True Grit: One Mother’s Determination

Dhading, Nepal

Two years ago, as Hira Maya Shrestha prepared a meal for her husband and seven children, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck. The ground heaved and moaned under her feet. Her children were playing outside under the watchful eyes of her mother-in-law. She dashed out of the house, jumping down a few terraced fields, and yelled at her husband to gather the children and follow her. Hira was four months pregnant.

These were very tough days for Hira. It would take another eight months before her family could leave their temporary tin and tarpaulin dwelling and move back into their house. Naturally, Hira worried about her own health and the health of her unborn child in these difficult circumstances. But thanks to One Heart World-Wide’s (OHW) quick response after the earthquake, there was virtually no interruption to antenatal care or delivery services to families where we worked in the Dhading and Sindhupalchok districts of Nepal. Hira and women like her were not forgotten. OHW worked in conjunction with our partners to set up temporary birthing centers – tents fully equipped with all the staff and supplies to care for pregnant women and their newborns.

Five months later, when Hira went into labor, she made the 90-minute trek on foot to get to the temporary birthing center so that she could deliver with a skilled birth attendant. By the time she got there, she was exhausted and weak. “I can feel that pain in my stomach even now when I think about it,” Hira recalls. “I feel fortunate to have had a safe delivery. All my pain vanished away when I felt my baby boy in my arms.”

Today, her son Subam is a year and a half old. Trying to get him to fall asleep, Hira rocks him on her lap, gently patting his back, dabbing away beads of sweat from his forehead, cooling him down by blowing on him, and humming in his ears, but it is all in vain. As soon as she reckons he is finally asleep, and moves to place him into his cradle, he wakes up and starts to scream. “This little one has been a pain in my neck all day. Maybe he is restless because of the heat,” mumbles Hira. “He will not let me prepare lunch for my daughters, and tending the vegetable garden is out of question.”

Hira is only 30, but besides Suban, she has six other children – all girls – to care for. Three of her daughters – Sushmita, 9, Anjali, 7, and Anju, 5 – are playing a game of hide and seek while her second eldest daughter – Gyani, 13 – is bossing them around.

“Don’t you dare hide in the basement, it’s dark and you might hurt yourself,” Hira shouts, crossing her arms and looking a little irritated. Her second youngest, Aarati, 3, seems concerned about her younger brother and stares at him in consternation. Hira’s husband, Ram Hari, 53, has been away in Kathmandu for 13 days now. He is at the hospital with their daughter Samjhana, who recently broke her right arm.

Hira’s big family lives in Khatri village, a settlement of mud houses with slate roofs, wooden windows and doors, dispersed along the southern edge of a hill and dotted with terraced farms. It is a two-hour, tedious uphill drive from the main town of Dhading district in Nepal.

Hira’s journey through life has been filled with struggle. When she was 18 years old, Hira married a 40 -year-old divorcé, and has now lived through seven pregnancies, all while working over 15 hours a day on a rural farm. She lives with pain in her bones. Her back pain gets worse when she goes to bed. She is easily exhausted working around the home.

Fulfilling the basic needs of her family is an everyday challenge. Her family doesn’t have much, just an old house, weakened by the earthquake, a small vegetable garden, a plot of field to grow corn, millet, rice and maize throughout the year, two goats and three cows. The family’s produce is barely sufficient to sustain them. Ram Hari has suffered from asthma for a long time, so he cannot hold a job or work in the fields. The family is already knee deep on debt. Hira says she is counting on the mercy of god for better luck in the future.

“I don’t want to think about my problems. I believe god is watching over my children. Once in a while, people whom we owe money come to collect from us. I lock myself inside the house and let my husband deal with it. But we are strong; we even survived the earthquake. Everything will pass.” Now, Hira is most worried about her children. “My children are my world. They are our only hope for our old age. Our son is not healthy and strong and is prone to sickness easily. He already scared us to death when he caught pneumonia a while ago. I will do whatever it takes to at least give my children a good education,” says Hira.

Hira and women like her were not forgotten during one of Nepal’s most devastating natural disasters. Now, almost 2 years later, OHW has supported the full renovation of 9 birthing centers, partially upgraded and provided equipment to 131 birthing centers, trained 2,094 community outreach providers, trained 229 skilled birth attendants, trained 3,282 stakeholders, and served 10,626 individuals through health camps in the districts of Dhading and Sindhupalchok.

OHW is the second largest non-profit organization in terms of geographic reach working in the field of maternal and neonatal health in Nepal. It is aiming to reach more than 56,000 mothers in 2017 through its Network of Safety.

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