Friendship Out of the Rubble

On April 25, 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and destroying more than 605,000 homes. Hundreds of miles apart, the lives of two young Nepali girls were changed in an instant. Their injuries brought them together, and their friendship helped them recover.

A devastating earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015, reducing many buildings to rubble. Photo credit: Prakash Mathema, AFP

was at home with my family when I felt the earth shake,” says Nirmala, who was seven-years-old at the time. “I tried to run like the others, but a wall fell on top of me. I don’t remember anything else. I woke up in a hospital in Kathmandu without one of my legs. I was really frightened.”

Hundreds of miles away in a rural area, another young girl named Khendo was trapped in the rubble of her home. It took four days for her to reach a hospital in Kathmandu, but she also woke up to find that her leg had been amputated. Her grandmother and sister lost their lives.

Nirmala just days after surgery (L) and Khendo sleeping in the hospital after her injury (R). Photos credit: Lucas Veuve and Brice Blondel / Humanity & Inclusion

After their surgeries, both girls needed physical therapy. They started sessions with Humanity & Inclusion’s rehabilitation team from the National Disabled Fund rehabilitation center, part of USAID’s STRIDE project. After the earthquake, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance helped bolster this team’s capacity to provide services to people like Nirmala and Khendo.

Sudan Rimal was one of the physical therapists who helped the girls regain their strength. “I met Nirmala and Khendo shortly after the earthquake,” he recalls. “I massaged their stumps and taught them exercises to strengthen their leg muscles. They were fitted with artificial limbs and learned how to walk again.”

Nirmala tells her story. Video courtesy: Humanity & Inclusion

As their strength grew, so did their friendship. And, after several months of rehabilitation, the girls were strong enough to balance on one leg and walk with crutches. Then they learned to walk, jump, run, and play with their prosthetic legs.

Photos credit: Elise Cartuyvels, Tim Dirven, Lucas Veuve, Humanity & Inclusion

Prosthetic technicians continue to adjust the legs and build replacement prostheses as the girls grow. Sudan still sees the girls often. “They come back to the center on a regular basis for check-ins. We need to adjust their prostheses every six months because they’re growing so fast.”

Photos credit: Elise Cartuyvels (top left), Tim Dirven (top right), Prasiit Sthapit (bottom), Humanity & Inclusion

Though four years have passed, Nirmala and Khendo are almost inseparable. Nirmala’s family moved to Kathmandu where her father works in a textile factory. Khendo lives without her parents back in Sindhupalchok district. But during the school term, the two girls stay at the same boarding school.

Khendo and Nirmala, age 10, at boarding school together. Photo credit: Amul Thapa, Humanity & Inclusion

Khendo enjoys science lessons at school. “We learn things about the human body and our lives. When I grow up, I want to be a primary school teacher or a nurse and care for the injured.” Nirmala adds with a twinkle in her eye, “I want to be an actress. In fact, I already am in a way. I’ve already acted in a film! I want to be famous.”

Photo credit: Prasiit Sthapit, Humanity & Inclusion

Story by Michele Lunsford, Humanity & Inclusion.

Humanity & Inclusion responded immediately after the earthquake, conducting rehabilitation and psychosocial support sessions for more than 22,000 earthquake survivors; distributing more than 4,000 braces, slings, splints and mobility aids; and providing critical relief items — including hygiene kits, cooking supplies and emergency shelter materials — to more than 11,200 people.

Just hours after the earthquake, USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to coordinate the U.S. Government’s response efforts, carry out disaster assessments, and conduct search and rescue missions. Working with Humanity & Inclusion, Nirmala and Khendo are just some of the many people USAID was able to help.

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