Khadga Devi Chaulagain and her family
L-R: Harisharan (second son), Dipak (eldest son) carrying Deep (grandson), Dipak's wife Lalita, Devi (matriarch), Krishna (youngest son) carrying Krishma (grand-daughter) and Krishna's wife Chandra Kala
Four years on, the memory of the severe earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015 remains crystal clear for the Chaulagain family.
Khadga Devi Chaulagain, matriarch of the family that everyone called Ah Ma, said she wouldn’t have been alive if it wasn’t for her then 4-year-old grandson.
“When the earthquake happened, we were lucky that nobody was at home because (my sons and their wives) had to go out to work. … I feel so lucky because of my grandson, who was running up to follow his father. Otherwise, I was supposed to stay home and do all the dishes,” said the 62-year-old grandmother.
(L-R) Devi with her grandsons; Dipak and his wife Lalita; Krishna, his wife Chandra & his daughter Krishma
Their original 2-storey family home was one of the over 600,000 houses and over 9,000 lives the earthquake claimed.
“I was the head of the family and there was a lot of mental pressure for me to take care of the whole family, especially my son. For 2 days after the earthquake, there was nothing for us to eat. I had to gather myself to go find work and do a lot of odd jobs,” said Dipak Chaulagain, 34, Devi’s eldest son.
“The main problem was, soon after the earthquake, it rained for a few day. The roof was dripping and it was very cold because they didn’t have blankets or mattresses. Everything was in a mess because the floor was muddy and for my son, it was hard for him to sleep in the cold nights,” Dipak added.
Dipak's temporary shelter that his family has been living in for the last 4 years
Rebuilding their lives after the earthquake, even just temporary shelters in the immediate aftermath, was a challenge for the family because they never had a stable source of income. Devi was left alone to fend for her family after her youngest son Krishna was born, by selling leaves used for temple worship. Her 3 sons never finished school and started working as irregular labourers on the farmlands when they were just 13-years-old.
“It was pretty hard because before the earthquake, we were living together and the income was shared with all the family members. But when we separated, we didn’t have a job because (my wife and I) don’t have any skills. To earn some money, we have to go out to find a job on other people’s farms. It was a hard time because we didn’t even have zinc to build a temporary shelter because there was no work and no money,” said 24-year-old Krishna.
The whole process of registering, verifying and receiving the USD$3,500 government grant for earthquake victims took 4 years for the family, so that they could qualify to be part of Habitat Nepal’s Earthquake Assistance Program.
For 4 days in November, 26 volunteers from Habitat Singapore’s Ambassadors’ Build team - the largest team ever sent to Nepal from Singapore - worked tirelessly alongside the Chaulagain family to give them 3 safe and secure homes.
4-Day building process of the 3 houses for the Chaulagain Family
“On the last day during the (house dedication) ceremony, I teared. It was so emotional for me seeing how deeply grateful the (families) were, and I am very happy to be able to contribute to building them a roof over them and their families. I also felt a great sense of achievement for the amount of work we have done as a team,” shared Brandon Kam, a first-time volunteer with Global Village.
Event stylist and team member Caryn Lim said: “It was a meaningful experience building for the families and I really enjoyed interacting with the locals. I personally think it takes a lot from them to trust us with the walls of their houses, to give us the full reign to do it properly. And thus I told myself I have to take pride and be responsible for what I've been tasked to do. It concerns not just the integrity of the houses but also their lives. It must take a lot from them to trust us strangers to do this for them but I'm honoured that they did so anyway.”
Part of the team leading the build was Habitat Singapore Ambassador Carla Dunareanu. Despite the logistical and fundraising challenges of organising such a big build trip, Carla countered that it makes the build experience all that more unique. “Our Nepal trip would have been very different if we only had 15 people attempting to build 3 houses. Having large teams allows us to not only be more efficient in our work, but it also gives a much larger group of people the chance to connect, share stories and experiences, and make everlasting bonds,” she said.
House Dedication Ceremony
At the end of the 5-day build, the Chaulagain family took the opportunity to say an emotional, heartfelt thanks to the team that left everyone teary-eyed. “Although it looks like a small house, with only 2 rooms, it feels like a castle to me,” said Devi.
Having lived separately in shelters after the earthquake, the family is looking forward to living together again with their houses side-by-side in the same plot where their old family home used to stand.
A home that can be kept clean and hygienic for this 2 young sons was what Dipak was looking forward to the most after 4 years of living in a temporary shelter.
And for Krishna, his new Habitat home will soon fulfill his dream of bringing his 3-year-old daughter into a proper home for the first time.
“We are very happy and we are very lucky that the volunteers chose us as a home partner to build the house for. We can already visualise the completed house. After the earthquake, my daughter was born and she has never seen the inside of a proper house. Once the house is completed, I can’t wait to bring her inside the house with a strong door and window,” said Krishna
“I didn’t receive any education so I had to work in the farmlands from young. For my daughter, I dream that instead of carrying tools to work in the farmlands, she can carry books to go to school and college.”
(L-R) Chaulagain Cousins: Dipak's son Deep, 3 and Krishna's daughter Krishma, 3