Country Director Caroline shares how 40 seconds changed her life and millions of others

“Dear sponsors, supporters, well-wishers,

I want to start with expressing my sincere gratitude for your huge outpouring of moral and financial support! Knowing you’re not in this alone and that so many people are thinking of you and the Umbrella family in Nepal has meant a lot to all of us, including our children, youths and colleagues, so a deep heartfelt thank you!

25th of April – It was a warm and sunny day and I was on my way to the Dutch King’s Day celebration to sell some clothes in aid of Umbrella, when all of a sudden the car starting moving from left to right. Initially I thought we had a flat tyre but it hit me a second later that this was an earthquake, most likely THE earthquake. I started yelling “Get out! Get out! Earthquake!” Alice, from The Umbrella Trust Hong Kong was with me in the taxi at the time and miraculously, we both got out before a building came down on top of the taxi. We were ‘safe’. We had survived the earthquake that was meant to flatten the whole city and kill more than a hundred thousand people. Everything around us was damaged – collapsed buildings, toppled walls and cracked roads were everywhere. We were safe at least for now, I thought….but whether the children, youths and staffs were safe I could only confirm 5 hours later when I finally made my way back to Swoyambhu – normally a 15 minute taxi ride away. They were 5 of the scariest and shakiest hours of my life…

The children seemed surprisingly calm thanks to the staff on hand who handled the situation with calm and care. After I finally had made contact with the team in Ireland and my family in Holland, we had some biscuits for dinner and spent our first night out in the open, equipped with just blankets. The next day, we all went into survival mode – collecting tents and as much water and food as possible. There was still no phone network or electricity in Swoyambhu and we had never felt more isolated from the world. But slowly we started to get ‘organized’. The number of children, youths and staff staying at Umbrella camp increased and everyone was so helpful, including the children, in cooking, cleaning and setting up the tent.

A couple days later, I started joining the disaster management coordination meetings and realised that most of the people, especially organizations, in Kathmandu were starting to get into work and relief mode. I very quickly became familiar with the post-disaster humanitarian professional environment, people in caps and vests of various organizations sharing their experiences in previous disaster zones and how best to respond to the situation. My Nepal, our Nepal, had indeed become an internationally recognized disaster zone.

As a team we discussed the areas we should work in, was it relief or child protection, or a bit of both? We were very fortunate to get support from GOAL, a professional relief organization and after having reached out to our children, youths, their families and villages of colleagues with food and tents we decided to play to our strengths, and put our main focus on child protection projects in emergencies. Along with UNICEF and Next Generation Nepal, we started assessing the situation of separated, unaccompanied and orphaned children in 16 camps in Kathmandu where, fortunately, we did not find many. It became clear that the earthquake left children very vulnerable to exploitation of opportunistic traffickers so to prevent this we needed to establish gate-keeping mechanisms in the districts which comprised of a team to assess risks, local emergency shelters, rehabilitation and support for affected children and their families and a reunification project to allow orphaned children to stay with their living relatives.

Now, two months later, we have not only been able to provide our own children, youths, colleagues and their families with much-needed support but also hundreds of other children and their families. We are providing safe spaces for almost 150 children where they can play and learn safely while their families pick up the pieces. We’ve reached out to over 800 households with food, tents or mosquito nets. We have already intercepted traffickers from separating children from their villages. We also hope to establish temporary learning spaces in villages where schools have collapsed so the children have a fighting chance at being educated. Also during monsoon, we plan to build temporary houses in the most affected villages that most of our children and youths come from; run a temporary emergency shelter for those separated or at high risk while their family tracing and reunification begins; and open an emergency scholarship program for those children at high risk (often children orphaned by the earthquake).  We are hoping that you will continue to support us in our work which is impacting so many lives.

Your support has and will be essential in the recovery of this beautiful and inspiring country. As most of you know, Nepali are one of the strongest and most resilient people we will ever meet, but they are going to need all your support for a long time to come…

Thanks again and heartfelt wishes,