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A new home for Latima: Helping to rebuild in Nepal

Latima and her nephew Singha.
Latima and her nephew Singha.

"My aunt is disabled, she has never spoken - not since she was born," Singha explains, crouching on the bare stone foundations of his aunt's new house, which he is helping to build. "I am not sure, but we thought it was because she was deaf - that she couldn't speak because she couldn't hear." His aunt sits beside him. She has led us here from the marketplace in the neighboring village of Mankha, taking the trackless mountain paths with sure-footed ease despite her age, and speaking her own language of fluent gestures and ready smiles. Both Latima and Singha lost their houses during April's earthquake, which hit the outlying communities of Sindhupalchok district extremely hard.

A future full of doubts and fear

Latima and her sister in the ruins of their old home.
Latima and her sister in the ruins of their old home.

According to the Village Development Committee of Pagretar, damage from the two earthquakes, made worse by monsoon rains, has now destroyed 95% of the houses there. “The house collapsed during the earthquake – everything was lost,” Singha says. “My aunt lost her cooking implements, her clothing, and her food stores – absolutely everything. She used to farm a little, but that did not bring enough, so she worked cooking and cleaning for other people. Because of her disability, she never married, so she is alone. Now she is old and sick – she has a tumor on her neck – and nearly past work. She cannot rebuild on her own.”

Still smiling, Latima shows me the wreckage of the house that she used to share with her sister. It is nothing more than a heap of stones and splintered wood. Like most people in the area, the whole family – Singha, Latima, and her sister –  now live in squalid conditions in a shelter built from scratched together material. The prospect of facing the coming winter – when isolation and cold temperatures grip the mountain regions – without a proper place to live is a frightening one.

Shelter top priority

Singha at work on the foundations of Latima's new house.
Singha at work on the foundations of Latima's new house.

Providing locals with suitable shelter is a top priority. Malteser International is providing the material and the expertise for the construction of model houses throughout the districts of Sindhupalchok and Kavre – demonstrating sustainable building techniques, providing shelter to especially vulnerable people, and giving people like Singha the opportunity to deal with the trauma of losing everything by helping to rebuild their communities. “We are very happy to have Malteser International’s help,” Singha says. “If Malteser International was not there, my aunt would quite simply have nowhere to live. She is not on the official list for aid; bit Malteser International helped us – also with food, tools and hygiene material. I have no work right now, and we need outside help.” As we are speaking, rain begins to fall. Singha looks up at the sky, smiles and shrugs. Work on the house has to continue, but for Singha, being able to contribute makes the effort worthwhile.  “All I want is a job,” he says, “and enough help for my aunt to let her live in decent conditions.”

September 2015 Conor Heathcote

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Video

In May 2016, one year on from the earthquake, Latima spoke to a Malteser International film team. Her house is now finished, and she is very pleased with the result: