Following the earthquakes of 2015, Karuna Foundation has been running projects and programs focusing on the persons with disabilities. As disability in disaster is a new issue in Nepal, Chief Executive Officer of Karuna Foundation DEEPAK RAJ SAPKOTA spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on the topic. Excerpts:
Two years have already passed since the earthquakes, how do you see the state of the persons with disabilities?
The state of people with disabilities is the same as that of the other ordinary people. Despite making several efforts, people with disabilities and their families are yet to receive necessary support in reconstruction of their houses. Like ordinary people, they are also part of the society. As they are physically in a different situation, they need different and special treatment. I don’t need to explain what has been happening in the country in the last two years. I am not satisfied with the pace of reconstruction in terms of my own performance and performance made by all of us together. Everyone has to take responsibility for the current failure. There is the need to address the problems faced by people with disabilities and their family. Whenever there is a disaster, people with disabilities and their family suffer the most. They have different needs and different challenges.
Given Nepal’s position as one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of disaster, what have you learnt from the last earthquake?
Although Nepal is prone to disasters and we have suffered a lot from them, Nepal is still unprepared for major disasters. This is a very sad part.
Since your organization has been focusing on the people with disabilities, how do you observe their role?
What we have been trying to do in the post-earthquake affected areas, especially in Rasuwa and Nuwakot and some other districts, is to bring people with disabilities form a state of invisibility and neglect to where they are visible and equally active in the social actor. We have been trying to bring all of them forward. We have been successful to achieve our target. The problem with us now is how many people are living with disabilities in the various districts and villages and we don’t know how many types of disabilities these people are suffering from. We also don’t know in which areas they are in. Due to this, it is very difficult to reach out to people with disabilities. By using various social mechanisms, we have been able to reach them. Even in the rescue and relief period, we located a number of people with disabilities as they were suffering from hardships and difficulties in areas like Bhaktapur. As they are a much vulnerable population, they need special care in the disaster. What do we need now is a proper mapping of areas where people are living with disabilities.
What other support has Karuna made?
On top of that, we have also built and reconstructed health posts in Rasuwa and Nuwakot districts and handed them over to the community and Ministry of Health. We have been trying our best to share our knowledge and expertise to provide access to them -- making services accessible, not just wheelchair friendly, in every respect. There are currently a number of obstacles for people with disabilities to have access to medical facilities.
What is the number of people with disabilities in 14 districts?
Immediately after the earthquake, we launched programs together with UNICEF targeting the people of with disabilities. We reached out to more than 5000 people with disabilities. We reached more than 6000 people in total through different programs. All of them were severely affected by earthquake compared to other population. The painful part of the story was that they did not have access to relief because of their physical conditions. Once we introduced our program focusing on them, we surveyed the people with disabilities in 14 districts and we found their needs.
Why did Karuna step into relief and rehabilitation?
We were involved in emergency response, rehabilitation and recovery in the aftermath of the earthquake. We do have knowledge of the local context, especially in the field of children/ adults with disabilities and their families. We had a decade-long, hands-on, experience working closely with the local communities. We have been working with government system in the central, district and village levels. Most importantly, the regular project districts of KFN were severely hit by the earthquake. We had a strong network, within the country and at the international level and had vibrant and committed team members.
What happened within the 1st year after the earthquake in the area of disability?
As one of the main areas where KFN is involved is prevention of disability, the KFN identified around 5,000 children with disabilities through a child protection project in partnership with UNICEF Nepal. We reached altogether 8514 children and adult with disabilities. They were supported with relief materials, medical treatment and livelihood support. Drugs and medical equipment support were made to different hospitals including Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital, Gangalal Hospital and district hospitals in Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Kavrepalanchowk, Rasuwa, Chitwan and Dailekh. Medical doctors were deployed in the field to cater with urgent medical treatment to injured cases.
What have you done other than this?
KFN supported around 3,000 earthquake survivors from different districts with temporary shelters where each household was provided with two bundles of CGI sheets. The constructed temporary shelters were of two kinds: Dome-shaped tunnel houses and houses of local design.
Do have you worked in other areas as well?
Karuna has also supported building government approved design houses for 4 children with severe disability in Makwanpur district.
What have you made in the second year recovery phase?
We are involved in the construction of disability-friendly health facilities. According to the Ministry of Health (MoH), more than 500 health facilities – district hospital, primary health care centre, health post and sub health post – have been damaged by the earthquake alone in the worst-affected 14 districts. In this context, Karuna Foundation Nepal has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the MoH on 6th of July to rebuild 11 new prefabricated model and repair three damaged health facilities in Rasuwa district. As of now, KFN has handed over 3 Health Posts to MOH and rest of the progress is going on.
What support are you giving to schools?
Under School Reconstruction and Inclusive Education, KFN is building 5 disabled friendly schools in Rasuwa District in coordination with School Management Committee. Education materials were supported to 12 schools of the district and all the teachers from schools of Rasuwa were given training on Inclusive Education focusing on disability.
How do you mobilize the funds?
We mobilized SHO Fund in Rasuwa. Under the project, we have made assessment of 556 persons with disabilities, with medical treatment of 24 persons with disabilities, assistive device support to 51 persons with disabilities, livelihood support to 3 persons with disabilities, vocational/skill training to 15 persons with disabilities/their family members, ramp construction for making health post in Ramche VDC disability friendly, inclusive education training of teachers in Rasuwa district, orientation of District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) and Disabled People's Organization (DPO) on disability inclusive response and recovery and Lobby and Advocacy respectively. Reconstruction, rehabilitation and holistic development projects were taken to five VDCs of Rasuwa.
KFN has been working in funding partnership with Reach Out Too, the Netherlands, in order to restore the lives of earthquake survivors in five of the VDCs of Rasuwa viz. Ramche, Bhorle, Syafru, Briddhim and Thuman. The project is about health, education, livelihood and empowerment with the aim to achieve the overall development of the communities.
about Amir's National Youth Talent Award 2073 winner?
KFN came in contact with Amir after the earthquake of 2015 while implementing child protection program supported by UNICEF in Makwanpur. KFN took notice of exceptional talent of the boy in painting and singing. He is suffering from a condition called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita due to which he is unable to move his body below neck. He paints and writes with his mouth.
How did KFN support Amir?
KFN supported the child and gave him platform to explore his talent. Within a year, with support of KFN, Amir launched his first painting exhibition and music video. He got opportunity to be an apprentice of great artist of Nepal, Kiran Manandhar and music of his song was composed by Nhyoo Bajracharya. His stories have been featured in many national and International media including UK's Daily Mirror. He won national talent youth award in 2073 and received the honor from President of Nepal.
How is Amir’s example encouraging others?
Amir has become a living example of challenging the stereotype that people with disability are unproductive. With the earnings he made with his paintings he settled all the debts of his family and helped his parents support the family.
What are you doing now?
We are now working to save children from disability, one by one. This is our motto and Karuna Foundation will put all its efforts towards this.