605,204 houses were destroyed by the April and May earthquakes in Nepal. Seventy-four year old Saan Nani Sharki was inside one of them. Her home in Changanarayan in the Kathmandu valley collapsed in on her, the mud bricks crumbling and crushing her. It was only the whites of her eyes that could be seen in the rubble and dust, and that is what her neighbour saw after she had been in there for half an hour, not knowing if anyone would or could save her. Doctors were not hopeful for her, but this woman managed to fight through and survive. Coming home from hospital was not easy, however, as she no longer had a home to return to.
One hundred and sixty members of the Changanarayan community lost their homes in the earthquakes, and they sought refuge in a large chicken coop in the weeks and months that followed them. Gradually people started mending their homes, renting new ones or building temporary shelters and moving on with their recovery. When the All Hands team met Saan Nani in early September, she was still living in this chicken coop, along with 16 others from her village who had nowhere else to stay and no way of recovering on their own. She had lost all of her belongings, had only some clothes and blankets that her neighbors had donated to her, and was clearly still traumatized from her experiences and the situation the earthquakes had left her in.
Having cleared the debris from her collapsed home, All Hands decided to build Saan Nani a new house. As a older person living on her own with a disability, and having lost everything in the earthquake, Naan Saani was a high priority beneficiary. The house offered to her, part of the Resilient Homes project developed by the Himalayan Climate Iniative, would allow her to have an earthquake resilient, weatherprooof, secure home in a matter of weeks. It would be one of 50 homes being built by All Hands Volunteers in Nepal as part of the 50 Homes for Nepal program.
The process behind building this house was a special effort, and reflected the special relationship that the volunteers developed with her. The same team came back every day to dig, build, rivet, plaster and paint. Her brother would regularly join the team, and though he also had lost his house in the earthquakes, he was passionate about helping to make a comfortable home for his older sister. Some volunteers improved the path up to her house, making it easier for her to reach with her reduced mobility. Cewic Hospital, in Kathmandu, donated a new walking stick to make getting around a bit more maneagable. Taas Club donated materials to add brickwork, carpentry and a paint job. Gary Pitts, the former Project Director for Project Nepal, was moved to donate money to cover the cost of furnishing her new home, giving her all that she needed to return to a normal life.
For the final handover of her new house, she even received a new outfit that would be her own, and not borrowed from her neighbors. Pemba Sherpa, the Logistics Coordinator for the program, made sure that she had the perfect pair of shoes. The most beautiful thing was her smile as she made a speech for the gathered team members.
“You are all my children, and I love you. I want the best for you, and for you to be great people in the future. You treated me and you loved me like a mother. Where ever you go, I want only the best for you”
This was a house that was definitely built with love.
– Written by Bernardine Carroll, photos by Suraj Shakya