1 May 2015: Posted by Urmila Chaudhary, Because I am a Girl campaign ambassador
Urmila Chaudhary – a former kamalari child servant who is now a Plan Ireland Because I am a Girl campaign ambassador and recipient of the UN’s ‘Youth Courage Award for Education’ – was in Kathmandu when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed the city. Here she recalls her experience and the challenges she faces.
My hotel room suddenly started to shake. I thought someone was having a fight, but when I tried to see what was happening, the shaking continued.
When it eventually stopped, my friends and I made our way outside. As we walked through the crowd, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Monuments had toppled to the ground and I could see people injured and dying. Many had cuts all over their bodies – a sight that still haunts me today.
My friends and I tried to move to another hotel, but the aftershocks continued. Together we decided to make our way to safer ground.
When we arrived, we were joined by droves of others. Some had lost their homes, others had lost their family members. Everyone was seeking safety.
I could see babies who were 2 or 3 days old with little clothing to keep them warm. Girls who were menstruating had no supplies and nowhere to clean themselves up. There was no toilet or bathroom – and certainly no privacy.
My family live some 10 hours away, and I desperately wanted to check if they were OK. The earthquake had knocked out all cell service so I could do nothing but worry.
Sleeping out in the cold
After the first night of sleeping out in the cold, my friends and I moved to a piece of land that belonged to someone I knew. There we found a toilet. It was shared between 35 of us, but it was better than nothing. At night, we were unable to sleep as we feared constant aftershocks. When it started to rain, we shivered. It was so cold in Kathmandu and so dark, especially as there was no electricity.
All around me, I could see young girls, worried about their safety as they had to sleep amongst strangers.
After 3 days, I decided to try and make my way back to Dang – the village where I live. I managed to contact my family. Thankfully they were safe as the earthquake had not been felt as much in their village. I desperately wanted to see them. I missed them so much.
The bus journey home was arduous. Usually, it takes 10 hours, this time it took 22. Everyone wanted to escape Kathmandu and the bus was packed. There was nowhere to sit and nothing to eat. Food prices have shot up and a bottle of water costs 4 times the normal price.
I am nearly home now, but it hasn’t been easy. I am currently staying with my brother and sister, as I feel too sick to make it all the way back to my village at the moment.
My friends who used to work as kamalaris (child servants) have also been injured. But they are alive and most of them are back with their families, having slept outside for days.
Yet, it doesn’t stop me from worrying about the girls who have lived through this earthquake. Like many others, I am unable to sleep at the moment. When I close my eyes I dream about what happened. I hear people crying and I see images of dead bodies.
I want to go back to school to complete my grade 11 exams, but the government has shut the schools for one week. While I wait for the schools to reopen, I am trying to study. However every time I try to concentrate, I am haunted by what happened – I am sure others are too.
I am dedicated to helping the young girls in Nepal overcome this experience – they are injured, they have lost their houses and what they have lived through is terrifying. They are facing so many problems, but I want to help them in whatever way I can.