Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Journey to Simjung: Delivering UNICEF medical tent and essential health supplies

The journey to Simjung is not for the faint-hearted. The Village Development Committee (VDC) in Gorkha district, epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April, is accessible only by dirt roads that challenge the bravehearts too. The sight of rocks falling along the hills scarred by frequent landslides is quite common along the way, especially during monsoon.

Simjung, which lies around 180 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu, was heavily affected by the earthquake, which destroyed the village’s only health post. Since then, accessing essential health services had been quite an issue for the villagers, especially pregnant women and new mothers.

Photographer Chandra Shekhar Karki traveled to Simjung in July with UNICEF emergency response team delivering medical tents and essential health supplies to establish a birthing centre there.

Here is Mr. Karki’s account of the unforgettable journey, which he says was “challenging both physically and mentally.”

UNICEF medical tent and essential health supplies are loaded onto a tractor in Gorkha Bazaar, district headquarters of Gorkha, epicenter of 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April.  
“After a few kilometres from Gorkha Bazaar, the district headquarters, the gravel road ends and the narrow dirt road to Simjung begins. The bumpy ride on the road felt like an internal massage to my system. However, the worse was yet to come. As we reached Chanaute, the road split. One led to our destination Simjung, while the other went to Takumajh, another village equally devastated by the earthquake.

The tractor, carrying UNICEF medical tent and health supplies, crosses a landslide area on the way to Simjung Village Development Committee. which lies about 180 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu.
The uphill road to Simjung was unnerving as it had become muddy and slippery due to the rains. The wheels of the tractor, which carried the medical tent and health supplies, got stuck in the mud many times pushing the vehicle towards the slope. Any time this happened, the entire entourage, aided by the locals, would push the tractor back on track.

The tractor, stuck on muddy road to Simjung, is pushed back on track.
At one point, the motorable road ended and we started walking with UNICEF supplies carried by a group of local porters up the steep rocky hill with the cliffs steep enough, the locals say, to touch one’s nose. Soon a heavy downpour started, but the team continued despite the torrential rain. We eventually stopped at  Dhodeni, a tiny hamlet on the way, to recover our energy for the next day’s journey, which included more walking on muddy and slippery steep roads.  

Local porters carry the health supplies to Simjung VDC. 
When we reached Simjung, the next day, a huge crowd of earthquake-affected villagers, especially women had gathered at the village chautara (local gathering place). As they approached us with the usual Nepali hospitailty and a genuine show of gratitude on their faces, all our exhaustion faded away. The health post staff wasted no time in setting up the medical tent for the new birthing centre. Once the tent was erected and essential services set up, it was not long before a line of pregnant women and new mothers began forming outside the tent.

Simjung health post staff set up UNICEF medical tent to establish a birthing centre there. 
It was a welcome sight for my tired eyes. Here we were at last with the most essential supplies of medicine, equipment and a tent for the pregnant and new mothers, who would eventually get a chance for safe motherhood.

A Simjung health post staff uses a fetuscope to listen to fetal heartbeat in the newly established birthing centre. 
A new life for the babies who will be born safely thanks to UNICEF!"

Photos by Chandra Shekhar Karki for UNICEF

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A new life amidst death and destruction on Nepal earthquake day

Rojina Chauhan with her son Himal "Bhukampa Bahadur."
In the beautiful hamlet of Nalang Patle, a remote and impoverished ward of Nalang Village Development Committee (VDC) in Dhading district, five-months-old Himal is a constant reminder that on April 25, when Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, there were not only deaths and destruction, but a new life also.

Although named Himal by the family priest, he is more popularly known in his village by his nickname, ‘Bhukampa Bahadur,’ which literally means earthquake brave, the name written in the health register. Those close to him even call him ‘Bhukampey' for short.

A visitor uses his mobile phone to take Himal's photo.
Himal's mother Rojina Chauhan is overjoyed whenever she has a visitor for her infant son.

“They come here every day just to see him, hoping that he brings good luck to them,” the 17-year-old said.

As the almost a minute-long deadly shaking began on April 25, Rojina was inside delivery room in Nangle health post. The staff carried her in the open grassland area, far from any collapsing building.
Rojina weighs herself with and without Himal to determine his weight.
The health team worked with Rojina even as they were shaken with extreme fear for their own safety as parts of the health post started crumbling down.

Fortunately, after four hours, when the strong aftershocks had subsided, they took Rojina inside and safely delivered Himal.

Himal with his great-grandmother. 
“I couldn’t believe that my daughter was alive and had given birth to a healthy baby boy,” said Rojina’s 35-year-old mother Maya. “I am so thankful to the health post staff.”

Rojina's family barely survives with less than USD 30 a month. Their only source of income is any farm work that Maya and her husband can find. They are landless and live in a makeshift tiny hut with one bed shared by the whole family.

Rojina holds Himal outside their makeshift home while her mother watches from behind. 
“I worry a lot about my son’s well-being as we have a very difficult life but it gives me a lot of relief to see him safe,” said Rojina, who often talks to her son telling him not to worry as she will save him if there is another earthquake.

Since the earthquake, UNICEF has provided a medical tent to the health post in Nalang to ensure continuous delivery of essential health services in the community.

Rojina, with Himal, visits the local health post being operated under UNICEF-provided tent.
Text by Naresh Newar
Photos by Kiran Panday for UNICEF