There is an acute need for shelter, for housing. We will start with emergency shelter kits. Later we will focus on transitional shelter, and then permanent homes.”

On May 2, about 80 volunteers donned hardhats, gloves and surgical masks before setting to work. They helped to clear the roads of rubble such as bricks, roof tiles, broken wood beams, and other debris.

Upon seeing the Habitat volunteers at work, local residents decided to join in the revival of their neighborhood. The total number of those working to remove rubble reached 120 people.

“Now that we’re seeing other people coming here to help, the community is becoming more enthusiastic; they are joining the cleanup. I’m very thankful that Habitat for Humanity has come and helped the community,” said Birendra Maharjan, a 35-year-old member of the local disaster committee.

Among those who are thankful for Habitat’s help is Renu Maharjan. The 37-year-old mother of two showed Habitat staff what remained of her home after the earthquake. All the upper floors of her four-story brick house had collapsed.

Only the front façade is still standing, with a small open space on the ground floor by the front door. That was where Renu had huddled with her son Rakim, 21, when the earthquake happened. According to Renu, they would not have survived if they had been anywhere else in the house.

Recalling the earthquake, Renu said there was shaking and a loud noise. “It sounded like a plane, but it was coming from the ground.”

As the house started to collapse, falling bricks injured her foot. “We were holding onto each other, covering each other’s heads. I couldn’t really think. I was very sure I was going to die.

“When the earthquake stopped, we went outside, and we were the only people we could see,” said Renu. Having survived the earthquake, her thoughts turned to the rest of her family. She had sent her daughter Ritima, 6, to her family’s shop earlier. “I thought she had died for sure.”

After several hours of worrying, she was relieved to learn that her daughter was in another neighborhood with her husband, and that neither was injured.

There were others who did not escape in time. Three of Renu’s neighbors, who lived two doors away, died when their houses collapsed. Pointing to a deep pile of rubble on a narrow street, Renu said: “Kids were playing here. Three died playing here; one died over there.”

Opi Tol lost 23 people to the earthquake and many more were injured. About 450 homes out of around 1,300 houses in the community were destroyed or damaged by the earthquake.

After the earthquake, Renu and her family are trying to cope as best as they can. Her husband Rajendra still has his job cleaning artisan products but she could no longer work as a home-based seamstress. Everything she owns is buried under the rubble. With only part of her house still left standing, it is not considered safe to start clearing the debris yet.

In the meantime, Renu and her family are staying in a temporary tarpaulin shelter in Opi Tol, along with some 7,000 residents who have been displaced following the disaster.

Many of those lending a hand to Opi Tol’s residents were from the Nepal Scouts, a long-time partner whose members have supported special events organized by HFH Nepal such as the Everest Builds.

Rabin Dahal, Chief Commissioner of the Nepal Scouts, said: “Everybody should not work alone. When you work in a team, of course you will be able to achieve your objectives. From what I have seen, Habitat and the Scouts have done a great job. I’m happy that they are working together.”

Habitat for Humanity expects to help 20,000 families through rubble removal, shelter kit distribution, transitional shelter solutions and new home construction. We need your support to assist more affected families. To donate, please visit altenheime-hamburg.info/nepal.