Robin Lim’s Nepali Notebook

A special essay by our friend and grantee, Ibu Robin Lim, midwife and founder of Bumi Sehat Foundation International, in honor of the three month anniversary of the massive earthquakes that struck Nepal this year.

Robin Lim teamed up with One Heart Worldwide and We Care Solar, both grantees of Every Mother Counts, to create safe places for Nepalese mothers to deliver their babies. Here is a glimpse into Robin’s work during April and May.

Within an hour of hearing about the April 25th 7.8 earthquake in Nepal, I was speaking with Andrew of Direct Relief International. Direct Relief has been Bumi Sehat’s biggest support for disaster relief. They have supported our efforts in post-tsunami Aceh, and in the aftermath of earthquakes in Yogyakarta, Padang, and Haiti. Direct Relief also continues to support the Bumi~Wadah clinic and birth center in Dulag, Philippines, in response to the super typhoon, Haiyan. To put it simply, Direct Relief has our backs.

Andrew told me I would be hearing from Arlene Samens of One Heart World-Wide. This not-for-profit organization has been doing amazing work to lower the maternal and infant mortality rates in Nepal, in partnership with the Nepali government’s network of health centers. One Heart was the earliest responder in Nepal and brought medical relief to the two districts hardest-hit by the earthquakes, Sinduhpalchowk and Dhading. One Heart’s Nepalese team, supported by their USA board, works much like Bumi Sehat: grass roots. Both organizations share the vision and mission of MotherBaby and community healthcare as a human right, especially in low-resource, high-risk settings. Arlene was keen to have me on her team, due to my experience in setting up safe MotherBaby care and birth services in the aftermath of disasters. We made plans to leave in just a few days.

I called everyone I knew who normally helps out in disasters: Laura Stachel of We Care Solar, Every Mother Counts. Life Straw Water filters. One Health Org of Australia began searching for high protein food bars. And Clif bar in the USA agreed to donate. My personal friends and family began to donate money for Nepal’s relief, directly to One Heart World-Wide. My husband and sons in Bali organized fundraisers. Everyone was on-board to help Nepal. Jacquelyn Aurora and the One Heart San Francisco volunteers packed our luggage, laden with precious medical supplies and food for the hungry.

My “Family” at Wadah Foundation in Indonesia, was busy trying to make contact with our dear friends, Anuradha Koirala of Maiti Nepal (a non-profit that protects and shelters victims of trafficking) and Pushpa Basnet of Butterfly House

(an orphanage), in Kathmandu. There were many worry-filled hours when communication was impossible. Finally, we heard from both Maiti Nepal and Butterfly House. Anuradha and the more than 425 children she is responsible for on-site at Maiti Nepal, were alive. Pushpa and the children of Butterfly House were unharmed. All of them were living out of doors however, and it was impossible to buy food for the children, as the city had completely shut down.

Buildings as high as six stories were crumbling into the streets. The police and military were trying to rescue people trapped in the rubble. There was no electricity, no running water and in the first nights after the 7.8 earthquake, it rained. When we finally were able to confirm that Anuradha, Pushpa and the children they care for were alive, we also knew they were in despair. I asked Gordon from Direct Relief International, who was one of the very first aid workers on the ground, to check on them. Gordon was able to organize supplies and essential medicines for Maiti Nepal right away.

A child at Mamu Pushpa’s Butterfly House in Kathmandu, Nepal

Pushpa’s supporter from Singapore immediately sent tents, but they did not arrive (likely lost in the airport). He purchased more tents, knowing he must get the children into dry shelter, and flew with the tents to Kathmandu. Pushpa and the children are still living in those tents. My friends, Monique and the Nathan family, who are living in trauma themselves and are camped in the USA Embassy, began providing food and supplies for the children of Butterfly House immediately.

The satellite schools in far-flung areas, where Anuradha and Maiti Nepal educate and protect children who have been trafficked, were all reduced to rubble. Even in the chaos, Anuradha and her team filled rice sacks with food, tarps for shelter, blankets, buckets to catch rainwater and clothing for the families who lost everything. Her son and his friends organized delivery of these relief supplies by truck, often needing to clear the road of landslides along the way.

Meanwhile, Direct Relief International packed two FedEx airplanes (big ones) completely full with essential medical supplies, water filtration systems and 4-by-4 meter canvas tents. These would become the replacement structures for the ruined healthcare facilities in the hardest-hit mountain districts of Dhading and Sinduhpalchowk. The One Heart World-Wide Nepalese team worked with the Nepali customs officials, so there would be no problems receiving relief supplies and no customs fees. At the airport we had the thrill of seeing humanitarian aid flow seamlessly, as palates labeled for One Heart, Maiti Nepal, hospitals and many other organizations on the ground would receive and distribute these lifesaving supplies.

When I found Anuradha she was thinner than I had ever known her to be. When we hugged, she was trembling. I was with Thomas and Joe of Direct Relief, delivering palates of medicines and supplies to Maiti Nepal. I learned that an additional 225 children, orphaned by the disaster were arriving day and night, because only Anuradha was ready, willing and able to accept responsibility for these children. The Maiti Nepal school and dormitory buildings were standing and had been declared safe. This is a miracle, and a tribute to the wisdom of this small woman, who decided to build strong, well-engineered buildings and bear the extra cost for safety. Her wisdom saved her children’s lives. These children (of all ages, rescued from human trafficking, and whom no one cherished) are loved and well-fed at Maiti Nepal. In addition, they are being educated and they are safe.

Anuradha took me into the clinic that she pulled together to handle the injured and homeless. There I found two injured mothers nursing their babies, one with a broken arm and another with a cast on her leg. For both women, Maiti Nepal was the only thing standing between them and being trafficked. When a woman loses her entire family, her home, and her husband, the only way to support the surviving baby is often through prostitution. Anuradha makes sure these women have medical care, healthy food, shelter and a future.

The Maiti Nepal staff is amazing. The food being prepared was nutritious and smelled delicious. I met HIV positive women and children who were living well at Maiti Nepal. They were being educated and getting the anti-retro viral medication they need to live normal lives. I held abandoned babies in my arms, all of them able to smile and trust humanity, because they were safe.

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