Nepal Earthquake: Invisible Destruction

Nepal Earthquake: Invisible Destruction

Publication info

Posted
5/28/15
By
Johanna Mitscherlich

Sameer is the English teacher in his village in Gorkha. He worries about his students’ psychological well-being after the two big earthquakes.

Sameer hastens up steep slopes, and moves down small winding trails through deep river valleys. His flip-flops make a clacking sound, as he paces through his village in the mountains of Gorkha. Around him, in stark contrast to the picturesque panorama, homes have turned into piles of rubble, burying clothes, food and furniture underneath. “I am not so worried about the visible damage,” Sameer says. “I am more worried about the invisible destruction, the scars people have to bear after this disaster. I need to know how my students are doing.” Sameer is the English teacher of the village, and for the past weeks he has visited his students in the tents they have put together with tarps provided by CARE. No one dares to sleep in their homes, not even the few people whose houses are still intact. He talks to the children, wanting to know how they are coping. They tell him how they survived the massive earthquake which rocked their homes. They have lost everything, their toys, their belongings, and some have lost family members as well. “Parents tell me that the children follow them everywhere. At night, they are wetting their beds and are too afraid to fall asleep.” The district of Gorkha is one of the areas that has been hit hardest by the earthquake. According to government estimates, more than 80 percent of the homes of around 270,000 people have been severely damaged or completely destroyed. Reaching the approximately 1,000 villages spread out over the mountains remains an enormous challenge. People are in desperate need of food, clothes and shelter. 

In one week, schools in Nepal are set to reopen again. But, like Sameer’s school, more than 25,000 classrooms have been destroyed. According to the UN, around 870,000 children aged 3 to 18 will not be able to continue their education for the time being. “The government is providing tents so we can continue our classes, but I doubt that my students are ready to learn again. Most of them are physically unharmed. But they are scared and struggle to overcome their trauma,” says Sameer. He has spent his nights reading articles on psychosocial support for children on the internet. He lets them talk about what they have been through, hoping, that it helps them to overcome their traumatic experiences. “Going back to school is so important for them. Not only to continue their education, but also to create a sense of normalcy. They should learn and play, feel like children again.” 

From the outside, Sameer’s school shows only a few cracks. When he opens the doors to the classrooms though, the tears well up and he shakes his head. Tiles have broken through the ceiling; the walls collapsed and buried tables, chairs and blackboards under their heavy weight. In between the rubble and stones, books, papers and pens are scattered everywhere. 

A few weeks before the earthquake, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary. Shim himself graduated from this school. “When I feel sad because my students are so upset and my school is now nothing but a pile of stones, I have to remind myself of how lucky we actually were. Just imagine the earthquake would not have hit on a Saturday. Saturday is the only day in the week when school is off. Most of our 750 students would probably be injured or dead now.”  He pauses, seemingly trying to wipe away the horrible thoughts spinning in his head. “We have a long way to go, but we will rebuild this school. And – with help from organisations like CARE and the government – will build it back safer and better than before. What I have learnt in this school and what I can teach my children cannot be shattered. Not even by the biggest earthquake.”

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