Rubina Lama is playing at a temple near her school in Kathmandu when the ground begins to tremble. When the earthquake stops, she tries to stand up, but realizes she can’t move. The bricks are too heavy on top of her small, seven-year-old body. Rubina opens her eyes, but cannot see the sky.
Several days later, Kriti Biadya and Ritesh Adah are surveying the damage at Rubina’s school. Kriti and Ritesh are employees of Splash, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that cleans water for kids living in urban poverty. Splash’s water filtration systems are installed at over 170 schools throughout the Kathmandu Valley, and the team is out checking each school’s water system for damage.
Kriti and Ritesh find Rubina and her parents living in a classroom of the Shree Nandi School, the school in which Rubina once studied. Rubina, pulled from the rubble days ago, is in great pain. Both of her legs are broken and part of her pelvis is crushed. Her internal infections are becoming life threatening. She needs immediate care.
Kriti contacts her colleagues at Splash-Nepal, who respond at once. The Splash-Nepal team — accompanied by photographer, Gavin Gough — rush to move Rubina to Sushma Korala Memorial Hospital where orthopedic and pediatric surgeons from Mercy Malaysia agree to assist. Rubina is preppred for surgery. For the first time in nearly a week, there is hope.
The 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25th 2015 killed more than 9,000 people and injured over 23,000. News of the Nepal earthquake spread quickly around the world as foreigners scrambled to deliver aid. Within days, Nepal’s arterials clogged, their airways congested, and at times, even their borders closed. Disaster relief was slow at best.
Meanwhile, Splash was delivering clean water to more than 100,000 people per day throughout the Kathmandu Valley. Splash — although not in the disaster response business — has a business model in Nepal that enabled immediate response in a crisis.
Splash has been providing clean water for kids in Nepal since 2007, with the goal of providing sustainable WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) in all 650 public schools across Kathmandu by 2020. When the earthquake hit, Splash had 26 local staff implementing water projects across 171 schools, serving clean water to over 60% of the student population in Kathmandu.
Splash relies on local infrastructure, local intelligence, and local collaboration. Without having to import supplies or recruit workers from outside the country, Splash wasted no time. The day after the earthquake, Splash-Nepal employees were back at work, surveying the damage of their water filtration systems, running ad hoc seminars on sanitation and hygiene, supporting colleagues who had lost their homes, distributing clean water to the community, and finding help for children injured during the disaster.
Kriti, along with the rest of the Splash-Nepal team, was happy to discover that the majority of the water projects had survived the quake. Clean water was still reaching thousands of people in this dire time of need. However, much work still needed to be done. Roughly 42 water systems had incurred minor damage requiring one or two days of repair and plumbing work. Splash’s Headquarter staff (located in Seattle, Washington) stayed put while the team in Nepal went to work.
Six months later, Rubina is walking to her school to meet Gavin, the photographer who had accompanied her and the Splash-Nepal team to the hospital. At Rubina’s school, a new building now stands beside the old one. Classes are back in session, and clean water is flowing from Splash’s taps.
Rubina is wearing a festive pink dress. She greets Gavin in traditional Nepali fashion. They sit together amongst the school’s ruins and Rubina shows him the tiny scars on her legs. Then she asks him to watch her run. Gavin does, capturing her movement with his camera. Rubina is smiling as she dashes past the temple that nearly claimed her life.