On 1st June, our team went to two villages in Ramechhap district to distribute rations and corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets to earthquake-affected families. These are small pocket areas inhabited by some of the most disadvantaged groups. Due to their small size and absence of casualty, these villages have largely escaped the notice of the media and relief groups. Unlike our previous efforts that covered entire villages, this was a small initiative targeted at families who were identified (through a rapid needs assessment) as the most vulnerable members of their community. The total cost of the relief trip was NPR 94,776 (approximately USD 948).
Dalit settlement in Chapadi
We first went to Rakathum VDC to distribute rations to eight Dalit families of Chapadi village. We had received information that all the houses in the village were destroyed and that people were living under tarpaulins. The only relief they had received so far included 15 kg of rice, some beaten rice and one tarpaulin per household. According to Rajkumar Magar, our local contact in the area, the eight Dalit households are among the poorest in the village. The Magar and Majhi families, also poor and marginalized, are still better off in comparison, which was why Rajkumar advised us to prioritize the Dalit settlement over his own village. Most of the Dalit families depend on agriculture and tailoring work for livelihood. But as they own small and unproductive plots of land, their crop barely lasts them three months a year. Most of them therefore work as farm labourers for non-Dalit families in the village.
The Dalit settlement is located up on a hill on the other side of the Sunkoshi River. To get to the road, the locals have to cross the river on a rafting boat because the nearest bridge is at least an hour’s walk up the hill on a steep trail. The only available rafting boat is owned and operated by the Majhi community, which is spread across the village. A day before our arrival, the representatives of the eight Dalit households had been requested to gather at Khaireni Ghat (a short walk from the road head) to collect the supplies. But we did not see anyone when we reached there. Later we found out that people in the settlement had been reluctant to come down for two reasons. a) They feared that non-Dalit people would seize their share of relief on the way and that they would not be able to fight back. b) They would have to cross the river on a boat that would charge them 50 rupees each way. They finally agreed to come down after we convinced them that our local contact had already ensured that they could safely carry their supplies home and that we would cover their boat fare.
They arrived at the collection point after one and a half hours. Each household received essential rations: rice (30 kg), lentils (2 kg), salt (1 packet), soybean nutri-nuggets (1 kg), and oil (2 litres). They said their next urgent need is CGI sheets for building temporary shelters before the monsoon.
We also provided small cash gifts to two new mothers in the settlement through Nehi Fund. The first gift, in the amount of NPR 3000, was sent to Binda Maiya Nepali, who gave birth to her third child 18 days ago. The baby was delivered inside a tarpaulin shelter, and neither the baby nor the mother has received any medical care. Her whole body is swollen. Her husband Nar Bahadur Nepali has no reliable source of income and works as a farm labourer for high caste families in the village. Binda will use the money to buy essential supplies for herself and her baby.
The second cash gift, in the amount of NPR 2000, was for 20-year-old Lakshmi Nepali, who gave birth to a baby girl soon after the massive earthquake of 25th April. Both mother and baby are in good health and resting at Lakshmi’s parents’ house in a nearby village. Her mother-in-law received the gift on behalf of Lakshmi. Rajkumar will follow up with Lakshmi to ensure that the money has reached her hands.
Majhi settlement in Dhaneghat
Our next destination was a Majhi settlement in Dhaneghat village in Ward No. 1, Sukhajot VDC in Ramechhap. The Majhi are an indigenous fishing community whose livelihood, culture and identity have been increasingly threatened by state policies and conservation programs that deny them their rights.
There are 12 Majhi families in Dhaneghat village. Based on the needs assessment carried out by our local contact Kumar Majhi, we had decided to provide 2 bundles of CGI sheets each to 6 households and 1 bundle each along with essential rations to 2 households. The only relief the village had received until then included a tarpaulin, a bag of potatoes, a bag of rice and a packet of salt per household. They said their biggest need at the moment is temporary shelter that can withstand the monsoon rain.
We unloaded the supplies at the road head and met young local volunteers, who then carried them to the settlement. The settlement, which is on a slope on the other side of the river, is about 45 min walk from the road. The houses in the village are all damaged, and like in most affected places, families are living under tarpaulins. Most of the men had gone to Manthali, the district headquarters about 5 hours walk from the village, where an organization (it wasn’t clear which) was distributing relief. However, we were able to meet the members of the local mothers’ group and hand over the supplies to them.
We provided relief to eight families in need. Six families whose homes were destroyed received 2 bundles of CGI sheets each. The other two families, which received a bundle of sheets and rations (rice, oil, lentils, nutri-nuggets and salt), are by far the poorest in the village. These are the families of Shyam Bahadur Majhi and Tek Bahadur Majhi respectively. Shyam Bahadur used to live in a makeshift shelter even before the disaster. He had 13 children of whom 12 are alive, but only three live with him. The rest are being raised by relatives as he cannot support them. He has no livestock or reliable source of income, and does irregular jobs like carrying neighbours’ grain to the mill for small wages. Tek Bahadur has two children and his condition is nearly as dire as Shyam Bahadur’s. We hope the roofing sheets and rations will help ease their situation at least in the immediate term.
Through Nehi Fund we also provided small cash gifts to three people in the village who are in an extremely vulnerable condition. a) Buddhamaya Majhi is an elderly single woman who is partially disabled and autistic. b) Govindi, her daughter, is an autistic and deaf mute single woman. Both mother and daughter live with Buddhamaya’s son, a farm labourer, who also has to look after his wife and children. c) Dilli Man Shrestha is a 95-year-old man from a nearby settlement. His wife died six months ago, and according to his neighbours, he is very sad and lonely because his son- and daughter-in-law treat him as a burden. Buddhamaya, Govindi and Dilli Man received NPR 2000, 1000 and 500 respectively as immediate cash relief.
UPDATE ON RAMECHHAP RELIEF WORK
With subsequent request for support, we provided two bundles of zinc sheets each to two more Majhi families in Ramechhap district on 26 June, 2015.
- Ratnamaya Majhi, 75, of Sukhajor VDC, Ward No 1 (Dhaneghat) is a single woman with eight sons and two daughters. Her house is completely cracked but she has continued to living there as she has no other option. Due to heavy rains in recent weeks, her roof has started leaking and the house may come down anytime. Her neighbours requested support on her behalf and have volunteered to build a temporary shelter for her using the roofing sheets.
- Jit Bahadur Majhi, 85, lives across the Sunkoshi river in Bhuwaneswori VDC, Ward No. 9 (Baseri). He is a landless bonded labourer who works other people’s land. He has three sons. His hut is completely cracked. Moreover, his landlord has asked him to vacate the land on which the hut stands. He has been provided a small plot of land as compensation for a lifetime of servitude. He wants to build a temporary shelter for his family on this land.