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Hope rises from the rubble for widow Thuli

Tearfund is among the first development agencies to rebuild permanent, earthquake-resilient homes in Nepal since last year’s disaster. And the first person who will benefit from one is Thuli Maya Syangtan, a widow from Makwanpur district.

Tearfund | 21 Apr 2016

Tearfund is among the first development agencies to rebuild permanent, earthquake-resilient homes in Nepal since last year’s disaster. And the first person who will benefit from one is Thuli Maya Syangtan, a widow from Makwanpur district. Tom Price went to meet her.

Even the 4x4 struggles up the last portion of the thin rocky road towards Thuli Maya’s community, once slipping on the dust and gravel that line the road’s ruts and grooves.

Ascending through Basanta village, we see scenes unlike any we have come by so far on this trip.

I’m struck, as we move up through the narrow paths of this hilly village, at how visible the destruction to homes and buildings still is. Piles of stone and rubble line the track and semi-circular temporary shelters built from shining galvanised sheet dominate the village, giving it an oddly agricultural appearance. This is a place that is hard to get to, and it shows.

As we sit down to interview Thuli, she is preparing a simple porridge - what will be her lunch - on an open fire outside her temporary shelter. Nearby workers are constructing her new home.

Thuli’s story, in many ways, is extremely sad and punctuated with tragedy. Yet while she talks openly of her tears and her sadness, there is a spark and a humour to how she treats us. She is not merely a victim, despite her hardship she has life and plenty of it.

Losing everything

Thuli is a widow, aged about 78. She had six children but they have all died and she relies on a younger sister for survival.

Thuli’s sister owns a water mill to grind the corn into flour. When Thuli’s own supplies run out she sometimes goes to her sister to ask for help: ‘If my sister was not there, I would die hungry. I have no one else to help me.

‘If you don’t have family or children, people are not kind, they show me no love, and it makes me cry.’

During the earthquake Thuli was on her piece of land tending to the corn she was growing.

‘When the earthquake struck I felt dizzy, everything was shaking and I put my hands on the ground to support myself. I came home after the shaking stopped and I saw that everything had collapsed.

‘As well as my house, I lost some of the maize that I was storing and some rice that my brother had given me. At that time I had no hope, I had lost everything.’

A gift gladly received

Villagers helped her to construct a temporary shelter to stay in and Tearfund partner RADO is building a new, stronger permanent home for her.

‘I was really happy when I found out that I would get a house. People started visiting me. I like people coming, I am always happy, never angry when I have visitors. Otherwise I am alone.’

‘My old house was only made of mud and stone, but now it has these layers, and why wouldn’t I like that?! ‘I like this new home, it looks different. Now that I am old it is good to have a house to spend the last days of my life in.

‘When someone offers me a gift, I will be glad and I will receive it. Without this, I will have nothing.’

‘Those workers know everything and they will build me a good home. I am happier than I was before.’

‘I’m saving lives’

One of the master masons is Lal Bahadur Syangtan, who is helping Tearfund partner RADO build 34 new homes in this remote village. He’s been trained by RADO in earthquake-resilient construction techniques.

‘In the training, I learnt about how to make tie beams and how important it is to make sure that the stones and joints interlock between each other for reinforcement.

‘I used to make simple homes, I’d never made anything with tie beams like this. This is a very strong house.’

‘When I’m doing this work, I’m saving lives.’

Thuli is looking forward to completion: ‘When I move in, I will decorate and keep it clean. I have plans. I will smooth the surfaces with mud and make it good and level. I might put a sheet on the floor. I am very happy about this.’

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