The Shanti Seva Griha in Budhanilkantha on the outskirts of Kathmandu valley is a small drive up to one of the many hills that surround Nepal’s capital. Accessed only by an unpaved road, the small colony houses 250 people. Like the rest of the earthquake-hit country, people here are living in tents outside their cracked mud and brick homes.
In one tent sit 17 children, from infants to young teenagers. They are more at risk than most other children in Kathmandu. For, this is a leper colony, with many children and adults left handicapped by the illness.
Deepak Tiwari, who has lived in the colony since it was set up 20 years ago by a Dortmund-based NGO, is looked upon as a leader by the residents. He said those from the colony will live outside their homes for long because they don’t trust their limbs.
“When the first earthquake came, the children were playing in school. Leprosy has left some of them in such a state that they can’t move fast. So, they had to be carried out by volunteers of the NGO that supports us. Since then, we are living in tents. We are having to construct them slowly with bamboo and stacks of hay. One stack costs us Rs 150,” Tiwari said.
On most days, three or four volunteers come to play with the children, teach them and keep their spirits up. But even though those in the leper colony are grateful for the aid they have received so far, they cannot shake the feeling that they have been forgotten.
Abdul Shaikh Mohammad, a member of one of the three Muslim families in the camp, said: “In Nepal, the situation for lepers is better than it was before. But we still have to live separately. This colony, for instance, is on a distant hill. No surveyors have come here and nobody will come to rebuild our homes. Volunteers have come, but relief has been limited to supplies of food and other items from the administration. I have been going to the nearby mosque because they are distributing more aid there. Sometimes I am able to bring back some material to fix up my tent. With the monsoons coming, people here will become very ill if there is no shelter,” he said.
Tiwari said residents of the colony have now found themselves in a vicious cycle.
“Most people have been cured of the disease, but many still carry disabilities, especially the children. So, we cannot live in our cracked homes because in case another earthquake comes, most of them will fall and many of us might be trapped. So for now, we have made temporary structures aided by bamboo poles and tarpaulin. But we live on a hill face, and when the thunderstorm comes, the children will be vulnerable. Both alternatives are fraught with difficulty,” he said.
What Salima Khatun wants most is for the Nepal government to assess and repair their homes at the earliest, because nobody among them has the money to do it themselves.
She said, “Everyone in the colony is given work by the NGO. Some clean, others make small objects that are sold. But if we got 3,500 to 4,000 Nepali rupees a decade ago, we still get the same now. We cannot afford to build our own homes. Tell me, if nobody comes to help us rebuild, what will happen to us?”