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," she explains about her life before the deadly earthquake struck on April 25, 2015. "My mother worked at home and my father retired after a career in the fire service. We lived a quiet life.”
“We felt the ground shake and we ran. My brother Umesh was ahead of me. The wall to the cow shed collapsed. I was trapped. 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.”
It was the largest earthquake to hit the country in more than 20 years, killing 8,000 people and injuring another 22,000. An additional 2.5 million people were left homeless and many are still living in temporary housing.
Uma’s family home is only accessible by a steep dirt track. The house was destroyed, 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.
After being discharged from the hospital, Uma joined other patients at the Nepalese Disability Foundation, a local rehabilitation center in the city supported by Handicap International. But it was a long journey from home and using public transportation 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 transportation 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 physical therapist from Handicap International, came to visit her.
“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. “Mandeera Bajracharya knows all about me. She is my best friend. I tell her everything. I don’t want to be treated differently than 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.”
Prior to the earthquake Uma was studying engineering. Her father was adjusting to life at home with a reduced income after retiring. “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.”