It has been six months since earthquakes rocked Nepal, killing 9000 and injuring over 23,000. As I journeyed up into the border region of Sindhapalchowk along narrow roads I was keenly aware of the number of landslides and how living in the steep foothills of the Himalayas leave villages vulnerable to being cut off from outside help. One group that is making a difference is CARnet Nepal (Children at Risk Nepal) who are implementing OperationSAFE child trauma camps in the remote areas worst affected by the disaster.
Most of the homes in these villages have been destroyed and people are still living in temporary shelters made of corrugated tin. In the village of Tyanthali, from which we could see the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas in Tibet, Basanta Basnet, the district leader of CARnet Nepal has been working with the community to rebuild their collapsed school. After a community meeting they were thrilled to learn that seven of the children in the town had come back to the school that is being held in tents since the quake. Getting children back to school is the best way to help them build a better future, but it can be difficult to justify when survival is at stake for the families that live here.
Another danger for the children of Tyanthali is human trafficking. Most children who are lured away from their families are sold into slavery (working as manual laborers or as prostitutes) in India. However, CARnet Nepal has discovered over the years combatting the practice that most of the children are recruited not from the Indian border region but from the more “exotic” looking mountain people.
OperationSAFE camps not only help the children themselves recover from trauma, return to school and build resilience toward future catastrophes, but also creates a bond between local child protection volunteers and the children. CARnet Nepal, working with local child protection officials, trains the OpSAFE volunteers to meet regularly with the children, report on their condition, and make it more difficult for traffickers to target those who are neglected or are not attending school.
In the first six months eleven OperationSAFE child trauma camps have been conducted helping more than a thousand children. CARnet Nepal is planning to conduct 25 more OpSAFE camps in the mountains of Nepal. Basanta called the OperationSAFE training “powerful” but as I watched volunteers who were willing to walk for hours through the mountains to learn how to help children I was struck by the heart and passion of the Nepali people.