Dolma holds Nishan outside their home in Nepal.

Little Nishan is nearly ready to walk. “Then our lives will become even more hectic,” his mother Dolma says, with a smile.

Laughing together, Dolma and Nishan seem like any happy mother and baby. But standing with Dolma in the ruins of the family home, Nishan can’t know the danger he has been in during his short life.

This time last year, Dolma was only ten days away from giving birth.

Suddenly, the ground around her home began to shake. Then she and her husband were trapped in their collapsed house by Nepal’s massive earthquake.

Although the house was destroyed, they were able to make their way out after five minutes. What they saw then was shocking.

In their remote hillside community of 2,260 people, 160 neighbours were dead and 300 were injured, 65 seriously.

Eighty per cent of the buildings in their area were destroyed or badly damaged.

Going into labour

Dolma lies on a bed as a midwife hands her newborn Nishan wrapped in a blanket at a health centre in Nepal.

Ten days later, a team from the Japanese Red Cross was surveying the condition of 20 health clinics in the area.

In Dolma’s village, “we saw a totally flattened health clinic,” said Naoki Kokawa from the Red Cross team.

“Next to it there was an incomplete building with no windows and no door. A health officer, a midwife and a nurse were living under the roof.

“It was obvious that they could not provide health services and they told us that they were worried about seven pregnant women whose delivery dates were approaching.

“It was clear that it was not possible to deliver a baby in that place.

“When we were talking, a pregnant woman appeared whose labour had started.” This woman was Dolma.

Naoki asked the midwife to check how advanced Dolma’s labour was. Since Dolma had a few hours to go before the birth, Naoki decided to take her to the nearest town’s health centre.

He and the team drove Dolma one-and-a-half hours over very rough mountain roads and her husband followed on his motorbike.

Luckily, the larger health centre was undamaged and well equipped. Baby Nishan was born safely.

Disaster strikes twice

Days later, Nishan and his mother were resting in a cattle shed next to what remained of their home. Then Nepal’s second major earthquake struck.

Dolma scooped up her newborn and ran out just before a roof beam fell to the earth floor.

“We thought we would die so many times,” recalls Dolma.

“We had no money, no food or medicine. Everyone was suffering.”

Just enough to survive

Gradually help arrived.

The Red Cross provided the family with food, blankets and hygiene essentials such as soap. We also started work on a replacement health clinic.

The government helped with cash grants and other organisations provided roofing sheets and built toilets.

Even so, living in a three-by-six-metre temporary shelter was challenging during the monsoon season.

Blockages at the border between Nepal and India led to five months of shortages of vital supplies including food and fuel. When winter came, things got even harder.

“It was incredibly cold,” Dolma says.

“We lit a small fire in one corner and I held Nishan against me all the time. We put grass on top of the iron roof to try to keep some heat in.”

Naoki: another gift from the Red Cross

Dolma holds Nishan as a neighbour walks by carrying grass on her head outside their home in Nepal.

With warmer weather now, the family feels more confident.

The government has announced plans to give people grants towards rebuilding their homes. Friends and neighbours will help with sourcing materials and labour.

Remembering the help they got from the Japanese Red Cross when Dolma was in labour, the family asked the team for a Japanese name for Nishan.

They chose Naoki after Naoki Kokawa, who made the crucial decision to send Dolma to the health centre. The baby’s name is now Nishan Naoki.

“Nishan is crawling and is already a handful,” says Dolma. “We expect he will be walking in three to four weeks.”

Photos of Nishan at one year: IFRC © Carlo Heathcote
Photo of Nishan at birth: Finnish Red Cross © Mirva Helenius

Reporting: Phil Johnstone