In Dolakha District, a young boy has been actively disseminating his learnings from trainings in disaster risk reduction with friends and family to help build his community’s resilience
Dolakha, Nepal - Abiraj Shiwakoti pulls a cloth bag hanging off of a hook outside his home in Kalinchowk in Dolakha Distict and lays out the contents on the floor one by one. First comes a sheaf of important documents encased in a plastic file, followed by a bottle of water, a pen and a torch, among other items.
This is a ‘jhatpat jhola’ or a go-bag, packed ready with some essential things the family might need in case of a disaster. “This way we won’t have to scramble to find things if we have to run,” says the 14-year-old. “It will all be in one place.”
These are the sort of preemptive measures and general vigilance against disasters that Abiraj has been practicing since being involved with the UNICEF-supported Child-Friendly Disaster Risk Reduction (CCDRR) Programme. Dolakha had been the epicentre of a major earthquake in 2015 – an aftershock of the Gorkha quake. Besides earthquakes, Kalinchowk’s steep, hilly terrain means it is among the areas most vulnerable to landslides in the district, particularly during the monsoon season.
Indeed, even in June, before the rains have begun in proper, small rivulets are already crisscrossing the narrow path down a thickly-wooded hillside to Abiraj’s house. “It’s not just landslides that are a risk here,” he explains. “Just recently, there was a fire in these woods. Thankfully, it didn’t spread much, but it’s becoming more common.” He adds that attacks by wild monkeys are another major threat in the area.
It was with such persistent hazards in mind that the CCDRR had started working with the local government in Dolakha to ensure that children and their families were better prepared for disasters.
Among the programme’s initiatives was close engagement with child clubs in the area, training the members so as to raise their understanding of and capacity to respond to disasters. And this included the child club that Abiraj currently leads as president – the Nectar Child Club at the Shree Kalika Secondary School.
“The trainings and activities were very practical,” Abiraj gushes. “We explored and mapped what kind of disasters we should be most prepared for, learned basic search-and-rescue techniques and first aid treatment, and did several simulation exercises.” Under his tenure, the child club has also organized different extracurricular activities focused on disasters.
And what is the key lesson he has gleaned from all this? “First, that readiness starts mainly in the mind,” Abiraj says.
“And secondly, that children are not just helpless bystanders in a disaster, but can actually do something, like spread awareness and even respond to an emergency situation.”
Testament to Abiraj’s eagerness to share his newfound knowledge is the fact that he never misses a chance to tell his parents or others in the village about ways to prepare for and stay safe in a disaster. “He’ll come home and share with us whatever he’s done at a training, what he’s learned,” says mother Shanta. “Before this, all I knew was that you were supposed to run if there was an earthquake, but he has taught us so much more.”
“Every time he leaves for school, he’ll point to the jhatpat jhola and remind me to take it if anything happens,” she adds with a smile. “It’s like we are being trained too.”
For Abiraj, he feels it is his duty to pass on the information to as many people as possible. “This is something everyone should know,” he says. “The whole community needs to be aware and work together to reduce the effects of disaster.”