Uma, 18: “I only have one leg but it’s given me one clear path. To help others like me.”
High in the Kathmandu Valley, Uma and her family are rebuilding their lives step by step following the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Their family home was destroyed in the disaster and Uma lost her leg. But after learning to walk again, the young woman is determined to support other people with disabilities.
© Alison Baskerville/Handicap International
Uma Silwal, 18, lives in a village called Godawari, high above the city in the Kathmandu Valley.
“We used to have a farm house which had been in our family for four generations. My mother worked the home and my father retired after a career in the fire service. We lived a quiet life,” comments Uma on life before the deadly earthquake hit on the 25th April 2015.
“We felt the ground shake and we ran. My brother was ahead of me. The wall to the cow shed collapsed. I was trapped under it. Umesh took my hand and my family pulled me out. I don’t remember much after that, just the pain.”
“I was taken to hospital and I woke up feeling like something was different. My leg had been taken away.”
In the first 2 weeks of being in hospital Uma refused to see her mother. “She is the closest thing to me and to see her would have been too upsetting.”
Umesh, Uma’s 21-year-old brother, escaped unharmed but was deeply affected by his experience. "When I look at Uma there is a physical sign that she was hurt,” he says. “For me the damage was emotional and I still feel traumatised by what happened to us.”
My prosthetic changed my life
It was the largest earthquake to hit the country in over 20 years, killing 8,000 people and injuring over 22,000. An additional 2.5 million people were left homeless and many are still living in temporary housing.
Located in a more rural area, Uma’s family home is only accessible by a steep dirt track. The house was actually destroyed in the earthquake, and the family is now living in a temporary shelter made of tin and wood. They are working on rebuilding the main house with the help of local workers.
Uma's mother has been working on the house for the past four months. Along with cooking for the family she is also involved in the manual labour and feeding the workers. "My mother does so much. Sometimes I worry that we take her for granted. She is the closest person to me and keeps our family together," says Uma.
After being discharged from hospital, Uma joined other patients at the Nepalese Disability Foundation, a local rehabilitation centre in the city supported by Handicap International. But it was a long journey from home and using public transport in Kathmandu is almost impossible for someone with a disability, as it is often overcrowded and cramped. This was made even worse by the fuel crisis that has affected transport across the country.
After some initial treatment Uma began to spend most of her time at home, confined to her small bedroom until Jay Narayan Yadav, a physiotherapist from Handicap International, came to visit her.
“I was just sat in my room, then Jay came along and taught me how to use my prosthetic. It changed my life, I thought I would never walk again. I knew I had to practice the exercises I was given every day so I could get back to college.”