All photos by Tom van Cakenberghe for Mercy Corps
It's been six months since a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people and rupturing the lives of nearly 8 million.
Today, thanks to our supporters and partners, communities are slowly beginning to recover.
In the past six months, we’ve reached more than 135,000 people with emergency supplies, cash, food support, safe water and temporary shelter.
The earthquake devastated local economies and brought down electricity lines, leaving families with little money and no electricity.
But cash assistance — distributed to 23,000 families — is helping people get the supplies they need to rebuild. And solar lamps, included in many of our emergency kits and equipped with mobile charging ports, are helping families communicate with each other.
In the coming months and years, we will continue to help vulnerable families access financial services like recovery loans, and we will engage communities in emergency planning to better prepare them for future disasters.
Below, meet a few of the earthquake survivors you’ve helped us reach and find out what support they’re most grateful to have.
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Her story: Jyanu, 32, owns a small restaurant in her village. She and her husband work there to support their three children. Jyanu and her family used to live in the same building as the restaurant and grow vegetables outside, but April’s earthquake damaged the living quarters, so they had to build a temporary shelter nearby.
“Before the earthquake, everything was in order,” Jyanu says. “The restaurant was good, the farm was good. After, everything was messed up. I was afraid of losing our [temporary] shelter because of the winds and the aftershocks. But now the aftershocks have stopped.”
Mercy Corps distributed emergency kits in the village — Jyanu and her family received cooking supplies, sleeping mats, blankets, a solar light, and cash to help them rebuild.
What she’s most grateful for: The solar light that Jyanu received is helping her whole family, including her three children, who study by its light each night. “The solar light is best,” she says. “Even before the earthquake, we had problems with electricity. The light is dim at night. We use the solar light all evening until bed.”
Jyanu is preparing for a brighter future, too. She saved a portion of the cash assistance for each of her three children.
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Her story: Kumari was six-months pregnant with her baby Santosh when the earthquake struck her village. Her older child Ridham, 7, was injured in the earthquake. Kumari and her husband’s home was destroyed, and they had to sell their valuable oxen to pay for Ridham’s medical bills.
Kumari’s husband works as a plumber and makes about 600 rupees each day, but they estimate it will take 80,000 rupees to build a new home. For now, they are living in a temporary shelter until they can rebuild.
What she’s most grateful for: Kumari and her family received an emergency supply kit and 7,500 rupees in unconditional cash to use for whatever they needed most. Because their home was destroyed, they used the money to buy corrugated metal to help construct their temporary shelter.
Kumari also appreciates the solar light that came in her kit — it gives her the light she needs to cook healthy food for her family.
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Her story: Muya moved to this area when she married her husband 30 years ago. They’ve lived in their home for 20 of those years, raising their five children ages 15-28.
“When the earthquake happened, I was running and crying. I fell down and started to cry,” she remembers, standing on the same ledge where she stood at the time. She was only steps away from falling down the hill with the crumbling rock.
Muya and her family are living in a temporary shelter now, but it’s not as close to home as she’d like — she’s anxious to rebuild the family home. “When I was first married and came here I didn’t know anyone and I was sad. But then I fell in love with this place. Now I know everyone, I don’t want to leave.”
What she’s most grateful for: “I couldn’t bring anything from the [damaged] house so I could use everything,” she says when asked about the emergency kit her family received. “Clothes, kitchen stuff, the solar lamp. We use it for cooking and for going to the toilet at night.”
Muya and her husband used cash assistance to help build the temporary shelter they now live in with their children.
See photo (above)
Her story: Before the earthquake, Basanta and her husband lived in a secluded home up in the hills with their young daughter Yasna. Basanta was outside taking care of their cattle when the earthquake hit — tiny Yasna slept inside on the ground floor.
Their home was destroyed, but fortunately Yasna survived. “I was lucky my daughter wasn’t upstairs where she usually sleeps,” Basanta says. “I wouldn’t have been able to get to her before the house collapsed.”
Now, Basanta and her young family have moved in with her mother-in-law. Their home is cracked, but livable, and Basanta has a small garden to grow food. But the village’s water source was damaged by the earthquake. “Before the tap was repaired, we walked 35 minutes to fetch water, two or three times a day.”
What she’s most grateful for: For Basanta and her family, clean water is the most important thing they could ask for. Mercy Corps repaired the village’s water tap, and now the family is happier. “I go to the water tap about 15 times a day, to get water for the livestock, to wash clothes, carry water to the house and garden,” Basanta says.
Cash helped Basanta’s mother-in-law repair the family home, and they use the utensils from the emergency kit to eat meals together.
Her story: Buri Maya’s home was completely destroyed during April’s devastating earthquake. She’s been married for 37 years and is a mother to five boys. Three of her sons are married, and all of the children lived together with Buri Maya and her husband before the earthquake hit.
Rebuilding will be a struggle for Buri Maya and her family — they face the challenge of removing large amounts of debris from the area before they can build a new home.
What she’s most grateful for: “Everything is perfect, but I liked the solar lantern best,” she says of the emergency kit she received. “It has helped a lot for cooking, and lot of household things. My son uses it to do his homework.”
Buri Maya and her husband were able to build a temporary shelter with the cash they received, as well as enough rice to feed the family for a month after the disaster.
See photo below (bottom)
Her story: Sharmila and her husband live in a village near Sharmila’s parents. After the earthquake, they came back to care for Sharmila’s ailing parents, and have been with them ever since.
“When I came to home to see my parents after the earthquake, the village looked like a refugee camp,” Sharmila says. “Even though the houses are still standing people can’t live there.“ The houses are too damaged to be safe anymore. “My husband and I, we’ll be ok, but I’m worried about my parents,” she says.
By 7 a.m. most mornings last spring, the kitchen at Mommy Made, a food skills training organization in Beirut, Lebanon, was bustling with staff lovingly preparing lunches for some of the city’s most underprivileged primary schools.
By 10 a.m., meals of chicken, fish, beans, salad, fruit or ma’ajinaat — small, doughy snacks usually filled with spinach, cheese or meat — were packaged, loaded onto refrigerated vans, delivered to the schools and distributed to every student at lunch time — for free.
Before Mommy Made’s food deliveries, 4-year-old Najya went the majority of her days at kindergarten without any lunch at all. She’s one of the lucky ones — just 25 percent of Syrian refugee children are enrolled in class in Lebanon — yet her family could rarely afford to send along the food she needs to be at her best.
Najya is not alone.
Missing meals is a stark, daily reality for many refugee and low-income families in Lebanon. Over a million Syrian refugees have flocked to the small country for safety from Syria’s civil war, and legions of people are barely scraping by as resources like jobs, food and shelter become increasingly scarce under the pressure. There are currently more than 1 million refugees and Lebanese citizens living in poverty in Lebanon.
Camelia, a staff member at Rawdat-al Toufoula School, which is located on the edge of a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, told us most of the students there are Syrian. “We also have Palestinian, Lebanese, Sudanese [students]. They are very poor,” she said.
“Some of the children don’t have food. They don’t bring food to the school,” she continues. “Some of the others bring a little sandwich from home, but it’s not enough, or something very little.”
Earlier this year, we partnered with Mommy Made and Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative, another local organization, to fill the bellies of students at three impoverished schools in Lebanon, including Rawdat-al Toufoula School. Nearly 40 percent of surveyed families who have children enrolled in these schools report not having the quality or quantity of food they need to be healthy.
But kids can’t learn without nourished minds and bodies.
So, we helped Mommy Made and Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative get healthy lunches to the schools — and students — in their communities who needed them most.
We provided financial backing and logistical support to make the effort possible, including coordinating with school administrators, connecting with local farmers and food producers, and linking the organizations with the resources they needed to rehabilitate their kitchen spaces, learn about safe food handling, prepare nutritious meals and begin deliveries.
Children in Beirut received warm, balanced meals planned every week by Lynn Charabaty, Mommy Made’s dietician. On each of the five school days a different source of fiber or protein — chicken, fish, meat, beans — was featured, always with a side salad and healthy dessert.
“We try our best to make it [as] healthy as possible and tasty at the same time,” she explained.
“It’s a plate that’s varied, it’s colorful,” added Labiba, a worker at Rawdat-al Toufoula School who helps serve the lunches from Mommy Made. “It’s something that they’re not used to.”
Cold lunches worked best for students at Habbouch Public School in southern Lebanon so, each weekday, the female staff of the Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative assembled and delivered bag lunches — a fresh sandwich, piece of fruit and a bottle of water.
Most days you could find the children enjoying their sack meals together on the playground.
“Some of them feel this is their main meal for the day. Their parents aren’t able to give them this much food,” said Linda Teto, a kindergarten teacher at Rawdat-al Toufoula School. “They came from poor families. They hardly have any money. They can’t provide this much food.”
“The food is filling them up with energy so they can concentrate,” she added. “When they’re hungry they can’t really pay attention.”
The guarantee of a balanced meal also increased students’ attendance and encouraged parents to choose education over child labor as they saw their household food costs decrease. On average, affected families were able to reallocate 10-15 percent of their income, per student, to other basic needs.
“The impact has been that the children are coming to school more frequently,” said Lynn. “They’re gaining weight, which is great. They’re energetic, they’re happier in general. They’re how kids should be. Not hungry.”
And because all the services and ingredients for the lunch program were sourced locally, it created more than 40 new jobs and pumped tens of thousands of crucial dollars into the Lebanese economy.
Throughout the course of a few months, our partners provided over 37,000 lunches to thousands of young students in Lebanon, giving them the fuel they needed to learn, grow and succeed, regardless of their family’s culture, background or income level.
“Some of the kids had enough food, but some didn’t. It depends on the child,” said Ms. Teto of the days before the program. “I used to tell them to share their food so that everyone would get some food. So none of them would feel that they were missing.”
“Now they feel they are equal. They eat the same thing. They say, ‘You have the same food that I do. We’re equal now.’
Through an art therapy project, youth in Gaza learned how to express themselves and created 11 colorful murals to beautify their communities. Photo: Samantha Robinson/apt/ART
Most young people in Gaza over the age of seven have suffered through at least three wars in their short lives. War is an almost-constant reality, and families struggle to earn a living, support their children, and pick up the pieces after conflict flares.
The trauma of last summer’s fighting is still fresh and haunting. People were displaced from their homes, and even the youngest survivors saw horrific violence. But despite the circumstances, life goes on in Gaza — and people look for a reason to hope again.
At a Mercy Corps summer program, youth in Gaza are finding new ways to heal and bring peace to their communities. Many children and youth, traumatized by conflict, struggle to express how they feel about the war and their future.
But through art therapy workshops, the voices of Gaza’s youth are emerging from the darkness. They are strong, thoughtful and resilient. Working with teachers trained in art therapy, the participants learned how to express themselves through drawing during the first sessions.
One of the finished murals, "I see beauty," painted on 70-year-old Zalah's gate. Photo: Samantha Robinson/aptART
Soon after, they took their newfound skills to the streets of Gaza. With help from professional artists and our partner aptART, the group adorned walls and gates in their neighborhoods with bold, vibrant murals.
In painting the murals, the students visualized their thoughts about conflict, family and hope for a better future. “While I was holding the brush and painting all I felt was joy,” said 10-year-old Doonia.
Their work has inspired hope in the community, too — bringing beauty and color to neighborhoods wrought with scars from past conflicts.
“People driving by in cars stop to see the painting because it’s so beautiful,” said 70-year-old Zalah, the owner of a gate the group painted. “People have started coming from all over Gaza — I am so proud that they chose to paint this beautiful muralon my gate.”
Learn more about what art means to youth in Gaza, in their own words:
Yousef, left, paints where he wants to travel someday on one of the murals. Photo: Samantha Robinson/aptART
“Through the activities I learned how to use different types of art to express my fears, my hopes, and everything else that I usually hold inside. For first time I felt like I was able to express how I feel.
My favorite drawing is on the mural in the harbor. We had to draw somewhere we wanted to travel, and I decided to draw the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem because I dream of traveling there one day.”
Note: Sabrine is not pictured. The finished mural "I see you. Do you see me?" Photo: Mercy Corps
“During the sessions I felt like I could draw all of my thinking, my fears, and even the vision I have for my life after the war. Before the sessions I hated drawing, now I love it and want to continue to use drawing to express my thoughts.
Now the thing I love to do most is to try and draw realistically like Falk [artist] does, except with landscapes instead of eyes. I take a picture and then try to draw as realistically as I can.
For the mural ‘We See Hope in our Children’s Eyes’ we were asked to paint what we wanted to see happen in the future. My dream is to travel outside of Gaza, so I chose to write ‘I see myself traveling all over the world.’”
Abdullah draws his hopes and dreams on one of the murals. Photo: Samantha Robinson/aptART
“The sessions allowed me to start expressing myself through the pictures I drew. One day my older brother said he wanted to take me to another summer camp, I told him ‘no, I don’t want to go because this is my favorite summer camp ever.’ I hope that the sessions continue and next time I will ask all of my friends to join.”
Ghaida stands with the mural titled "I see strength." Photo: Mohammed Abu Assi/Mercy Corps
“Before, when I felt like I wanted to express myself, I didn’t know how to put what I felt into words — I would end up frustrated and not say anything at all. When we started drawing our feelings I felt like life changed for me and I was able to start sharing what I was thinking.
Now, after the activities, I feel like I can share how I feel freely. I feel happier and I have hope for the future. When I walk by the paintings on the street I remember every minute I spent working on them and all of the happy memories.”
Nagham holds her favorite artwork from the art therapy workshops. Photo: Mohammed Abu Assi/Mercy Corps
“When you ask any child in Gaza, they will tell you what they are most affected by is the last war. Since the war I get nervous about small or simple things and I don’t know why. The comforting environment and how everyone worked together and helped each other during the sessions made me feel safe and my nervousness went away.
Now, I am still quiet, but I have not been getting nervous like I used to and I am calm instead. I am going to continue to use drawing as a way to express my feelings. My next project is to make up my own story and draw the pictures that go with the story.
Before, I felt like no one could hear me, even when I would try to talk to people no one would listen to me. During the sessions, I felt like someone was actually listening to me and actually cared how I felt, which made me incredibly happy. I kept all of my drawings so I can remember everyone and this wonderful experience.”
A young girl paints a large canvas with other participants during an art therapy session. Photo: Mercy Corps
Nagham and Sabrine’s mother has noticed a positive change in her daughters since they participated in the art therapy project. “The most important thing they learned in the sessions was how to start expressing themselves. I can see the difference it made in my girls — they felt like someone actually noticed them and cared about them and it has made them so happy,” she said.
“The first time I saw one of the walls, I wished I had a pen and I could write everything I feel and express myself openly like they did. Every word, every scratch on the murals is a story. When I look at the murals they made I don’t see the children that drew them, I see thousands of stories.”
To see artwork and photographs created by youth in Gaza in person, visit the Mercy Corps Action Center in Portland, Oregon. The aptART exhibit Finding Place opens on September 17th and will be on display until December 2015.