This fall, the Hilton Prize Coalition hosted events in New York City and London at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), respectively. Both events engaged Coalition member organizations and other prominent voices from the humanitarian aid and international development communities in discussions of lessons learned from the Storytelling Program in Nepal, most notably around collaboration and disaster resiliency and response, following a screening of the Coalition-produced documentary film “On Shifting Ground.”
In his introduction to the film at CGI, Peter Laugharn, President and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, spoke to the compassion, collaboration and smart solutions exemplified in the work of the Coalition and its member organizations – a sentiment that was echoed by discussion participants, along with a call to continue to build on what has already been accomplished in the sector. Themes of preparedness and community resilience, collaboration, and storytelling were also raised in the course of the conversation and were carried forward at the event at ODI as well.
(Peter Laugharn, center right, introduces “On Shifting Ground” to attendees at CGI side event)
The panel discussion at ODI, moderated by Christina Bennett, Head of Programme, Humanitarian Policy Group, featured panelists Steve Connors, Director, HPC Storytelling Program; Laurie Lee, Chief Executive, CARE International UK; Aleema Shivji, UK Executive Director, Handicap International; and Sheetal Tuladhar, Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, BRAC USA, who spoke to trends and challenges encompassing collaboration in the sector, as well as the impact of the Storytelling Program.
The idea of the Storytelling Program as a powerful tool to encourage partnership and create action plans for collaboration was reiterated in both panelist and audience member remarks. As Aleema Shivji said, “the process of telling the story for the film allows us to reflect,” adding “it’s these conversations you have in country, these relationships you build in country, which help you to collaborate better in the longer term.”
Click here to view the full discussion from the Overseas Development Institute event that was held on October 24.
(Panel from Left – Aleema Shivji, Laurie Lee, Christina Bennett and Steve Connors. Sheetal Tuladhar joined via videolink from Kathmandu.)
(Sheetal Tuladhar at bottom row left, with BRAC ELA club members)
Ms. Sheetal Tuladhar is currently a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with BRAC, the largest development organization in the world, which is devoted to empowering people living in poverty. Originally from Kathmandu, Nepal, she received her Master’s Degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University in 2014. In this blog post, Sheetal writes about her experience working in Nepal after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, establishing BRAC as an INGO in the country, and the programs that have provided her with first-hand experience in the world of international development. Sheetal is also featured in the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program documentary "On Shifting Ground."
In April and May 2015, two massive earthquakes and numerous aftershocks shook Nepal. Fast asleep in my Brooklyn apartment, I began to receive frantic calls from my Nepali friends living in the U.S. around 3:00 a.m. What followed was a series of attempts to call my parents and family back home in Kathmandu, without any success. Photos and videos started pouring in on social media of buildings and ancient cultural heritage sites collapsing and reducing to rubble. At the time I thought, everything is gone.
I had just finished a three-month internship with BRAC USA. As an eager and fresh Master’s graduate in Sustainable International Development, I was looking for opportunities to work in the development sector for an organization that had meaningful and true impact in the lives of poor people. Within a week of the earthquake, I received a call from BRAC USA to go to Nepal to help set up BRAC International’s newest office in Kathmandu as a Fellow. As unfortunate as the earthquakes had been, they gave me an opportunity to go back home, and as cliché as it may sound, to make a difference.
When the earthquakes struck Nepal, BRAC was one of the first global organizations to respond. With a six-member team from Bangladesh, the organization set up medical camps in coordination with the Government of Nepal-Ministry of Health and other international organizations, including CARE. Apart from the medical camps providing immediate relief, each BRAC staff member had the opportunity to contribute one day’s salary, and BRAC matched that amount to make a fund of USD 1.5 million to set up operations and work in long-term rehabilitation of earthquake-affected communities in Nepal. Over the next few months, BRAC registered as an INGO in Nepal and began implementing a reconstruction project in Kavre, one of the most affected districts.
During this project, BRAC Nepal built two permanent houses for two widow-headed households in the Sunthan and Charikot villages of Kavre district. At the same time, we launched pilot programs in health, sanitation and youth development to facilitate longer-term rehabilitation in the earthquake-affected community of Shyampati Village Development Committee (VDC) in Kavre. Due to the damages sustained to their toilets during the earthquake, residents of Shyampati were forced to use the forest to relieve themselves. BRAC Nepal is restoring and constructing new toilets to rehabilitate the 265 damaged in the earthquake to make Shyampati an open-defecation-free zone again.
During times of disaster and peace, women and girls are pillars of strength and resilience in the community. They have indeed become an instrumental part of BRAC’s programs in Nepal. Female community health volunteers (FCHVs) are a key component of the health system. Started in 1988 by the Government of Nepal, the FCHVs provide health services to communities in coordination with the VDC. BRAC Nepal is providing trainings to strengthen the capacity of existing FCHVs so that they can better provide health education, preventive and curative health services to their community members.
Another BRAC program in Nepal is known as Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA), which focuses on empowering adolescent girls. This is one of BRAC’s most successful initiatives worldwide and has proved especially valuable in Nepal. Despite a declining trend, child marriage is pervasive across Nepal. Ten percent of women are married before the age of 15, while 37 percent are married by the age of 18. Poverty is both a cause and a result of child marriage. Empowered adolescent girls are able to break the cycle of poverty, unlocking their economic potential through education, life skills and livelihood opportunities. The first of its kind in Nepal, ten ELA clubs have been set up as safe spaces for adolescent girls aged 11-21 to read, play and socialize. Some girls are trained as mentors, and through them, the other girls receive training in health and nutrition, life skills, livelihoods and financial literacy. Over the course of the program, they will also have the opportunity to be linked to microfinance institutions, to take out small loans for any income-generating livelihood activity they like.
To say that this has been a life-changing experience is an understatement. I always wanted to work in Nepal, but my younger self was only slightly aware of the challenges. After returning from eight years of (comfortable) living in the United States, I found myself overwhelmed by the dynamic, haphazard urbanization and population growth of Kathmandu as well as the intricate bureaucracy that must be navigated at every step of our work in Nepal. One day I would be addressing government officials at the national level, another I would be working with local community members to discuss their pressing needs, and then the next I would be meeting donors and INGOs to discuss potential collaborations to add value to the development of Nepal. While learning about my country, I get to learn and grow as an individual, personally and professionally.
As a part of the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, I had the opportunity be a part of “On Shifting Ground,” a documentary that highlights the role of non-governmental organizations at the time of humanitarian crisis. Now as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I have the opportunity to enhance my skills as a development practitioner in disaster resilience, learning first-hand how organizations working closely with communities can strengthen their own capacities to build the resilience of their beneficiaries.
(HPC Storytelling Program Director Steve Connors interviews Sheetal Tuladhar with beneficiaries in Nepal, February 2016)
Mr. Sunil Pokhrel is currently the Senior Injury & Rehabilitation Officer and Physiotherapist with Handicap International Nepal. He is responsible for injury management, early detection, health promotion and rehabilitation and assistive device services. Sunil is featured in the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program documentary “On Shifting Ground,” sharing the work of Handicap International Nepal before, during and after the 2015 Nepal earthquake. In this piece, he highlights the importance of rehabilitation services and the different collaborations that have occurred across the country since the disaster.
A Ray of Hope
by Sunil Pokhrel
In April 2015, I had been looking forward to presenting for the first time at the largest international gathering of physical therapists, the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) conference, but I canceled my participation. The event was to be held in Singapore just eight days after the earthquake that shook the foundation of my country. I still remember the moment when I faced the dilemma of whether to fly to the event or to be in Nepal and support the country, which had been reduced to rubble. A voice within me directed me to stay and help the 23,000 injured, to be a ray of hope to the broken.
The earthquake was one of the biggest disasters in the history of Nepal. Local, national and international organizations lent their helping hands to respond together. My decision to stay was influenced by the individuals and organizations that have shaped me as a humanitarian working to strengthen my community. Handicap International Nepal has always prioritized preparedness for unexpected disasters, and this work helped to set the tone for the response from the first day. Sarah Blin, the Country Director at the time, provided sound leadership that was instrumental in allowing the organization to respond to the overwhelming demand of injury management and rehabilitation. I was also inspired by SOS Children’s Villages Surkhet – Nepal, the place where I studied from nursery school to 10th grade; it is my second home that inculcated the humanitarian spirit in me right from childhood.
When the earthquake happened, I was immediately sent to work at the largest government teaching hospital, and I still remember those initial heart-wrenching moments. There was limited space and limited resources to respond to the high need to save people’s lives. My role at the hospital was to support the existing medical team, transferring them safely from ambulances to triage zones; to triage injured survivors, bracing the injured parts on the first initial days. Later on, I was tasked to teach exercises, provide assistive devices (crutches, canes, wheelchairs and braces) after proper assessment and user training and to educate the patients and their family members about the need for follow-up rehabilitation.
In Nepal, rehabilitation services are not fully integrated into the healthcare system, but this is a very important part of healthcare, linked with minimizing the complications and preventing the disabling effect of the injury. Demand for rehabilitation exponentially rises in post-disaster scenarios like earthquakes. Working in post-disaster scenarios is especially difficult because the survivors are experiencing psychological trauma as well as physical injuries.
After the earthquake, I was based at the same hospital for almost three months, directly providing services and also supervising the emergency rehabilitation physical therapists recruited later by Handicap International. I met more than 1,000 injured survivors and family members during that time. Most of them came from remote areas in Nepal where rehabilitation services were not available. During the initial days, it was very difficult to convince patients and their family members to get actively engaged in the rehabilitation process as they were in psychological stress due to injury, loss of family members and property. One main focus at that time was to listen, to explain, with examples, the stories of people with disabilities who have succeeded in life. This practice helped to make the exercises and rehabilitation process easier and participative.
Without the patient’s active involvement, rehabilitation is not effective. One woman with a single leg amputation was in deep distress and was not cooperating during the rehabilitation process despite several attempts by our team. We had an idea to facilitate interactions with Ramesh, a boy with a double limb amputation whom we had trained to use a wheelchair. Ramesh explained to her how rehabilitation had helped him, and this was the turning point for the woman to agree to participate in her own rehabilitation process. Not long after that, one of the most unforgettable incidents occurred during the second earthquake on May 12, 2015, when Ramesh transferred himself from his bed to his wheelchair and was able to secure himself in the safe zone downstairs due to the training we had given him just a few days back. I still remember him expressing, with his eyes full of tears, “I would have gone into shock if I didn’t have the wheelchair and the ability to use it to get to safety.” This made me more dedicated and proud, because I felt the immediate impact of my work on the ground.
(Sunil Pokhrel – right – assists a patient during a physiotherapy session)
(Sunil Pokhrel – right – assists a patient during a physiotherapy session)
© HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL
Today, more than a year after the earthquake, many Nepalese still live with the nightmare of the catastrophic disaster. Through Handicap International, I support physiotherapists based at six earthquake-affected districts. After seeing a gradual decline of patients in Kathmandu hospitals, our focus shifted to the homes of survivors to ensure follow-up care. Rehabilitation requires time, and therefore continuum of care is very important. Rehabilitation units in these districts are providing follow-up care in close collaboration with the Nepalese government through the support of organizations like DFID and USAID.
Though the earthquake was catastrophic in terms of loss of life and property, it provided solid evidence on the importance and relevancy of rehabilitation services in Nepal’s healthcare system. Currently the government of Nepal is working to define long-term strategies and plans for healthcare. Together with HelpAge International, we at Handicap International are providing the technical back up on this work so that health and rehabilitation issues of people with injury/disability and senior citizens are well addressed.
I do not have any regrets on losing an opportunity to present an abstract paper at my first international conference. More opportunities will arise. In fact, I have been selected as a speaker on the symposium titled Physiotherapy in Disasters in July 2017, in Cape Town, South Africa, during which I am going to share my experiences and lessons learned from my involvement after Nepal’s earthquake with the world.
(Sunil Pokhrel with a patient in Nepal)
© HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL