NEW DELHI (CNS) — Sister Lisa Perekkatt was desperate and depressed. The superior of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth convent in Kathmandu was doing what she could to reach out to Nepal’s earthquake victims, but felt handicapped because of local rules and a lack of transportation and relief coordination.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were among 15 women religious congregations, most of them based in India, engaged in various ministries in Nepal. They all survived the magnitude 7.8-quake and have joined relief work.
“I feel so miserable and helpless,” Sister Perekkatt told Global Sisters Report by phone late April 29 after a hectic day.
Her day started by seeing off two sisters who left to assess the situation in Koshi Dekha, a village in Kavrepalanchok District, one of the 75 districts of Nepal.
She then called their driver to take her to the Social Welfare Council office on their scooter. The council gives permission for social work in Nepal.
“I could not meet the top officials, but a staff person there told me to come tomorrow for a meeting to plan relief works,” she said. “They wanted us to work with them.”
The proposal did not go well, and she was afraid the council would control relief works and funds and that needy people would never get any help. She said they would look for alternative ways after two nuns from another community join them May 1.
From the council office, Sister Perekkatt went to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, a central referral hospital close to their convent, Navjyoti (New Light) Center.
“I saw so many wounded and those suffering from shock and other psychological disorders,” said the nun, who is a nurse.
UNICEF has put up two tents in front of the hospital to treat patients. Sister Perekkatt said she was happy that the hospital was serving food to patients, their relatives and all others who had taken shelter inside the premises.
In another place in the hospital, she found a relief group conducting blood donation work. Even her driver registered his name to donate.
Her next stop was a suburb where one of her staff members, Dev Kumari, lives with her husband and two children.
They survived the quake because they were all outdoors when the tremor struck. They had been living out in the open since then, as their house was completely damaged. They could not get inside, and Kumari said they had been wearing the same clothes for the past five days.
Near Kumari’s house was a collapsed five-story building.
“Only the top floor could be seen. The Indian army personnel are trying to remove bodies from the debris,” Sister Perekkatt said.
She sat with Kumari and her neighbors and shared their anxieties and worries. They told her that they could not sleep at night because of fear and worries.
The desolate situation in the city was forcing many people to leave Kathmandu and return to their villages or to head for India.
“They have no place to stay as houses are damaged,” Sister Perekkatt said. “They have no jobs since all factories are damaged. They say they can find open space and water in their villages.”
The situation was turning grimmer in Kathmandu, where water had become scarce and toilet facilities were at a minimum.
“We are afraid communicable diseases will break out soon. It is a very pathetic situation,” Sister Perekkatt said.
She and her sisters tried to plunge into relief works a day after the disaster. They contacted Caritas Nepal and some Jesuits to seek ways to reach out to the people.
Another problem was getting gasoline. All pumps were closed for the first three days after the earthquake, and a few opened April 28 under pressure from authorities. Sister Perekkatt said she found long lines of vehicles at most pumps.
She said her community was lucky to escape unhurt from the earthquake. As soon as the quake began, everyone in their house, four nuns and 12 women who had come for training, ran out, along with their service staff.
They spent the first night in the open, then cleared their garage and moved in to get out of the rain. On April 28, they started going back to their rooms. They experienced tremors even April 29 and struggled without electricity for days.
She said casualties would have been higher if the quake had struck on a weekday. Nepal observes Saturday as the weekly day off. Schools, offices and factories were closed April 25. Even the Catholic Church conducts its services on Saturday instead of Sunday, which is a working day in Nepal. Most of the population of Nepal is Hindu.
(Jose Kavi is the editor-in-chief of Matters India, a news portal started in March 2013 to focus on religious and social issues in India. This article is part of a collaboration between Global Sister Report and Matters India.)