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Portraits of people

Portraits. Pictures of people I don’t want to forget. In Nepal I meet many beautiful people. Inside and out.

Seeing people

Through my lens I see people in a different way sometimes – I think other photographers will understand when I’m saying this. You look into their eyes so deeply as you’re taking the pictures – you want to portray them as they are. Almost always I show the portrait pictures to them afterwards and if they don’t like them, I delete them. The following pictures made it through… and I want you to see them. I want you to recognise them.

Portraits of people in a forgotten crises

I want you to see the story of a people that lived in very difficult circumstances, in a crises that is largely forgotten and where more than 600,000 houses have been declared inhabitable. Only a small part of them have been rebuild so far. And researchers say a new heavy earthquake might occur in the next years. A race against time. I hope the portraits speak a thousand words to you too. For all the pictures below I did not use a filter or programme to alter them, they are the original pictures as I took them with my camera.

Portraits - picture of Dolma Tamang and her husband in front of their new earthquake resilient house. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

The glow that made her face shine like the sun

Remember Dolma Tamang? I wrote about her in April when she was still living in her shed. Now I took portraits of her and her husband in front of their new earthquake resilient house. I love this picture as you can see how happy they are. They could not stop thanking everyone who helped them – so thank you too if you contributed to building those safe houses! More money is still needed to build the 1,263 houses that we want to build – so if you still want to see more of these smiles, please consider donating to Medair Nepal.

Portraits - shop owner who asked me to take his picture. He wears a typical Nepali hat, the Nepali Topi. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Nepali Topi

This shop-owner asked me to take his picture. I was happy that he simply continued to lean against the doorpost, without overly posing, but continued the way I met him. He wears the typical Nepali hat, the Nepali Topi ((Nepali: ढाका टोपी). The Nepali Topi is popular among hilly Nepalis. The topi is worn as a symbol of national pride and national dress. Portraits - mother and child walking through Bijulikot, Ramechhap, Nepal. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

I loved it when this child looked straight in my lens and the mother seemed more interested in the discussion that was going on between several shop-owners. I love seeing how moms all over the world are very inventive in the way they carry their children. Her other child (you only see very little of her) holds her skirt, while walking along with them.

Portraits - woman carrying leaves/bamboo for her cattle. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

The strength of a woman

The female are incredibly strong. These bamboo leaves and grass for her cattle might have not weighed as much as the rocks she had to carry to build her new earthquake resilient house, but still… and while talking to me and the translator she didn’t take it off her head, she just started talking to us while holding it and smiled a lot of times.

Portraits. Woman thanking us for her earthquake resilient house with a smile. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Thank you – thank you – thank you!

Unfortunately I stood at the other side when she told our technical engineers that she was so happy with her new house. So you cannot see the new house unfortunately. But I promise you to show some of the new houses in a next post. But this broad smile, full of gratitude – just thought you should see it.

Portraits - Woman: I'm always happy. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Sirmala Tamang – I’m happy all the time

This lady is very special. She’s called Sirmala Tamang and is 28 years old. She’s one of the ladies that started to convince the community how much better these new earthquake resilient building techniques were. And now her own house is finished. She says: it’s nice. It’s so much better than before. It is strong. Last year was very difficult as water entered our cottage all the time and we got sick often. This house is dry and safe. I’m happy all the time. What makes me sad is the earthquake, but other than that – I’m happy all the time. She again taught me that we don’t need a lot of things to be happy. We need security/safety, and people around us. We need hope.

Portraits - child Parpatti Tamang - is fixing her hair. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Parpatti

When I captured a portrait of Parpati this time, she was in a much different mood than last time, see photo above and below. You can see the photo I took months earlier with her grandfather on our former website. Now she was sick. She just came back from the hospital. It took five hours on foot to get there. Can you imagine her mood?

Portraits - Very intense picture of Parpatti Tamang who's sick and just had to walk five hours to get to the hospital. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits - close up portrait picture of Padma Budathoki. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits of Family Budathoki

This is Padma Kumari Budathoki, a woman I wrote about earlier, as did Gerhard Wilts of the Dutch Daily. A woman with a lot of resilience. Her husband (see portrait picture below) has a kidney disease. When they were still living in their shed, life was very hard on them. Padma didn’t know how to get through life with her husband being so sick and having no safe place to take shelter from the heavy rains and cold. Now she and her husband can breathe again as they have a safe home. Their portraits speak worlds to me.

Portraits - portrait picture of Mr. Budathoki, who has a kidney disease. He wears the typical Nepali hat, the Nepali Topi. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits of children

Portraits - Children are so resilient and I love to see their smiles. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

The above and below portraits of kids show me hope, over and over again. Their smiles. The ‘wonder in this world’ they still seem to see. Their power to overcome disasters in life. The resilience and happiness they take from the small things in life. God has made us in His image. Worrying didn’t add a single day to our lives. Children somehow seem to understand that. And I cannot get enough – taking their portraits.

Portraits - three children playing with each other and giving me their smiles. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits - picture of a child saying the traditional Nepali greeting 'Namaste'. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

 

AFTER: Gyan Bahadur Basnet (45) and his wife Lali Maya (40) in front of their new earthquake resilient house

In the mean time our project is running for a while and we thought it would be nice to show you some before & after pictures. So you get a better idea of the difference we all make! It doesn’t only mean that people get better and dry shelters, it also means they are safe from future earthquakes due to the earthquake resilient building techniques. In the pictures below, you don’t always see the ‘house’ that they were living in before the earthquake, but the temporary shelter that they lived in the past two years after the earthquake. As that shows best the reality of the enormous change with the help of Medair. Without Medair people would still be living in their temporary shelters for a long time or building back bad as they don’t know how to build with the earthquake resilient building techniques.

BEFORE

The remains of the house of Santa Bahadur Basnet (43) - his house was hit so badly after the earthquake that it was declared inhabitable.

The remains of the house of Santa Bahadur Basnet (43) – as his house was hit so badly after the earthquake that it was declared inhabitable.

AFTER

AFTER: Santa Bahadur Basnet (43) together with his cluster in front of his new earthquake resilient house.

Santa Bahadur Basnet (43) together with his cluster group in front of his new house.

BEFORE

BEFORE: Gyan Bahadur Basnet (45) in front of his temporary shelter.

Gyan Bahadur Basnet (45) in front of his temporary shelter.

AFTER

AFTER: Gyan Bahadur Basnet (45) and his wife Lali Maya (40) in front of their new earthquake resilient house

Gyan Bahadur Basnet (45) and his wife Lali Maya (40) in front of their new earthquake resilient house

I’ve been a mason for 30 years, so I wanted to put in my own idea. I implemented all the government requirements for an earthquake resilient house and listened well to the Medair engineers. However, I wanted to make it look nice on the outside as well, and therefore I created my own design. I can do this for my neighbours as well.

BEFORE

BEFORE: Saradha Basnet (20) in front of their temporary shelter

Saradha Basnet (20) in front of their temporary shelter, she has one sister and three brothers

AFTER

AFTER: Tej Bahadur Basnet (55) and one of his daughters Saradha (20) in front of their new earthquake resilient home

Tej Bahadur Basnet (55) and one of his daughters Saradha (20) in front of their new earthquake resilient home

BEFORE

BEFORE: Padma Kumari Budathoki in front of her temporary shelter.

Padma Kumari Budathoki in front of her temporary shelter. She and her husband slept here for a year after the earthquake in 2015, since they had no where else to go. Until her husband was so sick that one of their neighbours offered to stay in their temporary shelter, which was a bit better (you see it right behind this shelter: iron sheets shelter). Now they use their shelter for their goats again.

AFTER

AFTER: Padma Kumari Budathoki in front of their almost finalised new earthquake resilient home.

Padma Kumari Budathoki in front of their almost finalised new earthquake resilient home.

Read here a little bit more about Padma and her family.

BEFORE

Dolma Tamang (60) & Kamin (62) Tamang in front of their temporary shelter (shed/shack) where they lived for two years after the earthquake in 2015.

Dolma Tamang (60) & Kamin (62) Tamang in front of their temporary shelter (shed/shack) where they lived for two years after the earthquake in 2015.

AFTER

AFTER: Sang Dolma Tamang (60) & Kamin (62) Tamang and their daughter Dolma (10 years) in front of their newly build earthquake resilient home.

Sang Dolma Tamang (60) & Kamin (62) Tamang and their daughter Dolma (10 years) in front of their newly build earthquake resilient home.

AFTER

From this one we only have an ‘after’ pick, as his former house was where this new home is built…

Namas Bahadur Khulal in front of his new earthquake resilient house

Namas Bahadur Khulal in front of his new earthquake resilient house. On the right: Niraj Shrestha (Shelter Technical Officer) and Manish Upreti (Senior Shelter Technical Officer)

 

Medair’s current Nepal response has been made possible by the Swiss Solidarity, EO Metterdaad (NL), Woord & Daad (NL), All We Can (UK), and generous private donors.

Padma Kumari Budathoki -overlevende van de aardbeving verteld over haar nieuwe aardbevingsbestendige huis dat ze dankzij Medair bijna kan betrekken
Padma Kumari Budathoki (75) explains to the Dutch Journalist of the Dutch Daily what the earthquake has done to her

Padma Kumari Budathoki (75) explains what the earthquake has done to her

In the second week of May Gerhard Wilts journalist with the newspaper ‘The Dutch Daily’ visited us in Bijulikot to see how it is going with the reconstruction after the earthquakes in Nepal in 2015. You can read the article here in Dutch  – a two-pager with a positive impression, which we have translated upon request in English below!

Thankful…

We are extremely thankful, that in Ramechhap we can be a real example for the surrounding areas. The fact that the chief of the government body National Reconstruction Authority talks full of enthusiasm about the fact that he wants to duplicate Medair’s project, tells me enough… We are incredibly proud of our team.

Please read below the article translated to English (translation by Tina Meeuwisz):

In Bijulikot everyone wants to move forward

By: Gerhard Wilts/Nederlands Dagblad

“We were busy with the harvest,” says Padma, “when the earth began to shake violently. I could not manage to keep up standing, trees fell down instantly and big cracks appeared in the walls of my house. “Two years after the earthquake, Nepal has not yet overcome the disaster.

Padma in front of her temporary shelter where she lived after the earthquake and is now shelter for her cattle again

Padma in front of her temporary shelter where she lived after the earthquake and is now shelter for her cattle again

Bijulikot

Squatting on a reed mat next to the stable, Padma Kumasi Budathoki recalls the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015. The 75-year-old farmer could no longer live in her old house. ‘In the first few weeks, my husband and I only had a plastic tarp to live under. That was hard, also because there are snakes here. Later we could temporarily live in a cousin’s house. The government helped us with rice, tarps and a grant of 25,000 rupees (around 250 euros) to rebuild our lives again.’

Padma squats on the reed mat and Gerhard Wilts from the Dutch Daily interviews her. Saugat Upreti (shelter technical officer with Medair) translates from Nepali to English and vv.

Padma squats on the reed mat and Gerhard Wilts from the Dutch Daily interviews her. Saugat Upreti (shelter technical officer with Medair) translates from Nepali to English and vv.

Two years after the disaster. This month, Padma finally gets a safe, earthquake-resilient home, built with the support of the Christian relief organization Medair and her local partner CDS. With aid worker Wendy van Amerongen and a translator I visit Padma. In the difficult accessible area of ​​Ramechhap, Medair is the only organization helping the victims. ‘I am so grateful to the relief organisations and donors,’ says the elderly woman. ‘Otherwise I could not have survived this.’ Her eyes well up. A tear runs down her cheek. ‘I feel so powerless. My husband has bad kidneys; he has now gone to a clinic by foot, one hour from here, to have his stoma checked. He cannot work anymore, so I have to fend for myself. His health is more important to me than that house.’

Padma in front of her new earthquake resilient house

Padma in front of her new earthquake resilient house

Daughter Tonisha lovingly caresses her mother’s skinny shoulders. She lives in another village, with her in-laws, and is the only one who occasionally helps her mother. Tonisha stands up and says, ‘I’m going to see if father has returned.’ When we descend to our car half an hour later, a thunderstorm emerges overhead. Halfway down the slope we run into Tonisha with her stumbling father.

Portrait picture of Padna

Portrait picture of Padna

Relief

During the heavy earthquake in April 2015, followed three weeks later by a second earthquake, more than 8,700 Nepalese lost their lives. The damage to the houses was huge and hundreds of thousands of people became homeless. The authorities, especially in the eyes of foreign countries, reacted too slowly implementing relief and placed restrictions on aid organisations. Two years after the earthquake, many foreign funds have still not yet been used.

‘Yet, the long wait is not strange,’ says Wendy van Amerongen: ‘The scale of this disaster is huge. The mountainous landscape does not help, and it takes time to set up a good organisation and logistics and to set up a catalog of earthquake-resilient homes.’ But it also has advantages. ‘We had time to train masons in earthquake-resilient techniques; which are different from traditional construction. Residents go from homes with several floors to one floor homes. Especially if an existing but uninhabitable house had to be completely broken down, it was difficult to convince the population of the need.’

From South Sudan to Nepal

With her husband Willem, Wendy moved from the chaotic South Sudan to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, early last year. She sees big differences. ‘In South Sudan it was unsafe. The fighting and the threat of robbery never stopped. We had barely any freedom of movement. And the dangers kept increasing: there is fighting everywhere and aid workers are becoming targets more often during combat. The traumas of the South Sudanese people are very deep: “God has forgotten our country,” they said. The despondency was enormous – so much so that I also often lost hope.’

Nepal is in a sense a relief for her. ‘The Nepalese people went through a natural disaster, but there is no ongoing war. You can feel the drive they have for reconstruction. That gives me new energy, there is hope again. Even though the Nepalese people are mostly Hindus, I can show them God’s love in a practical way. Emergency relief in remote areas is not easy, but walking in the mountains often feels like being on vacation.’

Challenges

At the same time there are other challenges, she immediately adds: ‘Medair works in the mountainous and sparsely populated district of Ramechhap. The rainy season limits the assistance. There is a constant risk of landslides, but leaving this area is not an option for the population. There are not enough masons to build houses. Questions like: Will the government distribute the money on time? And what will happen after the elections? A plus point is that the population is better educated and therefore better developed compared to South Sudan. There is also a growing solidarity within the community which Medair has used in the form of clusters (groups of people, neighbors helping each other) during the reconstruction: Nepalese villagers help each other, or go to neighboring villages to help.’

Portrait picture of Man Bahadur Bohara (46), mason from a nearby village who works happily in the Medair project area

Portrait picture of Man Bahadur Bohara (46), mason from a nearby village who works happily in the Medair project area

One of them is Man Bahadur Bohasa, a 46-year-old mason who is busy with the roof of house owner Talak Budathoki. “Due to the construction of such a large number of safe houses there is a lack of construction workers,” he says. “I work now seven days a week, from seven o’clock in the morning to five thirty in the afternoon.” He lets the hammer rest in his tanned hand for a moment and grins: “Sometimes working days are even longer.” He can make a good living with this, even though prices for construction materials have risen.

Hindu ceremony

Talak Budathoki’s house is almost ready. The owner, father of eight children, smiles while he hospitably offers sweet tea with milk in his bamboo emergency shelter. ‘Within a few weeks we can sleep well again. We have lived in a hut made of bamboo and tarp next to our old house for a year and a half. At the opening of our new home, I will invite the whole family, we will slaughter a goat and hold a festive Hindu ceremony. The old house will be used as a storage space.’

Talak Bahadur Budathoki (62) and his wife Inra Maya Budathoki (62) in front of their soon to be new earthquake resilient home.

Talak Bahadur Budathoki (62) and his wife Inra Maya Budathoki (62) in front of their soon to be new earthquake resilient home.

A sense of optimism flows along the steep slopes around the village of Bijulikot. At several restored houses we receive a warm welcome consisting of sweet tea and flower necklaces around our necks. Under the blazing sun, Namas Bahadur Khulal tells about the reconstruction among a group of men. ‘Our houses and water wells were damaged, in the fields there were deep cracks of hundreds of meters and the groundwater level dropped. The harvest was largely unsuccessful, but with the support of the government and Medair we are able to rebuild our lives again. Two months ago, there was a small earthquake, but we are no longer afraid because we live in safer homes. In the meantime we also help in other neighborhoods with repairs.’

Blind man

Even the blind Kul Bahadur Magar seems to smile constantly, as he talks about his role in the reconstruction. In a dingy shirt with Justin Bieber print and an old brown-red hat atop his head, he explains that the government aid of 2000 rupees per month (20 euros) for disabled persons is insufficient. At his own house – familiar terrain for him – Magar helps a mason by mixing cement and carrying things around, because ‘finding a permanent job is difficult’. Although he also followed training to make candles and soaps. ‘I would like to do more, but there must be a market for it,’ he smiles.

Portrait picture of Kul Bahadur Magar, blind from birth and helping in the reconstruction project

Portrait picture of Kul Bahadur Magar, blind from birth and helping in the reconstruction project

Technical specialist Sushil Katri Tiwal of CDS, Medair’s local partner, acknowledges that there is considerable progress. The support of the population to build more secure homes is increasing thanks to the government’s financial support and the commitment and expertise of aid organizations, he says. ‘A couple in their eighties had a very hard time with the fact that their home had to be broken down while there was no money yet. Their children also did not see the necessity initially. Now that they can live in a safe house, everyone is happy.’

Portrait picture Sushil Katri Tiwal - CDS sub engineer

Portrait picture of local staff Sushil Katri Tiwal, sub-engineer with local implementation partner Community Development Society.

NRA optimistic

Rishi Raj Acharya, who leads the official reconstruction agency NRA in the district of Ramechhap, focuses on numbers to underline the, according to him, successful government policy. ‘The material damage caused by the earthquakes is estimated at € 9 billion. The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has been set up to monitor the rebuilding.’

Portrait photo of Rishi Raj Acharya NRA Chief Ramechhap District and Wendy

Portrait photo of Rishi Raj Acharya NRA Chief Ramechhap District and Wendy

Example region

He is particularly keen on Medair’s support, which made Ramechhap ‘an example region’. ‘I have seen their projects as in Bijulikot with my own eyes. The government’s deadline to have all homes rebuilt in 2022 is feasible. At least in my district.’

Although the reconstruction started slowly, CDS aid worker Sarita Basel is surprised by the rapid progress. The difference with six months ago is clearly visible, she tells, while she rests in the shade by a restaurant during the work visit. Around her some chickens and pigeons forage. Goats tied under a shelter against the burning sun bleat for attention. The animals seem to support her words about the progress.

Portrait picture Sarita Basel, social mobiliser with CDS

Portrait picture Sarita Basel, social mobiliser with CDS

‘More than fifty safe homes are already finished. Soon 1,200 more will be added to that number’ says Sarita. ‘Of course, not everything is going well. Women are often disadvantaged when it comes to receiving help; for example, a pregnant woman did not receive medication in the emergency aid phase. The task of ensuring that women are treated equally is also what we do with CDS. ‘But further, she decides with a smile,’ I can really only tell success stories. Those are here in abundance.’

Another finished earthquake resilient house in Bijulikot

Another finished earthquake resilient house in Bijulikot

Background information on earthquake: Turbulent times

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, Nepal is hit by a very heavy earthquake.

During the earthquake there are 8790 people killed west of the capital city of Kathmandu. During a second earthquake on Tuesday, May 12, this time east of the capital, 37 people are killed. At least 21,000 Nepalis are injured and approximately 824,000 homes are destroyed or damaged.

The earthquakes hit Nepal at a bad time. The country is in a political transition: in 2008 the monarchy was abolished and the Hindu nation was officially proclaimed as a secular state. There is still a lot of old pain after a ten-year civil war with Maoist rebels at the beginning of this century. The elections this year (municipal councils) and next year (provinces and parliament) slow down political vigor.

Background information: What still has to be done

The international community has made $ 4.2 billion available for reconstruction in Nepal. Only after eight months, in January 2016, Nepal introduced the NRA Monitoring and Coordination Body. But two years after the earthquake, only five percent of the destroyed houses have been rebuilt (43,000) and twelve percent of the funds were deployed.

Over 544,000 families have received their first $ 500 subsidy for, among other things, the rebuilding of homes. Second and third grants only follow after inspection and approval by the authorities; each family is entitled to a grant of (converted) $ 3,000. In total, approximately seventeen percent of the total number of grants has been provided.

Many households have spent two winters in tents or bamboo huts. There is a huge lack of drinking water, building materials and masons. Many Nepalese families do not want to wait any longer and start the recovery or new construction themselves.

In the remote district of Ramechhap, where Medair operates, the construction of 310 earthquake-resilient houses began in July last year: 56 have been finished, 170 are under construction, while permission has been granted to build another 953 houses. Masons are trained at a high pace, there are now 270.

Seismologists expect that Nepal will be hit again by a severe earthquake within fifteen years.

sources: NRA, Medair