A strong and inspiring woman
24 Jul 2015 | Blog | Nepal | Emergency Relief
By Nana Anto-Awuakye, CAFOD (Caritas UK)
Though nearly everyone in Nepal is still struggling three months after the earthquake, life is even harder for Nepal's 4.5 million Dalits, once known as "Untouchables", the most marginalised group in Nepalese society.
Kamala is from the Dalit caste, and as a woman she is yet further disadvantaged. Men belonging to the caste at least have identity cards, but women have no rights to land or property, nor any access to education.
Since her husband died in the earthquake, Kamala has been living in a corrugated iron hut on a steep mountainside with her two daughters, aged seven and eleven, and eking out a living as a casual labourer on other people’s plots and farms. She works around six hours a day for 300 Nepali rupees (about $4); her 14-year-old son had to give up his education when he failed to sit one exam and was not allowed to enter the next school year. He convinced his mother that he’d be better off working in the city and bringing some money to the family.
Sitting on a mat beside the ruin of her former home, Kamala describes what happened on the 25th April, the day of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. She had gone up the mountainside with her daughters to buy a chicken to help the recovery of her husband, who had spent a month in hospital.
I grabbed my two daughters, and pulled them down to the ground with me, holding them tight."
Just as they reached the road, the earth started to shake. “We did not understand what was happening to us,” said Kamala. Her younger daughter clung to her hand as she spoke. “We were being shaken by something inside the earth. I grabbed my two daughters, and pulled them down to the ground with me, holding them tight. Right in front of my eyes I could see my house falling down.”
By the time Kamala and the girls had scrambled back down the slope, neighbours had dragged her husband’s body out of the house. “I saw two feet sticking out from the blanket, and I recognised [his] sandals,” she said. Three days later, with the help of some neighbours and distant relatives, he was buried.
In addition to grieving the loss of her husband, being a widow in Nepal brought extra difficulties to Kamala’s situation. Normally only the husband’s name is on everything, making it difficult for rural women to gain any official recognition.
Fortunately, a neighbour helped Kamala to obtain a “certificate of relationship” from the local authorities. This document is precious to her: it is the one piece of paper that gives her some form of identity, as it states that her three children belong to her.
Caritas Nepal, our local partner, went to Kamala’s village after the earthquake to provide emergency assistance. Kamala was astounded when Ananda, Caritas Nepal’s district officer, included her – a Dalit woman – in discussions with the village about what they needed. “We were not left out. He sat with us as a neighbour,” she says.
Through the Caritas emergency response, Kamala has received food – lentils, rice, salt, and cooking oil – a hygiene kit with soap, detergent, and disinfectant, and materials to repair the collapsed roof of her house. These will help her and her family during this difficult time.
For all that she has been through, the earthquake appears to have strengthened Kamala’s resolve. “I did not get a chance to go to school, [but] I want education for my daughters,” she says. “I pray for my son in the big city. I am a strong woman, and I will lead my family.”
I did not get a chance to go to school, [but] I want education for my daughters... I am a strong woman, and I will lead my family."Kamala
Read more about the Nepal Earthquake response
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