During my first visit to rural Nepal a year after the April 2015 megaquake, what greeted me and what I discovered depressed me and made me mad!
I had missed everything of the tumultuous months of 2016 — the earthquake, the agitation in the Southern plains, the promulgation of the constitution, the Indian economic embargo etc. — having spent the preceding thirteen months in North America.
On my way to Thangpalkot, in Sindhupalchok, one of COMMITTED’s project sites, I came across house after house after house that had been turned into piles of rubble, and family after family after family living in make-shift shelters. They had already passed the frigid mountain winter in them! Some of those in Thangpalkot were people I knew.
During the visit, as usual, I made photo and video documentations of what I saw in the area and also made notes of what I saw, what I heard, what I was told etc. Not long after returning to Kathmandu, I blogged videos of the reconstruction of Taltuleshwori School, Kumveshwori School, Chilaune School, Saat Kanya Primary School, Raithane Secondary School, and one of a typical morning at a Temporary Learning Center. I had plans to write blog posts too!
I had enough notes for three different posts, but ended up writing and publishing only one: On Shaky Ground. I just couldn’t bring myself to write the other two because the subject matter was so depressing. I did post a photo album on Facebook, called Amongst a Forgotten People. (Almost a year on since the visit, I still haven’t written the other two posts.)
In other words, the quake had NOT been something to be taken lightly! It had after all been the biggest natural calamity in living memory!
The notice reads thus:
Forget the Pain of the Earthquake, Come Together for Reconstruction
Symptoms of Psycho-social Problems
- regular recollection of and re-experiencing the traumatic event
- being inordinately fearful and easily startled
- struggling with daily activities (remaining passive)
- feeling unsafe
- suffering from hyperarousal
- being aggressive, being irrascible, being irritable
- turning to substance abuse to deal with the stress of the traumatic event (drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, hookah, chewing tobacco a lot)
- facing difficulties dealing with the loss of loved ones resulting in abnormal grief reactions (going unconscious, fainting, day dreaming, crying, shouting/screaming, going dumb)
- not having a desire to engage with the community nor in communal activities
- being suspicious of others
- unwillingness to think, talk about the traumatic event
- suffering from insomnia or from nightmares
How to Address Psycho-social Problems
- don’t spend time alone; share feelings with a close friend
- keep up with daily activities
- worship, pray and meditate as per your religion
- engage in fun activities (watch movies, go for walks, play different games, workout (exercise), attend cultural programs as per your interest)
- pay attention to information and notices from authorities instead of to rumors
- don’t drink tea, coffee, cigarette or watch TV before going to bed
- read books you enjoy and listen to music
- participate in different social activities (wedding, ‘bratabanda’, fair, religious functions)
- participate in programs organized by different organizations
- create a trusting environment, maintain a level of confidentiality
- create an environment that fosters self-confidence
- make appropriate arrangements for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothes, medical attention
- while still respecting their feelings, encourage them to have positive thoughts and to show positive behaviors
- get in touch with a psychiatrist or a mental health worker and assist with rehabilitation and reintegration into the community
(Incidentally, I got help from two Facebook friends with the translation, the details of which you can see on this Facebook post.)
And who was responsible for this public service notice?
When it came to reconstruction, at the time, no one I talked to in the villages I visited in the District had even received their first tranche of Rs. 50,000 grant from the government. Even if they had received it, I doubt many would have been able to rebuild anyway! Even those who could have rebuilt their homes without financial support from the government, I heard, couldn’t begin reconstruction for one reason or another.
One of them had been the non-materialization of technical assistance the government had promised. Another, in some places at least, had been the lack of skilled manpower.
As for the psycho-social issues, apparently, mental health/psycho-social service sector was flooded with funds after the earthquake. Several programs were also implemented in Sindhupalchok. What they boiled down to, however, was a handful of counselors working with the villagers for some time, following a few weeks of training.
Furthermore, I know Nepal does not have many psychiatrists. I hear they don’t even number a couple of hundred in the entire country, and most of them live and work in urban centers. As for mental health workers, last I heard, each district were assigned 10 of them — 10! Besides, anything to do with mental health is culturally taboo in the country. Most suffering from mental health issues would, therefore, be reluctant to seek out help for fear of being discovered that they are anyway.
And yet, the public notice called on everyone to forget about the earthquake (and by extension all the earthquake-induced trauma, pain and suffering) and, instead, to come together for reconstruction when adequate support had NOT been provided to the victims, firstly, to deal with the trauma, and, secondly, to rebuild!
I am willing to bet that, apart from raising some awareness, this non-public-serving public-service notice accomplished little.
I am also willing to bet that the earthquake — directly and indirectly — caused not only a higher number of girls and women than boys and men to suffer from trauma and mental health issues, but also to a greater extent, and so this feeble attempt is a slap in their face.
The biggest killer of girls and women of Nepal is, after all, suicide!
What do you think?