Nepal's Poorest Face the Hardest Recovery from the 2015 Earthquake; A School for Intellectually Disabled Children Tucked Away in the Hills of Nepal Struggles in the Aftermath of the 2015 Ghorka Earthquake

By Wolfson, Elijah | Newsweek, April 29, 2016 | Go to article overview

Nepal's Poorest Face the Hardest Recovery from the 2015 Earthquake; A School for Intellectually Disabled Children Tucked Away in the Hills of Nepal Struggles in the Aftermath of the 2015 Ghorka Earthquake


Wolfson, Elijah, Newsweek


Byline: Elijah Wolfson

To get to the Kharelthok Resource Center for Intellectual Disability, you leave the Kathmandu Valley, rising out of the hot, yellow smog of the city and into the diesel-fueled grand prix of the deadly Araniko Highway, known for its poor shoulders and steep slopes, and filled with long-haul truckers hopefully awake enough to keep their wheels straight. You plunge back down, this time into the green-and-loam valley pockmarked with factories where children lay out newly formed bricks to dry before they are heated in the minaret-like ovens. Then you climb again, through treacherous mountain switchbacks, at times having to stop to push your four-wheel drive out of ditches, or to wait while a construction crew finishes breaking up massive boulders ripped from the hills, until you reach a dusty clearing cut out of the slopes.

Forty children, with a range of serious developmental disorders, stay at the center; it is the only 24-hour facility in the Kavrepalanchok district for adolescents with these needs. Each has a bed and every day goes to class at the nearby Shree Bhagawati Higher Secondary School, for basic life skills guidance--it's the kind of place that takes in a mentally disabled child whose parents tied him to an animal shed throughout his childhood, and work with him slowly, generously, over nine years, until he finally learns his name, how to put on clothes and how to get food from the plate to his mouth. The school also provides training in simple crafts like candle-making that, the center's three teachers hope, could help some of them become independent someday.

Except, when the earthquake hit, the Shree Bhagawati's roof came crashing down. Learning materials were destroyed, and the classrooms were condemned. The regular students at the school were given a temporary building to use, but there's nowhere for the special education kids. So they move from their dormitories to the courtyard to the shared recreational room and back, and the teachers try to engage them as best they can. But, says Sutha Silwal, senior teacher and secretary of the center, "How long can we keep them just watching TV?"

Natural disasters are arbitrary acts violence that could befall anyone who happens to have the poor luck to find themselves in the hurricane's path or their homes built on the fault line of the earthquake. Nature pays no attention to the color of your skin or the size of your bank account; there is no dollar amount that will stop the winds of a blizzard from beating at your door. But the extent to which catastrophic events like these wreck lives, and the time it takes to recover, is another thing entirely.

[RELATED: One Year After a Devastating Earthquake, Nepal Is Still in Ruins]

Which is why it always seems so much worse when they hit a place like Nepal--ranked by the United Nations as a "least developed country" and struggling to raise its economy and living standards up to global sustainable development goals. It's as if Mother Nature suddenly turned malevolent.

Even before the 2015 earthquakes rattled Nepal, the barriers to development were staggering. The slim country (about 150 miles wide) is crammed between and relies on the twin global powerhouses China and India, and has never developed a robust industry of its own. …

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