26 June - 2 July 2015 #764

The baby who lived

Two months on, the Awal family is homeless but happy that both their children survived the earthquake
Sahina Shrestha

It is an iconic image of the Nepal Earthquake: a baby, caked in dust, held up by rescuers on being dug out after 22 hours from under the rubble of a house in Bhaktapur.

Sonish Awal was just five months old, and the story of his miraculous survival made cover stories in newspapers and magazines in Nepal and around the world. Two months on, after countless interviews to reporters, the Awal family is still homeless but feels blessed that both children are alive.

HAPPY FAMILY: Rashmila Awal with her seven-month baby, Sonish, who was pulled out of the rubble of their home in Bhaktapur after 22 hours. Photo: Sahina Shrestha

“Sonish is a happy child,” says his mother, Rashmila, as she leads us to the ground floor of a friend’s house in Bhaktapur where the family is staying. “He has started to recognise me now.” The baby, now seven months old, looks up at his mother and smiles almost on cue.

After their building collapsed on 25 April, neighbours and Nepal Army rescuers tried frantically to look for survivors under the rubble. They rescued Rashmila’s daughter Sonia, but gave up as night fell. The next morning, Rashmila heard a faint cry from the ruins of their four-storey home and the soldiers returned to dig him out.

Today Sonish shows no sign of the ordeal except for a scar on his left thigh. He coos and gurgles as he tries to crawl on the floor of the unfurnished room. “Everything was stolen from the house including the gas cylinder and cooking utensils,” says Rashmila. “All I could salvage were a few clothes.”

The family was living in a tent at a school, but had to vacate when classes resumed last month. Sonish fell ill and lost a lot of weight, and with the rains coming Rashmila didn’t want to take any chances. Unable to afford a room to rent, Rashmila’s friend agreed to let her live in a room in their house.

“My husband is out of work, we don’t even have enough money to buy furniture,” she says, looking at the bare room. “For now we are sharing a room and kitchen with my friend. But you cannot depend on others forever.”

Shyam Awal is a driver, but with construction stopped by a government ban till mid-July he can’t find a job. “They have told him there may be no work till Dasain,” says Rashmila, who had to borrow money from her sister for Sonia’s school uniform. The only reason she can go to school is because someone paid her fees.

Sonia Awal was also rescued alive and now baby sits her brother when she is home from school.

Rashmila used to knit sweaters and socks to earn money, but she has her hands full with little Sonish who starts crying the moment he is left alone. After what she went through, Rashmila can’t let her baby out of her sight. Still glad that the family is alive, Rashmila can’t help worrying about the future. The little money they had saved is all used up, the house and property is co-owned by Shyam’s brothers.

Says Rashmila: “Both my children are miraculously alive, and that means more than all the money in the world.”

Read Also:

Two months old, Om Astha Rai

Rising form the dust

Tears of joy

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