What is Next for the Children of Nepal?

It is almost a month since the April 25th 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal and already it is becoming difficult to find front-page news stories about the disaster.  As the attention of the world quickly shifts to other topics the real work of relief and recovery in Nepal continues.

Disaster response is a massive undertaking involving governments, militaries, UN agencies, NGO’s and civil service organizations both large and small, but one of the least appreciated is the role of local churches that already exist in communities throughout the world.

Our role at OperationSAFE is to support and equip these local churches to care for the psychosocial needs of children after disasters.  These are different than the immediate physical and medical needs but can be just as serious in terms of life and death and the future of these communities.

Since the earthquake OperationSAFE has been mounting an emergency response for Nepal.  Here is some of the progress that we and our partners have made to date and the challenges that remain.

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1.  The Response Plan

With up to one million children without classrooms to return to due to the destruction of nearly 15,000 schools by the quake, we see helping children return to some kind of normal as being our highest priority.  Our goal is to work over the next year to provide psychological first-aid to 4500 children through 30 OperationSAFE camps.  These camps will be run by local churches and volunteers trained in basic psychological first-aid and using the OperationSAFE curriculum.  The camps would also serve as a gathering point to register children for receiving basic school supplies, strengthening child protection, and encouraging children to return to school despite the gaps.  The trained OpSAFE teams would then be able to expand camps into more remote locations repeating the process.

2.  Where We are At Now

We are sharing information with relief teams working with the International Disaster Relief Network, a network of Christian disaster responders who we have worked with in the past during the Japan tsunami and Philippines typhoon relief efforts.  On May 12th an aftershock of 7.2 rocked the area again, causing less physical damage but inflicting a great psychological burden on people who were already fearful.  The aftershocks, multiple landslides and difficult weather conditions have made relief work slow going in the rural areas.

The timing for OperationSAFE camps for children depends primarily on two things; basic physical and medical needs being met and our ability to ensure the safety of the children.  Usually this means that we start our work at about the time when the emergency relief teams are finishing theirs and then continue for up to years afterwards.  We are currently aiming to start OpSAFE camps in July, but this might be pushed back if the conditions are not yet stable.  Pray for safety for the relief teams, seismic stability and good weather.

Currently we are working together with partners to prepare training for churches in Nepal.  One partner organization is OM who are focused on the needs of the Tibetan minority in Rasuwan District.  Another partner is H.A.N.D. that are concentrated on the needs of the disabled and currently delivering aid and working to recover the bodies of the deceased in Dolakha.  We are also working with Viva, an organization that networks local churches to establish training with the CARNet, at network of churches in Nepal that care for children at risk.

These partners are currently translating training OpSAFE materials and curriculum, delivering immediate aid and making preliminary assessments of possible camp locations, and organizing training of trainers.

3.  Next Steps

Once we are assured of the most effective time to start OperationSAFE camps we will take a training of trainers team to Nepal to work with local network leaders and partners.  These trainers will then work with local church networks in Kathmandu to organize and implement camp for the children.

4.  Challenges

The biggest challenge is language and culture, but it is also one that our strategy is best equipped to deal with.  We have already held OperationSAFE in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesian.  Many times these camps are held in a local dialect that is the “heart-language” of the children even though they learn the national language at school.  We are able to do this because we use local volunteers who know the language and culture because it is theirs!  One of the places where we have held OperationSAFE is in Qinghai, China with Tibetans.  We will be able to use some of the materials developed there to work with ethnic Tibetans living in Nepal.

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The next challenge is the remoteness and difficulty of reaching many of the affected communities in Nepal.  Many of the villages are only connected by trail and require days of trekking to reach.  Even relief efforts to those communities connected by road have been hampered by landslides.  Currently there is a massive effort to reach those in need using helicopters and mobilizing the entire Nepalese army, however once the emergency relief phase is over these resources won’t be available.  Once again the resiliency of the local church is our biggest advantage!  We have seen over and over again the determination of Christians to take OperationSAFE to children that they know need help in the next village.

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(Pictures from H.A.N.D relief teams in Nuwakot)

Another challenge is finances.  We want to help the Nepalese churches to minister to the deep emotional needs of the children in their communities, but the reality is that 633 Christians were among the 9000 who died in the quake.  Many churches were destroyed and thousands of their members were injured.  We will need to help them get started and walk with them as they recover.  Our budget for each of the 30 OpSAFE camps is $4500.  This comes out to a total cost of $30 per child to give them psychological first-aid and connect them to hugs, help and hope in their own community.  Pray that our total budget of $135,000 can be met swiftly.

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