Nepal Earthquake: Aid Worker’s Firsthand Account from the Field

A firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal.

Our voice in the field is Brad Kerner, part of Save the Children’s team on the ground responding to the deadly earthquake in Nepal. He was in Nepal when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck and is in Kathmandu assisting with our emergency relief efforts. Here he shares his firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal. 

Brad Kerner_162443Nestled in the majestic Himalayan mountains, Nepal is near the top of the world and home to Mount Everest. I’ve always been in awe of the snowy peaks and fond of the gentle Nepalese children I’ve had the honor to work with over the years.

I was hiking with friends on the rim of a pristine lake. We were enjoying our day off, celebrating a colleague’s birthday. Then suddenly in the distance, we saw buildings start to shake. Then the rumbling sounds started. People ran out of buildings, but the shaking ground knocked them off their feet like game pieces on a chessboard that had been turned over. We felt the ground shake as the shockwave came crashing toward us. We huddled together, instinctively, for stability. I’ve never been more frightened in my life – I was paralyzed with fear and clung to my friends for dear life. We watched as buildings collapsed and houses came crashing down. The sounds of destruction and dogs barking filled our ears. The quake lasted little more than a minute – but it felt like an eternity.

15-NP-5_162433At first, we didn’t know the extent of the damage. Communications were down. My wife saw the news back in the states and was frantically trying to contact me. Thankfully, she reached me within a few hours.

We slept in a tent for the night and then headed back to Save the Children headquarters in Kathmandu, where our staff was readying our response to the disaster. What’s typically a 4-hour trip took more than 7 hours, but we were grateful that the roads were relatively intact. So many homes have been damaged and destroyed. The aftershocks make it unsafe to be inside. It is still cold here in the mountains, and it rained last night, but people are fearful to return to their homes and are sleeping outside in makeshift tents.   

Our teams have been working around the clock in response to the earthquake. The first phase includes the distribution of emergency supplies like tarps and other materials children and families need to survive. The next phase will also include protecting children who have been orphaned or separated from their families during this tragic disaster. As a public health professional, I have great concerns about the potential for the spread of disease in the coming days. With little or no access to clean water and proper sanitation, conditions are ripe for diarrheal diseases, such as cholera. These diseases are already the second leading cause of death for young children around the world. 

We are doing everything we can to keep children safe from harm and help families recover in the aftermath of the earthquake. We have more than 500 highly trained staff members in Nepal, many of whom have received intensive emergency response training. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our donors that will enable us to give children what they need to survive this horrific disaster and recover in the days, weeks and months to come. On behalf of Nepal’s children and families, thank you.

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More about Brad: Brad lives in Connecticut with his wife and children. They have two sons, ages 7 and 5, and a 10-month-old daughter. A veteran aid worker, Brad has been with Save the Children for a decade, and this is his 10th trip to Nepal. He had been working in Pokhara, Nepal on our health education programs – about 125 miles away from the capital city of Kathmandu – not far from the epicenter of the earthquake. Brad is highly regarded by his colleagues for his expertise and adored for his good humor. He is also one tough man – literally! When he’s not working or spending time with his family, he is an avid endurance athlete. He has competed in the Tough Mudder – a hardcore, 10-mile team obstacle challenge. 

How You Can Help 

Please give generously to the Nepal Earthquake Children’s Relief Fund to support Save the Children's responses to ongoing and urgent needs as a result of the earthquake. 

Ebola: Coming to Sierra Leone

DanS

Dan Stewart, Humanitarian Communications Project Manager

Sierra Leone

September 25, 2014

 

The first sign is as you enter the terminal building. A crowd forms around a large bucket of water with a tap coming from it. Every passenger joins, and one by one washes their hands before going inside. As soon as you get close to the water you can smell the chlorine, stronger than any swimming pool.

Welcome to Sierra Leone in the midst of an Ebola epidemic.

The second sign is immediately after passport control. An official points a small plastic-handled device at each person’s temple, looks at it and gives a curt nod, before showing it to the new arrival and waving them through. When it’s my turn I see the digital display reads 36.4 °C. Normal. So on I go.

Ebola is tearing through West Africa. It’s infectious and deadly. This epidemic is killing around half of the people it infects, as though their lives depended on the toss of a coin. Sierra Leone has had over 1,500 cases.

The airport itself is on an island a twenty minute boat ride from the capital, Freetown. It’s 5am and still pitch black as I climb aboard, while rain hammers down and the boat rocks from the wind. From the front seat I can see that visibility is zero. You can only tell we’re moving from the way the boat rears every time we hit a wave.

So much has been said and written about Ebola but there’s still a sense the situation here is equally shrouded in darkness. I know the signs and symptoms and I know the steps to take to stay safe.

But I don’t understand. Not what it has been like for this disease to exert an increasing stranglehold over society, seemingly under the world’s radar. Not what it’s like to weigh up the safety of every journey you make.

As we close in on Freetown it slowly begins to become light and I start to make out the city through the murk, stretching away up the shore. I hope that in the coming days and weeks we can say the same for Ebola and its impact. Demystifying the disease is vital. A lack of understanding, fear and misinformation make the perfect breeding ground. Save the Children has so far trained over 3,000 community health workers who go from house to house explaining how to prevent the spread of the disease.

But this crisis is at a tipping point. There are new cases every day and we have a small window to contain the outbreak. Without a dramatic increase in the international response, cases could reach hundreds of thousands.

The third sign comes every time you meet someone. Hands twitch almost imperceptibly and an awkward look is exchanged. Nobody touches anyone they don’t know well now, not even to shake hands.

These signs are positive – they are necessary to help slow the spread. But there is far worse. Basic services are taking the brunt. Pregnant women can’t get the healthcare they need. With schools closed children are at risk of losing their education and with it the futures they dream of. We must shed light on Ebola – to the people at risk and the world at large – and we must stop it now.

To learn more about our Ebola response, click here.

“I really want to return to school soon”


Anonymous manFan Xiaowen, Program Manager 

Sichaun, China

April 29, 2013


Xinqun, age 12,
grabbed her 6-month-old baby sister when the earthquake struck and ran to an
open area, away from her home.

Both sisters were
unhurt in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck on April 20th,
2013, that killed at least 190 people and injuring at least 11,000 others.
Xinqun learnt to react in an earthquake after her school
started holding earthquake drills, highlighting the importance of preparing
children for disasters in these quake-prone areas.

“The roof collapsed,
and the walls cracked. But thank goodness that no one was hurt,” she said.

Zhang_Xiquan_Blog_April_2013The two sisters live
with their grandparents and mother. Their father works in Kangding while their
elder sister works in a factory in Lushan. Both were in quake-hit areas, but
were unharmed.

“The first night after
the earthquake, we slept in a makeshift shelter and we had hardly any food to
eat. Even my mother did not seem to have enough breast milk to feed my 6 month
old baby sister,” Xinqun said.

“Each time there was
an aftershock, I was very scared.”

Yuxi Village is
Baosheng township’s most remote village. It took more than a day for the rescue
crew reach them and set up a camp site for them. On the evening of April 21st, Xinqun and her family had a tent over their heads and received bottled
water, instant noodles and rice from the government rescue team.

“I wished my sister
could have some diapers,” Xinqun said. “She wets the bed now without any
diapers at night, so I hope we can get her some soon. “

When Save the Children arrived the following day, we were told that no
other aid (besides the dry foods, bottled water and shelter) had reached the
quake-affected population but the people needed essential items such as
diapers, towels and soaps. As such, a range of immediate relief items were distributed, including towels, sanitary napkins, soaps, hand sanitizer, raincoats, plastic
tarp, toilet paper and baby diapers
to 148 families in Yuxi village, reaching 200 adults and 244 children.

Xinqun came on behalf
of her family to collect the relief items. “I’m glad
that my baby sister has diapers now,” she said.

Xinqun also hopes to
return to school soon. She studies in a primary school in Lushan, and comes
home to spend time with her family on weekends.  

“We could not contact
the teachers or the school after the earthquake so I did not go back to
school,” she said.  

“I really want to
return to school soon.”

“It’s not peaceful in my head.”


Annie bodmer royAnnie
Bodmer-Roy, Senior Media Manager, Emergencies and Advocacy

Gao, Mali

February 26, 2013


This
is what 15-year-old Aissatou finishes with. We have been talking for almost an
hour – she has had so much to tell me. It’s hardly surprising, after everything
she has been through.

Forced
from her home over one year ago, Aissatou was more than eight months pregnant.
She was 14, and gave birth to her son Salam less than one month later, on the
run and staying in Gao.

AissatouShe
still remembers the day the rebels first entered her town, but the words come
hesitantly at first, in short pieces. “I was really scared,” she starts. I ask
what she was doing before the attack started. “I had been having fun. I was
playing with my friends. Everyone was outside. It was a Friday.”

“First
we heard gunfire,” she remembers. “We thought it was the military. Then we
started seeing people running everywhere.” Aissatou tells me she started
running too, straight into her house. She stayed there for two days without
leaving.

It
was on the second day that she finally came out and heard what had happened.
One of her friends had been hit by a stray bullet. She was alive, but needed
urgent medical treatment, and was fleeing the town for a refugee camp in Niger.

Aissatou’s
family had also been directly affected. As she describes what happened, her
pace picks up, rushed, as if she wants to get the words out as quickly as
possible. She tells me how her brother-in-law had been accused of stealing. She
explains how, under the rebels, the punishment for this was amputation. She saw
her brother-in-law after it happened – his hand had been cut off at the wrist.
As she explains this to me, Aissatou looks down at her own hands, drawing a
thin line with her finger over her wrist, over and over again. “It wasn’t
true,” she says, looking back up at me. “He said he hasn’t stolen anything.”

But
what hit Aissatou the hardest wasn’t either of these things. It was what
happened to her friend Ines. And it’s now, telling Ines’ story, that the words
pour out of Aissatou’s mouth. She stares me straight in the eyes, and I can see
the horrific events playing back in her mind as she describes them.

“The
rebels went into the village and took girls – not women, but girls. They were
15, 16, 17. They said they needed the girls to go prepare food for them. They
took them into their cars and brought them into the bush. They left them in the
bush after they were done raping them – but they beat them before leaving. I
know because my friend was one of them. There were 16 girls in total. My
friend’s name is Ines*, she is 15 now. She was 14 then, like me – we went to
school together,” Aissatou starts, and then paints a vivid picture of just what
happened to Ines.

“She
told me that they took her by force. They threatened her with their weapons to
make her sleep with them. There were 20 men but only 16 girls – so some of the
men shared the same girl between them. Ines was lucky; there was only one man
who took her. Afterwards though, he hit her five times with a long rod before
she managed to escape.”

Beaten
and abused, Aissatou’s 14-year-old classmate ran from the bushes, but in her
fear and confusion, fell when she reached the road. Aissatou says that’s how
the men from her village found Ines, and brought her back home again. Ines told
her classmate the whole story before Aissatou got her brother and brought her
friend to the hospital. Aissatou and her family fled the town the next day, and
she hasn’t seen Ines since.

As
she finishes her story, Aissatou pauses. She looks at the ground down for a
second, almost self-conscious. “Even now, even if I’m here,” she starts, “…I
can’t forget what happened. My head is full of these things – what happened to
my friends, my family…” She looks up one more time at me, willing me to understand.

“It’s
not peaceful in my head.”                                               

Syria Crisis: Reuniting Lost Children with their Families


Farisphoto (2)Faris Kasim, Information & Communications Coordinator 

Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan on the Syrian border.

February 26, 2013


Near the reception area, Save the Children is caring for unaccompanied and separated
children.

There were more than a dozen lost girls and boys as young as 6 years old who were
residing at special designated areas.

About two to three lost children are arriving at the camp every day. Most are eventually reunited with their parents or extended families within the camp.

However,four unaccompanied children have been living at the space for the past three
months.

The Save the Children team has been working day and night to assist the refugees in
Za’atari, and there is good coordination between all the NGOs and agencies
working to make room for new refugees.

But everyone is anxious about what will happen if this exodus continues. Will the
humanitarian community and the Jordanian government be able to shelter, feed
and clothe another 60,000 people?

Thousands
of children need caring people to support Save the Children’s response efforts.
Please give generously to our Syria Children in Crisis Fund

Syria Crisis: Being There When Children are Sick


Farisphoto (2)Faris Kasim, Information & Communications Coordinator 

Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan on the Syrian border.

February 19, 2013


Save the Children is responsible for general food distribution in the camp. I saw
long lines of families sitting with boxes of their bi-monthly rations. Many had
recently arrived, and were happy to receive the rations.

While
talking to a colleague who was supervising the distribution, a man ran up to us
clutching a little girl in his arms. His face covered with a red kaffiya (traditional
headscarf), he urgently called to us to help his daughter.

She had
been sick for many days and was running a dangerously high fever. She was
barely conscious and couldn’t even sit up straight.

My
colleague immediately rushed them to the camp hospital. I later learned that the
girl was given medicine and was put under observation by doctors for hours in
case she had to be transferred outside of the camp.

Hundreds
of men, women and children are arriving at Za’atari in similar conditions, and
many don’t know how to get help at the camps. Luckily for this man’s daughter,
we were there to get her safely to the hospital.

So many children need caring people to support
Save the Children’s response efforts.Please give generously to our Syria Children in Crisis Fund.

Syria Crisis: Supplies Needed for Refugee Families


Farisphoto (2)Faris Kasim, Information & Communications Coordinator 

Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan on the Syrian border.

February 15, 2013


As I
entered the refugee camp, there were dozens of vehicles unloading people near
the registration center.

A little
boy ran up to me, asking something in Arabic. My colleague intervened and found
out he wanted to know where to get breakfast.

We
walked back to his family and told them about the Save the Children tent nearby
where they can get welcome meals made up of hummus, beans, juice, tuna,
crackers and honey.

The
family had hastily fled their homes in Syria after hearing news of bombardment
in their area. After travelling overnight, they reached the border near
Za’atari at dawn.

While
waiting for registration, the father told me he was worried about what kind of
accommodation he would get for his family, but thanked God that at least his
children were now safe from harm.

There
was a large tent nearby where the newly registered families were given
blankets, mattresses, buckets, water bottles, soap, cleaning powder and other
sanitary items.

There
was a huge crowd pushing against the fence around the tent. Though the camp
staff insisted people queue to speed up the distribution, most of the men and
women were furious about the delay in receiving their supplies. Calm was
restored when some of the frustrated families agreed to be patient and wait
their turn.

Save the Children is working to help the thousands of children living in the refugee camps. So many girls and boys need caring people to support Save the Children’s response efforts. Please give generously to our Syria Children in Crisis Fund.

Sandy Hook Tragedy: Volunteering for Save the Children in Newtown


Lacey-head-shotKristen Lacey, Senior Director, Marketing and Brand Management

Newtown, Connecticut

Decmeber 20, 2012


Working at Save the Children, I thought one day I’d help
earthquake survivors or war refugees in some remote land. I never thought I’d
be part of our relief efforts in my neighboring community.

When Save the Children was called on to help families in
Newtown, there was no hesitation. Responding to requests by community leaders
and the American Red Cross, we sent teams to do what we’ve done around the
world for decades – help children in crisis. 

Kristen and puppy

Kristen cuddles with a fellow volunteer in Newtown. They've both been helping kids cope with the tragedy in their own way.

I’m part of a team that works in our Child Friendly Space in
a large art classroom next to the counseling services in Reed Intermediate
School. It’s a place where kids can be kids again; comforted by trained adults
who can help them open up and give them tools to cope with their feelings.  

What we've done in Newtown is some of the most important
work we've ever done.  We provided
children who were frightened, confused and in some cases not speaking, with a
safe and warm place to play, feel protected and express themselves. 

One child said to me, “I like it best right here”.

We created an
environment where the kids became content and did not want to leave…painting,
playing with play dough, making ornaments, writing on our mural and creating
bracelets brought a calm and peace to these kids, and actually created a
setting they could partially control. 
These kids stepped back into a school in a way that was constructive and
healing, the opposite of what so many experienced that dark Friday in Sandy
Hook. 

As a parent, I also value that we gave parents a reprieve to
get much needed counseling while their children were in good care. 

Save the Children is unique because we can focus 100% on
kids and their needs – that is what we do. 
In Newtown, we provided exactly what the community needed for their
precious children, the moment they needed it.

I am humbled to be part of our volunteer effort. It gives me
comfort that I can help my neighbors in need.

Parents, click to read our 

Ten Tips to Help Children Cope With A Crisis

my
neighboring community

Bringing Relief in the Wake of Typhoon Bopha

Anonymous manNorman
Gagarin, 
Water Sanitation and Hygiene Program Officer

Mindanao, Philippines

December 5, 2012


 While the residents of Mindanao were still
fast asleep Tuesday morning, Typhoon Bopha approached the southeastern coastline
of the Philippines, packing 130mph of wind and heavy rain. The powerful winds
and rain were unlike anything I had ever seen before.

ETH_0409_92599Despite being a much stronger typhoon than
Typhoon Washi, which killed more than 1,200 people– most of them children -last
December,the fact that people were vigilant made all the difference in this
storm.The day before it hit, I watched as the people of Mindanao prepared for
the arrival of Typhoon Bopha, or Pablo as it is known locally. Families stocked
up on food, water and other essential supplies in stores while others packed up
their most precious belongings and headed off to evacuation centres all over
the island. This is stark contrast from the scene last year, where many failed
to heed warnings from authorities to evacuate.

“I’m happy that my parents brought my
siblings and me here before the storm,” a child at an evacuation centre in
Cagayan de Oro told me. “We feel safe here from the storm.” Cagayan de Oro was
one of the worst-hit cities in Mindanao after Typhoon Washi. Many children
displayed signs of distress following that disaster and required psychosocial
support from the government and aid agencies like Save the Children.

RS48117_Picture1[1]Indeed, it is a relief to see that both
children and adults were more vigilant ahead of this typhoon, the worst storm
to hit the Philippines this year. Mindanao does not experience typhoons often,
and as a result, the residents here are less prepared than others.

Still, immediate relief like food, water,
medicine and other household items are needed.Water, sanitation and hygiene, or
WASH, is my area of expertise and we know that water supplies may be
contaminated, and with large swathes of
Mindanao flooded and without electricity, assessing the extent of the damage and
bringing water trucks to evacuation centres will be tricky for the authorities
and aid agencies alike.

Click to donate to our Philippines Annual Monsoon and Typhoon Children in Emergency Fund.

Save
the Children has been working in the Philippines since 1981 and has decades of
experience responding to emergencies in the Philippines. We have mounted
large-scale emergency responses to Typhoon Washi in 2011 and Typhoon Ketsana in
2009.

“I can’t buy them blankets with my own money.”

December 3, 2012


Nada_syria

Nadia, 30, has four young children. Zahra, her youngest, is only
five months old. Her other two daughters, Hela and Shahad,
have begun coughing. They are living in a bare building in northern
Lebanon, where they have taken refuge after fleeing growing
violence in Syria. With winter approaching, the mother-of-four
increasingly fears for her children’s health and wellbeing.

“We left – they were bombing our village. We didn’t dare to sleep in our houses from the
bombing. Our neighbour’s house was destroyed, to the ground. We ran away and came here.
We ran here, me and my little children. I was pregnant. Now it has been eight months. We are
living in the cold. It’s very cold here. We haven’t any blankets, or even food for the baby.

Life is hard here. It’s cold. We are scared of hunger. We are scared because we don’t have
blankets. We are scared of the winter … all of my children are sick.

Looking down at baby Zahra in her arms, Nadia says, “This is my daughter. She’s sick. She’s five
months old and shouldn’t be in such a room. It’s very cold. There’s nothing to warm us. We
don’t have a heating system. We don’t have fire or gas.
If we want to heat something up, we
make a fire outside. If I want to wash the baby, we have to make a fire, heat the water outside
and then wash her.

“We weren’t like this in our country. It wasn’t our choice to leave. We are forced to live here.  It’s not our decision. We want to go back to our country as soon as possible, because our
circumstances were better there. We were happy and comfortable in our country. But we
were forced to come here. We were too scared. That is why we came here. We ran away
from bombing.”

But finding respite from the conflict has not ensured a safe existence for Nadia or her
children. With no income and next to no money, Nadia isn’t able to buy her children food,
milk, winter clothes or blankets to keep them warm and healthy. “I can’t buy them blankets
with my own money. I feel I am weak because I can’t offer anything for my daughter
. She’s five
months old – she doesn’t know anything. i’m the one who is supposed to offer her what she
needs. She’s only five months old, she’s still so young.”

___________________________________

Click here to learn about our work to help Syrian children in need and donate to help us reach more