by Corban Bryant
One year ago yesterday, by the Nepal calendar, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Nepal. We at Purnaa remember the more than 9,000 people who lost their lives and pray for healing and restoration for the more than 21,000 injured and 650,000 families who lost their homes.
As I think back through this year, I realize that the earthquake was just the start of a long list of challenges for Nepal. International financial aid was slow to arrive and government assistance for those who lost their homes continues to languish. Additionally, the earthquake caused a poor summer growing season as farmers were disrupted from primary planting time.
As the weather turned cold, Nepal endured the vindictive scorn of its powerful neighbor, India, who protested Nepal’s new constitution by blocking the import of essential goods, especially fuel. For more than 4 months, Nepali people scrounged for cooking, vehicle, and heating fuel. The shortage caused dozens of incidences of people freezing to death. The financial impact of the blockade was larger than that of the earthquake, causing the loss of more than 400,000 jobs and closing more than 2,000 factories and resulting in the worst growth rate for Nepal in 6 years.
Now Nepal is facing drought and its largest forest-fires in history. And through this long year, much of the population existed in a subdued state of shell shock, as they endured more than 30,000 aftershocks.
It’s been a challenging year for our little country. But one year on, I think about how Purnaa staff responded in the midst of a disaster with true compassion, strength, and resilience.
Purnaa staff created a group tent near our offices for the week following the quake for those with damaged homes or too scared to sleep indoors as the aftershocks kept coming. Everybody pitched in with supplies: tarps, blankets, mats, and food.
Jitendra, one of our sample makers, used first aid training he learned at Purnaa to treat 6 injured people. He pulled one from a building that was falling, bound up a head wound, made slings for broken arms and assisted injured people to hospitals.
Pawana, Purnaa’s HR Officer, cared for a missing Purnaa staff member’s 5-year-old daughter into her home for more than a month, keeping her until her mom was miraculously found weeks later.
Bikash, our sourcing manager, provided shelter and food to an orphanage near his home after it was abandoned by its staff. He and his family cared for the kids until aid and supervision arrived from an NGO.
Fortunately, none of our staff were seriously injured, but many lost loved ones in villages around Nepal and many had to relocate due to damage to their homes. Of all the factories we know in the Kathmandu area, Purnaa was the first to begin work after the earthquake, largely because the staff cared for each other like family.
We are grateful to those who raised funds to empower us to use our business to work with aid-partners to give to those in need. Within a month of the disaster, we made over 1,100 t-shirts, 500 mosquito nets, and 200 tents that were distributed by relief and development partners. And this winter we made over 3,300 cold weather ponchos to distribute to those in high-altitude areas struggling in the rough winter and fuel shortages. In both cases, Purnaa staff set new production efficiency records, proud to use their skills to help their country.
Purnaa staff faithfully worked through the blockade, starting fires to cook their breakfasts, riding on top of crowded buses to get to work and then walking because most public transportation had stopped running. They waited months and stood in line for days at a time to get gas. Now they wait patiently for water which is scarce.
One year later, we remember the anniversary of the Earthquake, but also the anniversary of another tragedy. Yesterday was Fashion Revolution Day, which marks the 3 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,130 garment workers. Fashion Revolution encourages consumers to ask “Who made my clothes?” At Purnaa we know who made your clothes, and they are all absolutely amazing!
Here are a few of their thoughts remembering the earthquake one year later…
Saru – “There are people still going through a hardship because they have lost everything. It’s not just about property; they’ve lost family members too. There are still people who are frightened to go into their homes. I’ve seen people who’ve lost everything and I feel blessed. Sometimes I ask God, “How have I survived?” I feel very blessed. After the earthquake I’ve gotten a new life. I got the job at Purnaa after the earthquake and I’ve been in contact with my children since then as well. It’s a new life.”
Bikash – “My home also got destroyed but we didn’t wait for the government to help us rebuild. They provided compensation for what happened but the process is so long we didn’t want to wait. Most people have tried to rebuild their own, but there are a few who are so poor that they still have to wait for the government’s help. I got my home rebuilt about five or six months after the earthquake happened. Now I’m not so scared because we have made our home in such a way that it is strong.”
Binu – “People are living in a hardship today because although they have a temporary house, it is not very strong. It is very difficult for those people. I have seen on the news that people are still living in these temporary houses and it makes me sad.”
Dadhi – “During the earthquake I was not with my wife, she was at home and I was gone. After the earthquake the telephones did not work so I could not call her. After about half an hour I was able to go home and found my family was all safe.”
Rebecca – “Physically I am not worried, but mentally it is in my head. If I don’t think about it, I do pretty good. When I hear that an aftershock is there, my mind responds quickly and my heart beats so quickly and I am alert. It’s not just myself I am worried about. I am worried about my mother who is 72 years old, she can’t walk or run that quickly. During the earthquake it was hard for her to move quickly out of the house, so that affects my mind. I get worried about her.”