Photo essay: Life for Bishnu Maya Dangal, one year after the earthquake

Date : 15 April 2016

Sunbeams trickle through little holes on the tin wall of her small hut. Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha

SINDHUPALCHOWK—Sunbeams trickle through little holes on the tin wall of her small hut. Dried corn cobs hang on the low tin ceiling, while corrugated sheets of tin partition the hut into a kitchen and a sitting area. A small dirty cupboard is on one side of the partition. On top of that is a clean new bucket. A makeshift wood stove burns more smoke than fire.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha


This is home. Home for seventy-two year-old Bishnu Maya Dangal who is blowing to light up the fire for cooking. Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha

This is home. Home for seventy-two year-old Bishnu Maya Dangal who is blowing to light up the fire for cooking. She coughs, takes a break and blows again. It is early spring in Sindhupalchowk, but it is still chilly outside. A few years ago, she and her husband had everything—a house, two sons, daughter-in-laws and healthy grandchildren. When her older son’s kidneys started failing 20 years ago, Bishnu Maya donated one of hers. “The doctors said I could live with just one kidney … how could I not give it to my son so he could live?” she recalls.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha


Bishnu Maya and her husband adjusted to the new life after tjeor family disintegrated.  Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha

They had 15 happy years together before her son’s new kidney also started failing. “He passed away five years ago; he took my kidney and my love,” says Bishnu Maya. Then, the family disintegrated as the younger son fought with his parents for property and the elderly couple divided the property between the families of the two sons. Soon after, the younger son took his share, moved his family to the capital Kathmandu and cut off all contact with his parents. The elderly couple adjusted to the new life.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha


On 25 April 2015 everything changed when a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. The Dangal family home was completely destroyed, leaving behind a pile of rubble. Without anything to call their own and in search of food and shelter, the couple trekked up the hill and found a piece of empty land next to the district health post. Photo:UN Women/N Shrestha

On 25 April 2015 everything changed when a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. The Dangal family home was completely destroyed, leaving behind a pile of rubble. Without anything to call their own and in search of food and shelter, the couple trekked up the hill and found a piece of empty land next to the district health post.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha


One of five multi-purpose women’s centres in Nepal. Photo: UN Women/N Shrestha

That is where the elderly couple found the support they needed. Fortunately for them, the women’s organization SAATHI, had located their multi-purpose women’s centre, supported by UN Women and in coordination with the Government of Nepal, on the same premises of the district health post, where the Dangals landed. The multi-purpose women’s centres function in five locations, and provide trauma counselling, information, legal and medical referrals. Centre staff asked the district health post to allow the couple to stay on the premises until they could return home.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha


Bishnu Maya Dangal and her husband show their senior citizen cards. Photo: UN Women/ N Shrestha

When Prativa Shrestha, the district coordinator of the multi-purpose women’s centre in Sindhupalchowk, learned that the couple didn’t have senior citizens cards, and weren’t getting the money the Government provides to seniors, she leaped into action. She contacted the local administration, filed the necessary forms, got all the signatures and copies of citizenship and applied for the cards on the couple’s behalf. Within days the cards were ready! Since then the couple has been getting Rs 500 (USD 5) each, every month. That’s not much, but enough to buy basic supplies like sugar, salt, oil and medicine.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha


Bishnu Maya Dangal and her husband raise and sell goats.  Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha

With the help of the Centre, the couple is managing—for now. The couple’s only other source of income is raising goats, and selling them once they are big enough to bring them a good price. Every day, come early afternoon, the Dangals take a walk back to the spot where their house used to be before the earthquake: today a cherry blossom tree is in full bloom next to a pile of rubble. “This is where our house used to be,” says Bishnu Maya, who is unable to rebuild because they don’t have enough money.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha

Every day, come early afternoon, the Dangals take a walk back to the spot where their house used to be before the earthquake. Photo: UN Women/N Shrestha

But hope lives on. One day Bishnu Maya is hopeful she will be able to go back to her old life, her home, and bring her family together again.

Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha