“After the quake I only have one leg but it’s also given me one clear path. To help those who are like me.”
Uma, 18, lost her leg after Nepal earthquake. Thanks to Handicap International support, she received a prosthesis and can now walk again.
Uma, 18, in National Botanical Gardens in Kathmandu. | © 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.”
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.”
After returning to college, Uma chose to keep her disability a secret and disguised her limp with the excuse she had damaged her leg in the earthquake. Only one friend knew the full truth. “I can do most things that I did before I was injured. It’s still hard for me to walk on hills and over rough ground, but I manage,” she says.
“Mandeera Bajracharya (19) knows all about me. She is my best friend. I tell her everything. I don’t want to be treated differently to the other pupils, so it’s better for me to hide it. If they go trekking they won’t ask me to come along, and I don’t want that. I can do the same as everyone else, just in a different way.”
"I love trekking and I try to walk as much as I can on my prosthetic. I don't want people to even notice that I'm disabled as they will treat me differently," comments Uma as she climbs a hill in the National Botanical Gardens in Kathmandu.
Prior to the earthquake Uma was studying engineering. Her father had just retired from a long career in the Nepalese Fire Service and was adjusting to life at home with a reduced income. “I knew I had to get educated and find work so I could help support my family,” says Uma.
“Before this happened I used to see people with disabilities in the streets. I had no understanding what life would be like to be one of them. Now I am one of them. I must now do more to help them and I am training as a social worker to support people with disabilities.”
Uma has decided to change her degree to social work. “I had a few choices ahead of me before the earthquake. It felt like with two legs I have two paths to take. After the quake I only have one leg but it’s also given me one clear path. To help those who are like me.”