An Update from Nepal

Arlene Samen, founder and executive director of One Heart World-Wide, just got off the plane after two-and-a-half weeks in Nepal. 
Arlene is still struggling to process all she’s seen and experienced in this first month since a 7.9 earthquake devastated Nepal on April 25. Today, she shares an update with Every Mother Counts.

Samen says, “I went to Nepal with a plan to build emergency birth centers in donated tents. We’ve been working in Nepal for years refurbishing buildings and turning them into birth centers and training skilled birth attendants with skills like management of hemorrhage with Misoprostol, managing preclapmsia and early referral to hospitals. When I arrived in Nepal though, we were facing an entirely different situation. Nepal is devastated. People have nowhere to live, no shelter, nothing…it’s overwhelmingly sad. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it, trying to stay focused on what we can do. There’s so much need and we’re bombarded with requests, but our primary goal is to establish safe places for mothers to deliver.”

The Team

When Samen arrived in Nepal, a massive team effort was already in play. 23 tents donated by the Tifie Foundation were delivered by Direct Relief on a Fedex plane. Ten solar suitcases provided by We Care Solar along with essential birth center supplies were donated through an emergency grant funded by Every Mother Counts. And a team of One Heart staff and volunteers were on the ground ready to build emergency medical tents and provide relief to families suffering incredible loss. Samen also teamed up with another EMC grantee — midwife, Robin Lim, who went to work immediately to meet the needs of Nepalese women whose pregnancies, labors and births couldn’t wait.

The Tents

Samen described the tents where women lined up to receive care as soon as the first tent was erected. “They’re basically safari tents or the kind of thing you’d see if you went ‘glamping.’ They’re the size of a small bedroom but tall enough to stand up in. They’re waterproof and we’re filling them with supplies recovered from collapsed birth centers along with donated equipment. We put a hospital bed or two in them, an autoclave (to sterilize equipment), and essential birth equipment, birth kits, supplies and drugs. There’s even an ultrasound in one tent. They’re beautiful and actually quite cozy compared to many birthing centers we’ve seen before. Before the earthquake, our birth centers were located in reconstructed buildings that weren’t in very good shape — dirt floors, crumbling walls. The tents look like a place where anyone would want to go.”

The Second Quake

Samen was working with her team constructing tents when the second major earthquake (7.4 magnitude) hit on May 12th.

“I was really stupid and sat in the worst possible place. It was hot and I was sitting in the shade in a partially destroyed health post. All these monkeys were running around in the trees and at first I thought they were dropping stuff on the roof. Then the ground started shaking and I grabbed the little girl I was with and scurried down the mountain to the forest with everyone else. It was terrifying. When the ground quit moving, all the guys started putting up tents again. They didn’t miss a beat. Within minutes, two families arrived at the tent we hadn’t finished building yet, with two frightened mothers in labor. We tossed some mattresses in the tent and checked them but we weren’t ready for deliveries. One of the mothers had decreased fetal movement and we needed to get her to Kathmandu ASAP. We called ahead to find out if the road was passable and found out there was a lot more damage and more casualties, but the teaching hospital in Kathmandu was operating. I grabbed these mothers and their families and we drove them to the hospital. One of them needed an emergency C-section, but both the mothers and their babies are fine.”

The Mothers

Robin Lim’s been in Nepal with Samen, delivering babies as soon as the tents went up. Samen says she’s seen at least 60 women for prenatal care and births in just one area and even delivered a set of twins.

“After delivery, we try to let the mothers and babies stay in a nearby staff tent for a couple of days because once they leave us, there’s nowhere to go. I’m not seeing much response from the humanitarian aid community in terms of providing shelter. They’re afraid of creating long-term tent cities like we saw in Haiti. Since no one’s providing shelter, mothers and babies are living outside.”

As of this writing, Samen’s team has ten tents fully functioning with more being erected daily and plans to construct another 150 donated tents in the hardest hit areas. To donate to One Heart World-Wide, click here. Check back next week for more birth stories from Robin Lim and Arlene Samen.

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