Tim Costello sits with Bhoj Kumar Thapa, whose wife died during the Nepal Earthquake. Photo by Stuart Rintoul, World Vision
A handful of days after the April 25 Nepal earthquake, I found myself sitting with a man by the name of Bhoj Kumar Thapa in a small village on a mountain close to the epicentre.
It was a profoundly humbling experience.
Bhoj had arrived back in his village, just outside the city of Gorkha, on the night of the earthquake to find his wife, Sushila, dead. She was eight months pregnant. He said he felt lost, “like I was in another world”, and that something within him had also died. He could not imagine how he could carry on and hoped that time would show him a way.
But Sushila had done something extraordinary before she died. During the terror of the earthquake, she shielded their five year old daughter, Sudikchhya, underneath her pregnant body, protecting her from the rocks that fell around them as their village turned to rubble.
Sudikchhya was found unconscious by her grandfather, Sher Bahadur Thapa Mager, who wept with sadness and joy when he found them, for a life sacrificed and a life saved.
Only hours earlier, thousands of Australians had stood above the beach at Gallipoli to honour the sacrifice of the young Anzacs 100 years ago and heard the word of John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.
But here, on a mountainside in Nepal, there was no greater love than that of a mother who lay down her life for her daughter.
Arriving in Kathmandu after the earthquake was an assault on the senses. Smoke rose from the banks of the Bagmati River, which is considered holy by both Hindus and Buddhists, where bodies were being cremated and the ashes scattered in the water.
In the centre of Kathmandu, we walked in the ruins of the UNESCO-listed Dharahara tower. The earthquake took many lives and many of Nepal’s historical treasures too. Days after the earthquake, police said they suspected there were still many bodies in the ruins.
In the villages, where so many perished, food, water and shelter were also destroyed. With the monsoon approaching, World Vision rushed to get aid to those people.
In the days after the earthquake, the anguish we felt for the Nepalese, some of the gentlest and poorest people on Earth, was coupled with frustration as much-needed aid, including medical supplies and shelter, was prevented from arriving through the small funnel of the Kathmandu airport. Time and again our planes were turned back until finally we were forced to resort to trucking in supplies from India. Nepal’s government had appealed to the international community for help, but help could not get in. Time and again people would ask us, “Where is the help? When is help coming?” And all the time we were there, more bodies were being found in the rubble.
Nepal sits at the meeting point of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. Those same massive forces of nature which created the Himalayas still clash and create earthquakes. The last big one, claiming a similar number of deaths in Nepal and Northern India was in 1934. It was a different world then – Mahatma Gandhi famously and controversially suggested that earthquake was “divine chastisement” for India’s “sin of untouchability”- yet eighty years on the irrevocable destruction wrought by these primordial forces was in scale and pattern chillingly similar.
Was this earthquake “the big one” that the Nepalese have dreaded for the past two decades? You can only hope that it was. But many Nepalese fear otherwise. It is an anxiety that makes the task of rebuilding Nepal – and rebuilding better than before – all the more urgent.
For now, I’m asking people to please stand with the Nepalese in this moment of terrible tragedy. You can support World Vision’s Nepal Earthquake Appeal today.