Shanti Giri, FCHV, Kot Danda-1 VDC, Sindhupalchowk

 

For two years, Shanti Giri and her husband have been living in a temporary shelter made out of wood and corrugated sheets of metal after their mud and stone house was destroyed in the April 25 earthquake in Nepal. Many of her neighbors in the Kot Danda-1 VDC of the Sindhupalchok district are in the same situation. It will probably take years for people to get back to their normal life. She and her husband are counting the days until their new house is completed so that she can “get out of their temporary shelter.”

 “This time, we are constructing an earthquake-resistant home out of concrete. We do not mind the loans to build the house; we are capable of paying it back,” says Shanti confidently. 

She feels lucky to have escaped the collapse of her house with not a moment to spare. She saved her husband’s life by dragging him outside, though he severely injured when his leg was caught under falling rubble.

For 13 years, Shanti, 35, has been a female community health volunteer (FCHV) – One Heart World-Wide’s “foot soldiers of change” – in Sindhupalchok. FCHVs are a critical part of One Heart World Wide’s Network of Safety program. They are the ones who register new pregnancies in the village, provide health education to mothers, encourage pregnant women to attend their antenatal care appointments and deliver at the health facilities, and keep track of deliveries at home. FCHVs were of even greater importance to One Heart and the families we serve during the earthquakes in 2015. 

In the initial days of the earthquake, Shanti rested little. She was preoccupied with tending to the wounded, pulling the dead from collapsed buildings, transporting the injured to the district hospital, and managing relief provided by the government and aid organizations. At night, she would care for the children and make sure the elderly had something to eat. 

Shanti’s resilience and determination fit perfectly when you learn more about her story.

Married at the tender age of 13, Shanti did whatever it took to get an education. Getting to class involved hours of travel on foot and by bus. To complete high school, Shanti had to lodge away from her husband. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees were no different: she once again left her husband and home behind to take classes. Today, she is the only woman in her village to hold a master’s degree. 

It’s uncommon to find a woman like Shanti in a remote village in Nepal, where women are typically married early, have multiple children by the time they are 20, toil in the fields and forests, and tend to all variety of household chores. While Shanti does not yet have children, many women in her village have more than five children. 

“My husband and I are finally planning for a kid. I was only ready to be pregnant once I completed my master’s degree,” says Shanti.

Because of her accomplishments and her prominent role as a FCHV, she is well respected in her village. People call her “Shanti Madam” and come to her with their problems both big and small. As a FCHV, she often finds herself resolving family disputes. Shanti and thousands of FCHVs like her are at the frontline of ensuring families have access to quality healthcare, including a safe pregnancy and clean delivery.

On April 28, just three days after the first earthquake, OHW launched an earthquake relief campaign in Sindhupalchowk and Dhading, the two hardest-hit districts. OHW focused on ensuring that pregnant women – an already vulnerable group in normal circumstances – received the care and attention they deserved. Because many of the birthing centers were completely destroyed or unsafe to enter, we set up and equipped tents to serve as temporary birthing centers. 

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.