ASTHA'S JOURNEY AS A HUMANITARIAN 🌄Published: Aug 18, 2022 Reading time: 5 minutes
Today is World Humanitarian Day, and to mark this day, we'd like to share a story of one of our colleagues working with People in Need (PIN), Nepal, since its inception.
Meet Astha Pradhanang, who joined us after the devastating earthquake of 2015; a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, followed by a series of strong aftershocks. This was the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years; it killed nearly 9,000 people, destroyed over half a million homes and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands. People started coming out and supporting each other in any way possible. Astha, 21 at that time, started looking for possibilities to support her country. For the first time, she left her home in Kathmandu and began a journey that led to her becoming a humanitarian.
Born into a family of 13, it wasn't easy for Astha. She had never been out of the home or city alone. Astha notes, “as a woman, I was always told not to stay outside the house after five in the evening. People in Need called to appoint me and asked if I could work in the remotest areas of Gorkha district, the epicenter of. I told my father about it, and he asked me whether I was sure if I could do it or not. 'I will drop you there,' he said. At that moment, I felt, I am going to do this on my own; I will explore how life is outside of my house." After more than seven years, she is still continuing her journey with People in Need, responding to emergencies, reaching out to people in remote areas, and working closely with marginalized communities.
"When I joined PIN, I had no such plan to work in this sector. I started my first assignment in Gorkha, and during that time, I got the opportunity to work for the people living in some of the most hard-to-reach areas of Nepal. At that moment, I realized the importance of being a humanitarian actor providing life-saving assistance during any crisis or disaster. It was not just about the work or my independence; it was also about my responsibility towards humanity that motivated me to carry on," recalls Astha.
When asked why she chose a career with People in Need, Astha responded, "I chose and continued working for PIN because the organization works for vulnerable people living in the most hard-to-reach areas of the country. We used to walk for days to reach the affected areas, to reach out to people who are left behind and have limited access to services, so I felt my need there. Personally, I have grown a lot while working for PIN through various projects from earthquake to landslide and now responding to flood affected vulnerable population." She adds, "After the mega disaster in 2015, people of the affected areas started living in temporary camps either on public land or in rented space as they had no other safe place to settle. As a result of our continuous advocacy and facilitation, such displaced and landless households at risk of landslides were safely relocated."
While working in the field, Astha had to work in disaster-prone areas and sometimes had to pass through landslides, flooded areas, or risky areas. "Though it was challenging, we understood that our presence is necessary." Astha's work requires her to travel a lot, reaching out to the communities and meeting with government stakeholders. "In the field, if it's a remote area where there are no hotels, then we have to stay with local people at the houses or schools or occasionally at camps. During times of disaster and in emergencies, we might require to be in the field for a month or more. Sometimes one has to pass through multiple landslides or respond during a flood. Though there are hardships or struggles, the result it brings motivates me to be there."
In December 2019, Astha got severely sick. The doctors couldn't identify the problem. Astha shares, "After numerous check-ups, I was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease. I decided to quit my job because my doctor advised me to take adequate rest and avoid stress and sun exposure as it triggers lupus. Therefore, I couldn’t continue my job. I shared the problem with management, but to my surprise, they understood my problem and gave me the flexibility to work from home, taking all the precautions instead of quitting. They created a suitable environment for me to be comfortable working and provided me with other opportunities. For couple of months, I worked from home without travelling."
Currently, Astha is working as a Project Manager of a consortium project, ‘Durable Solutions III’. The project works with flood-affected landless people of Madhesh Province. The project aims to systematically include landless households at risk of flood to access governmental grants before, during and after floods through the facilitation of durable solutions for increased resilience of at-risk landless families. Around 1.3 million Nepalese households are landless or land-poor, living in all regions of Nepal but remain especially high in Terai (NPC 2020). Disasters such as floods displace families and communities, leading them to become landless. “I have seen how our small effort can change the life of the people and their entire families positively. These positive changes and the smiles on the faces of the people give me the energy to continue to work for vulnerable people," shares Astha.
Astha believed her job as an aid worker has changed her personally and professionally. "Coming out of the city, the comfort zone and the family circle, I had first-hand experience walking to remote areas and reaching out to the vulnerable, marginalized communities. I was working to empower rural women by advocating for their rights and ensuring their own health and safety. I could understand them, the human values we carry, and I started feeling or connecting to people. We shouldn’t tolerate any harm or injustice and raise our voices when necessary. We need to advocate for people, and be their voice. If we do not speak, who'll speak for them and for their rights."