As he helps distribute food to Nepalese families, Islamic Relief’s Fadi Itani learns that while the numbers of those affected might be daunting, the people are inspiring.
Numbers, numbers, numbers. Since when have people’s lives and suffering become numbers to be reported in the news?
This is what I keep seeing and hearing: in total, 39 districts have been affected. Nearly 5,000 schools have been lost. Twenty-one hospitals were damaged or destroyed; 17 of these are still operational. Forty per cent of Nepal’s population are children, and 1.7 million children are estimated to be in urgent need. USD $ 67.8 million funding has been received.
The number of public buildings destroyed is 142,388. Another 155,890 have been damaged. It’s as though we are talking about only bricks and mortar, when many of these were homes, and however small or modest they once were, used to hold between their walls dreams, hopes, aspirations and memories.
Every day, the death toll increases; 7,040 deaths have so far been recorded. At least 14,357 people have been injured. Eight million people have been affected.
Nobody would deny that these are distressing figures, but we’re in danger of reducing people’s lives and suffering to faceless numbers. Sisters, mothers, daughters, brothers, fathers, sons; those who have died, those who are injured; they meant everything to the people who loved them.
The sun rose at 5.20am. Families woke up, spoke to each other, talked about the day ahead, laughed, smiled. They began a day like any other. By the time the sun had gone down, their homes had gone, their families had gone, the roads to their communities no longer existed. Most people did not get to say goodbye.
Under current circumstances you would expect nationals to leave the country but I have seen the opposite. So many people are returning to Nepal to check what has happened to their loved ones, and to help wherever they can. International aid workers and search and rescue teams have been arriving from all over the world. I have met people from China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Korea, Turkey, USA, UK, and more. And those who live in Nepal, the most affected, they are leading the work to help.
Today, I went to Chhochen, in the Lalitpur district in Kathmandu valley. I met Ratenlal, 48, his father Asamero, 68, his wife Sarsavata, 41, and his two children Kritisha, eight, and Asharam, seven. Everything they had owned, they had lost, and all their dreams seemed trapped under the rubble. It was profoundly sad and I felt utterly powerless, but I was comforted by the knowledge that we are working hard to bring in more support for the people of Nepal.
The family was among the many people I saw who were trying to clear the rubble from their homes with their bare hands. Individuals, many of whom have lost people, properties, possessions, are doing what they can to rebuild their lives and to ease the burden on their neighbours. They inspire awe.
“Verily, with every hardship there is ease” (94:6).
I think of this Quranic verse as I go out with others from Islamic Relief to offer food to people, to talk to them, to listen – really listen – as they unburden themselves, and to hear truths in their silences as well.
I might be just another number. A single digit. But I am determined to see less the faceless numbers headlining the paperwork and more the distinctiveness of every story I am honoured to be told.
Show your humanity.