Golma Devi School, Timbu, Sindhupalchowk district, August 14, 2015, 11:30 am. Ten middle-aged women wearing yellow helmets and long gloves were busy clearing debris. Among them was 55-year-old Kamini Sherpa. She was lifting stones from the ground and dumping them at a corner. We asked her about the work she was doing.
“I have no other work. I’ve come here to make some money,” Kamini said as she sat on the ground which her team had just cleared. “We used to do farming but the earthquake took it away,” she said referring to the landslides caused by the earthquake and several aftershocks that have occurred in Sindhupalchowk district since April 25, 2015. Sindhupalchowk is a severely affected district where more than 3,500 people died and more than 99% houses were damaged.
There are many women like Kamini who are unable to work in the field, as their lands have been swept away, and there are no other jobs in the villages.
“The landslide took away our corn, and there was nothing we could do,” said 51-year-old Dil Maya Sunar, who was working in a separate group nearby, “How can we feed ourselves if we just stay at home? My husband is disabled and I’m the one who has to earn,” she said, handing a big stone to 29-year-old Lhakpa Dolma Lama, a mother of two daughters and chair of the Thangri Women Development Committee, who in turn was stacking the stones from a collapsed school building.
Lhakpa Dolma Lama (first from left) stacks stones at the premises of Golma Devi School in Timbu of Sindhupalchowk. She is a beneficiary of Oxfam’s Cash for Work program which aims to clear debris at the school, where 300 students get their education. Photo: Oxfam
Lhakpa usually runs a cosmetic store near the school, but because the school was closed for the monsoon season, business was down. She was happy, however, that she could utilize her time for extra work and income. “On one hand, we are rebuilding our community infrastructure, and on the other, we are making some money. I’d be glad if we can work like this for the whole year,” she said.
In Nawalpur, also in Sindhupalchowk, 42-year-old Madhav Adhikari shared a similar view. “We cleared the debris (stones) from Shri Bhimsen Primary school, and now we want to fix the roads, as there will likely be more landslides,” said Madhav, who like Kamini, Dil Maya, and Lhakpa joined a group of nine other locals to work on daily wage under Oxfam’s Cash for Work (CFW) program.
Oxfam’s CFW is providing short-term employment to vulnerable families in Sindhupalchowk and will be started in other six districts soon to clear debris from collapsed schools in remote areas, VDC offices, women community buildings, as well as debris in irrigation channels and foot trails, for up to 20 days. People who participate in the program are paid the minimum wage rate as per the district standards.
Oxfam works closely with its implementing partners, ward citizen forums, and village development committees, to identify people who can be supported through its CFW program. Oxfam intends to provide support to 14,496 affected families from all the seven districts.
Gopi Adhikari, Principal of the government-run Shri Takura Primary School, is relieved as the CFW program helped his school to be ready for reconstruction. “A group of Canadians are interested to rebuild the school, and I’m happy that the first leg of work is done through this program,” he said. The school has about 90 students.
“It’s good to see that villagers, especially women have united to clear the debris,” said 20-year-old Sonam Hyolmo who had just returned from Kathmandu to substitute for his father in debris-clearing. The CFW provides flexibility to the workers, as they can sometimes send substitutes in their place to do the six-hour daily work. Pemba Sherpa who substituted for his wife for a day said, “I am happy that my wife is also working to clean the school and rebuild the community.”
In the Cash-For-Work program, if ten people work, one is entitled to an unconditional cash grant worth 15 days’ of work. The selection of the beneficiary is done in consultation with the Ward Citizen Forum. Eighty-year-old Ganga Bhattarai, a single woman from Nawalpur, living with her 10-year-old grandson in a makeshift shelter received an unconditional cash grant from a CFW program. “With the money, I bought meat, milk, eggs, noodles and also some utensils,” said Bhattarai further adding that, “God sends its people for people like us.”