August 18, 2016 15:03

Listening to People’s Stories of Hardship Has Changed My Approach to Work

Mona Sherpa (left) making sure that even disadvantaged people like the dalit (“untouchable”) woman (the middle) get humanitarian help after the earthquake. Sindhupalchowk District (Nepal), May 2015. Credit: Andrea Barrueto/Helvetas

World Humanitarian Day story by Mona Sherpa, Deputy Country Director, HELVETAS Nepal

Immediately after the April 2015 earthquake and when we all knew that our relatives were safe, I started mobilising our staff to the affected areas with relief materials, in coordination with the local and central government and other actors.

Within a week, I went to Kiul with relief materials such as tarpaulins for the protection from heavy rains. There I noticed a woman in a white sari, sitting far away and looking at the tarpaulins with expectation. I asked her why she was not taking one. She was mourning and according to the notion of purity she was not supposed to touch others. As she couldn’t get relief materials herself, we mobilised local youth and our staff to help her. This proved once again that a disaster affects those who are structurally disadvantaged most.
The earthquake took everything; it stranded people and affected their sense of security. It was not the normal situation we deal with in our development work. People were in immediate need of support and a helping hand. I realised that an intention was not enough; it was equally important to put systems in place. If such systems and structures are developed in the preparation phase, work is easier and more effective. In emergency, the immediate basic needs become people’s main concern and it is their right to meet them too.

Each of the affected people had stories of hardship to tell. Listening to them changed my approach to work. When I am designing programmes and initiatives, I recall the faces of the affected people and ask myself whether they will bring changes to their lives and help them overcome the horrendous experiences that they suffered.

In all my professional life I had never improvised as much as during the weeks after the earthquake. At the same time I experienced the benefits of good organisation and networking. I felt that HELVETAS and I were part of a dense network and so well connected that other international organisations could benefit from it.

This story is part of Alliance2015 World Humanitarian Day campaign, featuring stories of humanitarians working with our members. For more information about the campaign and other stories, please click here.