Healing in post-earthquake Nepal

Maali Gurung, 62, was trapped under rubble for days when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, killing her husband and destroying her hotel. She was severely injured and needed help. At the multipurpose centre run by Women for Human Rights, with support from UN Women, Ms. Gurung was able to rest and heal. Today she is part of a cash-for-work programme and planning to rebuild her home.

Date: Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Maali Gurung, age 62, an earthquake survivor in Gorkha, Nepal. In the devastating 2015 earthquake, Maali and her husband were buried in rubble for five days.  He did not survive.  Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha
Maali Gurung, age 62, an earthquake survivor in Gorkha, Nepal. In the devastating 2015 earthquake, Maali and her husband were buried in rubble for five days. He did not survive. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha

Gorkha, Nepal—Sixty-two-year-old Maali Gurung recalls going to get some water at the tap next to her hotel on 25 April 2015, just before the earthquake occurred. “It started shaking violently, then I fell and my body hit the ground very hard,” she says. Maali couldn’t move, and she watched in horror as her hotel turned into rubble within seconds. Unable to get away from whatever she was buried under, she heard people yelling and running away. “I tried to yell, but no sound came, the dust burned my eyes, I couldn’t see…then I passed out.”

Almost a year since that fateful day, Ms. Gurung is sitting on the carpeted floor in the meeting room of Women for Human Rights (WHR), UN Women’s local partner that supports single Nepali women. She recounts the horror of the day when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked central Nepal. She speaks slowly, recalling everything that happed that day.

When Ms. Gurung regained consciousness, she was still lying on the ground, unable to move. “I was under a huge pillar and had hurt my feet badly,” she says.Her husband trapped in the rubble not so far away was dead.

She and her husband used to run a hotel in Hawa Danda, 150 kilometres from the capital, Kathmandu, a settlement on a rough overhanging rock en route to the Manaslu Tsum Valley. April is a busy time of the year for businesses as trekkers throng the narrow trails to Manaslu.

On the day of the earthquake, Ms. Gurung’s hotel had a handful of guests. “Some were eating snacks, some were enjoying cold drinks—there was a lot of activity and a lot of noise,” she says.

When she gained consciousness everything was quiet. All she could hear was her own breathing. Ms. Gurung realized she was bleeding heavily from her injured foot but couldn’t get up to stop the bleeding. “I just lay there hoping someone would help me, but nobody came.”

After surviving under rubble for five days, Maali Gurung was found by her neighbors relatives and airlifted to Gorkha Bazaar for medical treatment. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha
After surviving under rubble for five days, Maali Gurung was found by her neighbors relatives and airlifted to Gorkha Bazaar for medical treatment. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha

Help didn’t arrive until the fourth day. For five days and four nights Ms. Gurung was in and out of consciousness. “I was thirsty, I wished it would rain so I could drink that water,” she says. On the morning of the fifth day her neighbours had come to check on their relatives, and found her alive. They carried her to Soti Bazaarr, some three hours away from Hawa Danda, through debris and dry landslides that were falling from the hills. They put her in a helicopter and sent her to the district headquarters, Gorkha Bazaar, for treatment.

When doctors examined Ms. Gurung, her foot wound already had myiasis [a parasitic infection] because it hadn’t been treated in time. It would be a slow recovery and she needed help. Her son had left to work in Malaysia eight years ago and has been estranged from the family. “I thought: I have a son who never calls and a husband who is dead. I don’t have a house, no money, and now I can’t even move…” Ms. Gurung had never felt so alone.

Her neighbour and WHR social mobilizer Suk Maya Gurung was her saviour. When Ms. Gurung was discharged from the hospital, Suk Maya brought her to the multipurpose women’s centre that WHR had set up in Gorkha Bazaar, with support from UN Women Nepal. Through the centre, survivors of the earthquake have been getting trauma counselling, psychosocial support, skills training, legal and life-saving information.

Maali Gurung (seated first row centre), along with other women, attend psychological counseling at the Multi-purpose Women’s Centre in Gorkha Bazaar, which Women for Human Rights (WHR) set up with support from UN Women Nepal. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha
Maali Gurung (seated first row centre), along with other women, attend psychological counseling at the Multi-purpose Women’s Centre in Gorkha Bazaar, which Women for Human Rights (WHR) set up with support from UN Women Nepal. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha

At the multipurpose centre, Ms. Gurung could rest and heal. “I would’ve been dead, had it not been for those who took care of me after I was released from the hospital,” she says. She stayed there for over three months before she could walk properly.

A few weeks ago, Ms. Gurung took part in a cash-for-work programme where she helped clear earthquake debris so she could bring home some rice. “I still have debts to pay for all the goods that were buried by the earthquake… It is my responsibility; I will find a way to earn money and pay it off,” she says.

Maali Gurung, left, puts her arm around Suk Maya Gurung, a fellow displaced earthquake survivor who works as social mobilizer at the Multi-purpose Women’s Centre. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha
Maali Gurung, left, puts her arm around Suk Maya Gurung, a fellow displaced earthquake survivor who works as social mobilizer at the Multi-purpose Women’s Centre. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha

For now, all she wants is for the reconstruction to start. The engineers came to survey her land a few weeks ago, which has made her hopeful that work will start soon. “I have lost everything, but as long as my hands will not betray me, I can build,” she says.

To learn more about UN Women's post-earthquake response in Nepal, see our one-year anniversary compilation.