If it were not for the death of a young woman at childbirth, many people in Giranchaur village of Sindhupalchok district could have died when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake flattened their houses on 25 April last year.
The villagers had gathered outside to attend the funeral of 23-year-old Purnima Tamang, who had died after struggling for days to give birth to a baby. She was not taken to hospital because the villagers thought that her labour pain was a result of the wrath of the goddess.
“It was a Saturday, and we normally used to spend Saturdays indoors watching television,” recalls 62-year-old Tasang Tamang. “But we were out that day for Purnima’s ritual. Her death saved our lives.”
One-and-a-half years later, the villagers of Giranchaur still remember Purnima as a young, beautiful and cheerful woman. They no longer remember the ruins of their destroyed houses, and the rainy and chilly nights they spent in flimsy tents for the past year and a half.
People in Giranchaur now have new, clean and earthquake-resistant houses to live in. As thousands of earthquake survivors wait for the second instalment of housing grants from the National Reconstruction Authority, 56 Tamang villagers recently moved into three-room houses with separate kitchens, bathrooms and spacious verandahs. They also have solar, drinking water and internet facilities.
At a time when Nepalis are frustrated at the delay in post-earthquake recovery, the construction of a model village in Giranchaur is a shining light. “For us it is a rare beacon of hope,” says anthropologist Suresh Dhakal. “It has inspired other philanthropists, and put more pressure on the apathetic government.”
The Giranchaur model village was built by an unlikely activist: the Dhurmus Suntali Foundation. Initiated by Sitaram Kattel and his partner Kunjana Ghimire (pictured), the most popular comedian duo on Nepali Television, the Foundation is now developing Giranchaur village as a homestay tourism destination.
Giranchaur is located on a mountain top against the backdrop of Ganesh Himal, and above the Indrawati River. With comfortable home-stay, paragliding and a chance to observe the rich Tamang and Newar culture, Giranchaur could attract many tourists.
Named after Kattel and Ghimire’s most iconic television characters ‘Dhurmus’ and ‘Suntali’, the Foundation previously built 19 model houses in the earthquake-ravaged Paharigaun of Kavre district. It collected Rs 5.85 million from the television serial Meri Bassai, another serial Bhadragol and the social networking site www.sagun.com.
Dhurmus and Suntali made a personal contribution of Rs 900,000, and themselves worked on the construction of the model houses.
After Kavre, Dhurmus and Suntali wanted to build another model village in Sindhupalchok, the worst earthquake-affected district. When they reached Giranchaur village, not many people believed that television actors could actually help them.
“Initially, I did not trust Dhurmus and Suntali,” said Bahadur Tamang, who has recently moved to a new model house in Giranchaur. “But I soon realised they meant it. They worked day and night themselves, and built houses for us.”
After the success in Kavre, more people trusted Dhurmus and Suntali, and they raised Rs 491 million from Nepalis living within and outside the country. At least 225 people, including 70 masons and 65 labourers from the village, worked on the houses. The Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police also contributed.
Dhurmus and Suntali also sold their two-storey house and shifted to a one-storey one to manage the new project.
After the earthquake, they have stopped producing television serials to focus on their reconstruction projects. Their daughter is sick, and doctors have advised them to take her abroad for treatment, but personal loss did not stop them from working tirelessly for earthquake-survivors.
“Our hearts burn with pain when we see the broken state of our country,” says Dhurmus. “We feel immense satisfaction when we contribute to rebuilding the country. ”
Surya Raj Acharya, an expert on infrastructure building, says Dhurmus and Suntali have not only inspired Nepalis but also set an example of integrated development. “In a mountainous country like Nepal, it would not be possible to build infrastructure for all the scattered households,” he says. “To build the houses at minimum cost, we need the kind of integrated village that Dhurmus and Suntali have helped set up.”