A tale of two brothers
In central Nepal, brothers Bikram and Selkar – whose home and family were torn apart in the 2015 earthquakes – have beat the odds and stayed in school
Nuwakot, Nepal – As 16-year-old Bikram Tamang places a pot of rice on the stove, his younger brother, Selkar (14), walks in the door with a handful of vegetables freshly picked from the garden. The two don’t speak much as they prepare the midday meal together in the kitchen of their newly rebuilt house in the remote Samari Village in the Nuwakot District, located in central Nepal. But there’s an easy rhythm between them, which is evident in the way they move around each other, lending a hand without being asked.
Bikram is especially thankful for his younger brother’s help with chores at a time when he himself is immersed in preparations for the upcoming Secondary School Examinations (SEE). This is the national exam taken by grade 10 students in Nepal. Although there are a few subjects he struggles to keep up with, he is expecting a B+ grade overall, maybe even an A, “if I work hard enough,” he says with a smile.
To make sure he achieves his goal, during school days, Bikram has been staying at his sister’s place in the market area, which is closer to his school. His tuition classes start at five in the morning and his elder sister – who has two young children, and a husband working in Malaysia – thought it might help him focus better if he stayed with her.
Bikram hopes that all the effort he’s putting into his studies now will lead him towards his goal of becoming a teacher.
“I believe that when you teach others what you know, you learn new things and increase your own knowledge,” he explains. “That’s why I want to teach.”
He’s already getting some practice as his younger brother comes to him when he has trouble with his own schoolwork. Bikram does his best to guide him during the weekends and holidays he spends in the village. While Selkar doesn’t have a fixed idea yet of what he wants to do in the future, he thinks it will likely involve something that would make life easier for his community.
“Right now, a lot of the basic provisions in our village have to be brought here all the way from the city,” he says. “So, I would like to see if there could be a way to produce these items in the village itself, to be used by our own people.”
These ambitions and hopes were very nearly buried under rubble when two massive earthquakes and numerous aftershocks struck Nepal in 2015. Nuwakot was one of the hardest-hit districts and the disaster tore apart not just the house the brothers were living in, but their family as well. Bikram and Selkar’s mother was among the many who did not survive. Having already lost their father to illness many years ago, the grief-stricken boys were suddenly entirely alone, with no adult to take care of them.
What’s more, with their house damaged beyond repair, Bikram and Selkar had to move into a temporary shelter. It had iron sheets for walls and a tarpaulin roof. “It was so cramped, and became very stuffy when it was hot outside and freezing when it was cold,” Selkar remembers.
Fortunately, their elder sister came to the village to stay with them. The siblings were later joined by their elder brother who came back from a job overseas to help rebuild their house.
In the meantime, the boys also received emergency cash support from UNICEF, as part of the organization’s Family Preservation Programme. The cash support ensured that vulnerable children, like Bikram and Selkar, stayed in school and were protected from neglect, exploitation, abuse and trafficking during the aftermath of the earthquakes. The brothers also benefited from the UNICEF-supported child protection case management system, where a local social worker regularly visited them to ensure they received the full range of services that would meet their immediate and long-term needs.
A long way
On a balmy February afternoon, the siblings’ sister, Dolma, is all decked out in traditional wear to go to the Lhochhar festival, celebrating the Tamang community’s new year. Watching Selkar play with his little niece in the courtyard outside her rented room, she talks about how far her brothers have come in the past two years.
Indeed, the brothers have moved into their new house, a modest two-room structure. Having lived in the temporary shelter, they say they will never take these comforts for granted. “We have a place to keep our provisions, a place to sleep and study,” Bikram says. “Even though our kitchen is currently in our bedroom, we’re planning to move that to a separate place too.”
Their elder brother, who is now married and has a young child, also decided to stay in Nepal and is a construction worker in the neighbouring Rasuwa District. Their sister-in-law lives with them, but she is often away at her parents’ house. This means the boys are mostly on their own, taking care of the house, the farm and the livestock between them.
While he admits it makes him sad that all the members of their family are not together under the same roof anymore, Bikram says he really can’t complain. Thanks to the support of their elder brother and sister, “we are not under too much pressure, and are able to devote our full time to our studies,” Bikram says.
That will hopefully continue after the Secondary School Examinations as well. Bikram wants to pursue higher studies in Kathmandu, but only if his siblings can afford to send him there. If not, he’s happy to continue going to the local school. As for Selkar, Bikram plans to support his education the way his elder sister and brother have done for him and help him get a bachelor’s degree.
“My brothers are both good boys, they work hard. They don’t trouble us and listen when we tell them not to become distracted from their studies,” Dolma says. “Of course, it’s difficult sometimes, but I help them as much as I can. They are like my own children, after all.”