Jajarkot Diaries: Journey to Myself

A powerful earthquake shook Jajarkot and its surrounding on the night of November 3, 2023. The quake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck at 11:47 PM, while most of the people were asleep. The aftermath was devastating, turning the once lively village into a scene of destruction overnight. The devastation gripped entire infrastructures; houses collapsed, roads cracked, schools got destroyed.

After the devastation, we, a team of psychologists and mental health workers from Centre for Mental Health and Counselling (CMC)- Nepal set out on a mission to offer psychological support to those affected in the area. As we embarked to our designated workstation, the severity of the situation became increasingly evident with every mile we covered. Our team had a mission of offering psychological assistance to individuals in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Locals from Jajarkot in front of their ruined houses

As I headed towards Jajarkot, a district in the mid-western part of Nepal, I had this schema that it was a severely underdeveloped and backward area where people struggle due to poor infrastructure, illiteracy and lack of basic facilities. However, I was amazed to see Jajarkot and adjoining districts, a community that was moving fast-forward to development. To my surprise, there were good pitched roads to the district headquarter, Khalanga. Even beyond Khalanga, though the roads were not pitched and perfect, buses and jeeps could get through, linking even the farthest corners of the area. There were health posts and basic hospitals available for emergency.

However, the scenario was a bit different due to the deadly quake. Upon arriving at Barekot (the epicenter), the extent of the damage was overwhelming- nearly everything was in chaos. And it was heartbreaking to witness the village after significant casualties and property damage. The deadly quake had crippled the daily life activities of people.

Temporary Basic Hospital.

At first, it was not so effective to explain our mission to a community because at that time people were seeking materialistic aid more than mental aid. However, gradually they realized how crucial mental relief was in the middle of the chaos that had taken over their lives.

In the course of time, we saw an amazing change, acceptance and gratitude replaced the confusion and doubt. People shared their stories, their grief and also their hope for the future. Through the counselling sessions and psychological assistance, we became close to them as they moved towards recovery. Seeing people find strength in the face of adversity and the resiliency of the human spirit was a humble experience. And during those times of sharing, we came to understand that our empathy and presence were just as important as any material help we could have provided. During my stay almost 3 and half months, I have listened stories of sorrows and relief of those affected; all their emotions from the root level where I came to know that even though experiencing ups and downs in life they hold into the hope that there will be a day where everything turns up as before.

As I bid farewell to Jajarkot, deep inside I was truly grateful for the ultimate opportunity that I got everyday- to serve them, to listen to their stories, being with them, to be more empathetic and compassionate and just to make even a small impact in their life in the face of adversity.

As psychologists, our role extended far beyond offering comforting words to those affected ones. We aimed to be a source of strength and compassionate ears for those in need. We tried our best to have an approach that was personal and empathetic to those innocent and suffering hearts. Through our actions, we tried to reassure them that they were not alone in their struggles, that together, we would navigate through the darkness towards the light of recovery and renewal to some extent.

Damaged hospital

I encountered many people who were mentally and physically affected due to the earthquake. A girl, Aarya (name changed) happened to fracture her leg while trying to escape from her house during the quake; her leg stuck suddenly and she couldn’t get out it out. But, at that scary time, her elder brother turned like a hero and saved her from the situation. She was severely injured and rushed to the hospital through helicopter.

When we visited her for counseling, we could see the bruises on her skin, but the hurt inside was even deeper. She told us that she felt like everything was going wrong when she got a leg injury. Aarya had a wide range of emotions- during our first visit for counselling- she explained that she refused to sleep in her house out of fear that there would be another earthquake. It was very difficult for her to recover from injury and alongside, she was stressed out due to her inability to perform school activities. She felt completely alone as a result of all these happenings, and on top of that, she had nightmares about the earthquake.

Loss and grief session to severely affected area.

In the following counselling sessions, Aarya was able to discuss her worries and anxieties in a secure environment. She felt more at ease about her racing thoughts after she was taught some relaxing exercises like deep breathing and grounding exercises. We emphasized to her the importance of talking to the people she loves about her feelings and assured her that it’s normal to feel the way she did as a result of what had happened. There was clear evidence of an important change in the follow-up schedules. Unlike the helpless eyes that we had seen before, Aarya greeted us with a beautiful smile. She expressed her excitement about returning to school soon. She slept comfortably in her renovated house again; the evenings that had previously worried her were bygone. Her coping strategies were strengthened with new techniques, and the exercises had become her companions during difficult times. Her family’s mental habits improved as they recognised the importance of emotional support during these difficult times. The healing process affected all aspects of Aarya’s life.

Aarya’s story is more than just one of survival; it also demonstrates how humans can overcome adversity and begin again. Aarya’s journey demonstrates her perseverance, capacity to overcome obstacles, and readiness to face the future. There were plenty of live cases that we were able to deal successfully to some extent and some remained in mid ways but after all we could sense the hope of waking up and rebuilding again for a better tomorrow.

Sessions to breastfeeding mothers

As I bid farewell to Jajarkot, deep inside I was truly grateful for the ultimate opportunity that I got everyday- to serve them, to listen to their stories, being with them, to be more empathetic and compassionate and just to make even a small impact in their life in the face of adversity. Seeing them accepting the situation and their resiliency was equally inspiring and humbling. Even though our journey is over, the road to recovery is still very much in front of us, brightened by the promise of a better tomorrow and a sense of hope.

My journey to Jajarkot has been transformative in my life. As a more confident and self-assured girl, I can feel the sense of growth within me. Each step I took in Jajarkot was like a brushstroke, painting over the canvas of my insecurities with strong strokes of strength and drive.

It’s incredible to think about how much I’ve grown throughout this journey. It is the journey that has taught me that if we put our minds to it, we can overcome any challenge. It’s amazing to see how much I’ve changed from someone who was shy to someone who faces challenges head on. Through challenges and gains, I’ve discovered strength within me that I never thought existed. This journey has not only impacted the lives of people we assist, but it has also shaped a new, more confident version of me.

(Katel works as a psychologist.)