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At a women’s center in Nepal, earthquake survivors find solace and resolve

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Jureli Nepali is receiving support from a women's center founded after last year's devastating earthquake in Nepal. Photo by Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

One year after a pair of devastating earthquake, women’s centers are among the recovery initiatives Oxfam and its partners are providing to Nepalis as they work to rebuild their communities.

Jureli Nepali has lost a great deal since a massive earthquake hit Nepal a year ago. But one thing she has held onto, fiercely, is her determination—to keep her spirits up, to work, and to support her family as best she can.

Bolstering that determination is the support Nepali has found at a newly established women’s center in Khoplang, Gorkha. Set up with help from Oxfam after the quake, the center serves about 250 vulnerable women in the area. It offers group counseling as well as one-on-one sessions. Most of the women it works with are HIV-positive, enduring abusive relationships, or have lost a child in the quake.

“The young ladies that work at the center council me and tell me not to be depressed,” says Nepali, who is 50 and was diagnosed with HIV about 10 years ago after contracting it from her husband. “They tell me not to let go of the strong spirit I have inside.”

The women’s center in Khoplang—and seven others—are among a host of projects Oxfam and its local partners have implemented to help earthquake survivors with the long recovery ahead. The April 25, 2015 quake left widespread destruction, killing almost 9,000 people and damaging or destroying about 850,000 homes. The temblor also took a toll on employment opportunities: a year after, many people are still struggling to find work.

In the first three months after the disaster, with the outpouring of support from donors around the world, Oxfam and its local partners provided support to more than 400,000 people. Among the assistance offered were emergency food, clean water, shelter, latrines, and public education on hygiene and sanitation. Now, we have turned our attention to the longer-term recovery needs of villagers and are focusing on helping people to earn a living. For women like Nepali, who has become widowed since the quake and whose children are still young, work is both a solace and a necessity.

Kathmandu stretches as far as the eye can see. Photo by Kieran Doherty/ Oxfam

Energy and vigor

“I have so much energy and vigor. No one can work as much as me,” says Nepali. “I am still strong, strong from the heart, so I believe I can still do things.”

And she is not afraid of manual labor: “I have probably delivered a truckload of sand to building sites and so much manure to farms—carrying it myself. . .  Sometimes I even carry 50KG of corn seed on my back.”

But physical strength can’t quite make up for all that is now missing in her life: After the earthquake, Nepali’s husband, who had always been a hard worker, committed suicide, leaving her to support their family.

“Even if there was nothing to do he would find something to work on,” she recalls. He had built the family a large house that could accommodate a good number of people, but when the quake hit, the top floor collapsed and gaping hole was left in the bottom floor. “After the earthquake, my husband started saying that his mind was completely numb.”

Where work once filled his days, sleep and drink consumed him after the quake.

“My husband’s suicide is too painful for me,” says Nepali. “It’s without question that my life has become very painful since my husband passed away.”

Support from the center

But with support from counselors at the women’s center Nepali is firm in her resolve: “They talk to me and I talk to them and it gives me a strong motivation to keep going,” she says.

Nepali comes to the center on a monthly basis and attends group sessions. She has also started participating in a savings group and setting aside money each month with an eye—possibly—toward taking out a loan.

At the center, she has met other women struggling with some of the same issues she has, which helps to put her own problems in perspective. Still, being HIV-positive has been an enormous hurdle because of the community’s fear about the disease. The center is addressing those attitudes.

“Anything that can be done to enlighten people about this disease would be a great help,” says Nepali. “Initially people wouldn’t allow me to wash clothes or drink from the same source of water, but now they have learned that this is not how you can contract the disease and now I am able to work. But still I can’t eat alongside people.”

The women’s center, says Nepali, is helping to change people’s minds.

“They are educating people not to discriminate against people who have the disease.”

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