When we met six-year-old Kritagya Adhikari lying on a mattress with a broken arm bandaged and slung over his shoulder, he was still writhing in pain. He had injured himself after he fell down near his house during a brief aftershock of 4.2 magnitude on 7 May in Nilkantha Municipality. The Municipality lies in a remote corner of the heavily dilapidated Dhading district, 100 kilometres west of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
Kritagya has been living in fear ever since he saw houses crumble and people get injured during the first 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25 April.
“This time, he panicked even more and ran so much in fear,” his father Chiranjibi Adhikari told us at the UNICEF-provided medical tent set up within the premises of the district hospital, which was heavily packed with patients and medical workers.
Chiranjibi is more worried about his son’s state of mind than his arm injury and that was our major concern as well. As we sat near Kritagya, he just looked blankly at us and he neither smiled nor wanted to speak. He had a very low morale and wanted to be left alone.
This was one of the many trips that my colleague and photojournalist Kiran Panday and I had made in the earthquake-affected Nepali towns and villages for UNICEF exploring the situation of children and women during the aftermath of the disaster as well as the impact of UNICEF’s support in the earthquake affected districts.
Kritagya was really the first child that we had met who seemed extremely demoralized. Most children we’d met children usually smiled and posed for photos and also ushered us around their dilapidated homes and schools. We had also noticed the positive energy of their parents that seemed to have a direct influence on those children.
But we could see that the parent in Chiranjibi struggled to deal with his traumatized son. He seemed very stressed himself in helping his family deal with the calamity and in trying to rebuild their home that had turned to rubble.
We could feel his despair and decided to call UNICEF communications team for advice. The team asked us to link Chiranjibi up with UNICEF’s recently launched radio program Bhandai Sundai (Saying Listening). The afternoon slot, which was focused on psychosocial counseling for earthquake-affected children, was about to go live in five minutes. We immediately called the radio anchor, who agreed to put Chiranjibi on air.
After a very quick explanation, Chiranjibi was also ready to speak with a psychologist about his son’s condition.
“I am worried that my son panics even if there is slight shaking,” he said on air. He explained how other parents like him were becoming helpless to calm their panicky children in his village.
The psychologist responded to Chiranjibi saying that parents and guardians should ensure that children understand that aftershocks are normal after a big earthquake and that children need to be occupied with games and child-friendly group activities to promote interaction among other children.
His father’s conversation with the anchor seemed to rouse Kritagya’s interest too. He crept closer to his father to listen to what the psychologist was saying.
Satisfied with the anchor’s response, and his son’s reaction, Chiranjibi said that he hoped that the unique radio programme would “reach the millions of other parents who constantly suffer like me worrying about their children affected by earthquake.”
“I feel good now,” he told us, looking slightly relieved.
This brief encounter with Kritagya and Chiranjibi made me realize that in its own way the radio programme is making a positive impact on the earthquake-affected people in Nepal. Now, wherever I go, I make sure that I share about this unique programme so that each and every child, woman and family can get out of the trauma that the earthquake has brought upon us in Nepal.
Naresh Newar, based in Kathmandu, is a journalist with more than 16 years of experience of reporting on humanitarian issues with special focus on rights of children and women. He works as a correspondent for IRIN News, Inter Press Service News and Nepali Times.