ECUADOR DISPATCHES, OCT 2015, THE INTERNATIONAL REPORTING PROJECT

> BUZZFEED NEWS | How A Prison Radio Show Has Changed Women’s Lives

 

BUZZFEED NEWS

How A Prison Radio Show Has Changed Women’s Lives

The anchor’s raspy voice is distinctly Colombian. She pauses for a brief second and continues in Spanish.

“In a world where bureaucracy keeps growing and there is an excess of information, we also run the risk that our voices drown. The great challenge is to find out a way to respect other people’s projects, in a critical way, allowing all voices to be heard. Otherwise we run the risk, like Maggie, where a specific group in society looks for more destructive ways to be heard.”

The woman speaking, 34-year-old Diana Rojas, isn’t referring to some great philosopher or activist icon. She’s talking about Maggie, the baby on The Simpsons. And Rojas isn’t a traditional radio journalist — she’s an inmate at a women’s prison in Ecuador.

This was the 67th episode of the award-winning radio series Palabra Libre, hosted and produced by female inmates from a studio inside the Center for Social Rehabilitation. The prison, which holds approximately 700 inmates, is in Latacunga, nestled close to Cotopaxi, the world’s most monitored volcano.

The episode, titled “The Simpsons’ Philosophy,” aired in March 2015 and became the most popular one since the series began in September 2011. After the episode was uploaded online, it had more than 1,500 downloads.

Rojas’s voice fades and another anchor, Andrea Carates, jumps in. The handover sounds professional and practiced. “Silence is a sign of complex thinking, silence is gold,” says Carates, in a Latin American accent distinct from Rojas’s. “As Heidegger, one of the biggest philosophers on the pre-Socrates era said, ‘Silence is essential to live a truly authentic experience.’”

In the United States, popular podcasts like Serial can bring in more than a million listeners per episode. But in a country like Ecuador, where mainstream shows likeDesde Mi Visión and Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes had a few thousand downloads per episode weekly, Palabra Libre’s reach is significant. What’s truly extraordinary, however, aren’t the listener numbers: it’s where the program is broadcast from.

Palabra Libre — translated it means “free word” — began as a way to humanize those in the nation’s penal system and nurture inmates’ life skills. The program is a collaboration between Ecuador’s Ministry of Justice and provincial government of Pichincha to help “personas privadas de libertad” — people deprived of physical liberty — to reintegrate into society by participating in the arts. The program first began at a men’s prison in Ibarra; based on its success there, a similar program was incorporated into the women’s prison in El Inca in 2011.

Palabra Libre has defied its creators’ expectations. In October 2014, Palabra Libre won first place in the category “programs produced by students” at the10th International Radio Biennial Competition in Mexico, which included 980 programs hailing from 19 countries across the world. Given by the Secretariat of Public Education and the National Council for Culture and the Arts in Mexico, the award recognizes new developments in radio and communication in Latin America.

But its greatest impact may be on the participants themselves, approximately 40 of whom have been through the program. “Even if I am here in a sea of sadness, my soul rejoices with everlasting happiness, because I can communicate the value of the word ‘freedom’ throughout this radio program,” 49-year-old Alejandra Tamariz said in another episode. “I can express what I think, what I believe, what I feel, because I have the opportunity to raise emotions and expressions.” Even though she is incarcerated, she said the program makes her feel “without limits.”

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Sitting outside the winding monochrome corridors of Ecuador’s Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Religious Affairs in Quito, Tamariz’s round wooden earrings swayed in the wind as she reached into an oversize bag of K-chitos, her breakfast on that foggy morning. As she picked out a bright orange crisp, she laughed heartily and exclaimed, “I hate this color. No more orange, please!”

The color, she said, reminds her of the uniforms in Latacunga. It’s been five months since her pre-release from the facility, yet small things often take her back to the time where sitting outdoors and relishing junk food would not be possible without a surrounding fence or a guard watching.

Tamariz is from Guadalajara in Mexico, but she hasn’t been home or seen her family in almost five years. Involved in a petty drug smuggling act, she was caught at the Quito airport with a small quantity of cocaine in her bag, enough to get her implicated for seven years under Ecuador’s stringent drug-trafficking laws. While she has been released on probationary grounds for good behavior, she is unable to leave Ecuador until the completion of her formal sentence.

Her dark eyes, thickly outlined with green and blue eyeliner, light up when she talks about her former role as producer and coordinator of Palabra Libre.

“The radio show gives me hope,” she said. “It provides me with a vision for my future, because I messed up the past.”

Sitting next to Tamariz is her former cellmate and friend, Rojas, a Colombian with fiery red hair. Like Tamariz, she had been released for good behavior but was stuck in Ecuador until her formal sentence came to an end. She’d been quiet, but at the mention of the show, she becomes emotional, saying, “You return to your routine in the prison afterward, but at least for a few moments you thought about other things.”

The show began as a vocational training workshop. Tamariz and Rojas were taken through all the elements of production, from scriptwriting, recording, and editing segments to voice modulation, linguistics, and sound. These classes were the rare respite they had been craving. “I made a stupid mistake and landed up in prison and missed my son’s entire childhood,” said Tamariz as she fidgeted with the shoelaces of her worn canvas shoes.

Before the show, Tamariz threw herself into the few recreational activities offered in Latacunga, like aerobics and basic computer training. They were much-needed distractions to help the time pass until Sundays, when she’d be granted five minutes to Skype with her now-11-year-old son. (“He thinks I am working in radio in Ecuador,” she said. “He doesn’t know that I have done something wrong.”) By the time she became the coordinator for the radio program, she was already teaching a computer class to other inmates.

Since its inception, the program hit on themes of free expression and was aimed at not just other incarcerated people, but also those outside the prison. “It is not only for us, but for the people outside to make a connection with us,” said Tamariz.

Radio has a rich history in Latin America, acting like the old town square, where civil complaints could be aired.

For decades, radio has given a “voice to the speechless,” said Catalina Valenzuela, a contributor and partner at TECHcetera, an independent digital platform targeted at Spanish-speaking, non-tech-savvy audiences. “Through various shows people, citizens, have been able to air their problems — personal and political — and to discuss them with other listeners or with the shows’ anchors. Radio shows are still today a key political place for citizens, policymakers, and opposition leaders alike.”

The traditional format is especially important in regions where digital literacy levels are low. “Radio signals can travel across the Andes more efficiently than TV signals, and while television became popular much later, radio accompanies our life because it runs 24/7 like internet access in the First World: It is ubiquitous,” Valenzuela added.

Eric Samson, coordinator of multimedia journalism at the University of San Francisco in Quito (USFQ), Ecuador’s capital city, has studied the evolution of Palabra Libre. He explained that the concept was first tested with female inmates at El Inca Prison, which was an older, less strict facility north of Latacunga that has now closed. (There were no uniforms and inmates were free to access the internet, use the phone, and see visitors.)

“It was all about conveying a message of humanity from the imprisoned women to the outside world, that even though we have made mistakes, we are not beasts and have a voice and want a chance,” Samson said. “It’s a clear-cut example of democratizing freedom of expression and incentivizing artistic aptitudes.”

When the show began in 2011, a team of 14 women devoted themselves to the production. Complete autonomy was given to the radio team when it came to choosing themes and topics, conducting research and interviews, writing scripts, and subsequently presenting. “We wanted to deliver a product that was informative, created conversation and reflection, and made listeners aware that there is neutral communication coming from within the prison,” said Tamariz.

All the necessary infrastructure and equipment to make radio was provided by the Ministry of Justice, and a mini radio booth and studio were set up with its help and resources. Local Ecuadorian inmates got paid for their work, while non-Ecuadorians like Tamariz didn’t. “For me, it was purely my passion that made me put my heart and soul into this,” she said.

A concerted effort was made to veer away from personal stories and anecdotes and toward broader concepts. “It’s a program for society, and not for the inmates. It helps our own learning and also we don’t want any pity; we want respect,” Rojas said. Still, during Christmas, when everyone is homesick, the radio show incorporates audio snippets from telenovelas to lighten the mood and lift spirits.

The 60-minute segments have covered topics from freedom of speech and LGBT rights to football, sex, and the history of the Galapagos Islands. Tamariz said that they research topics at the library. “We still prefer the Mills & Boon [British romance] novels and [Gabriel García] Márquez romance novels and Harry Potter series in prison,” Rojas added with a smile.

The segments can vary widely. “I created this section called ‘The Time Capsule’ where we take listeners through time to historical figures like Al Capone and Leonardo da Vinci,” said Tamariz. Sometimes they even host debates between themselves and 22 Mil Voices, a program broadcast from a men’s prison.

Listeners send feedback to the prison. Some criticize the lack of spontaneity in the program, complaining that inmates sound too scripted, but most laud their efforts. In particular, female listeners have called or written in thanking inmates for covering controversial topics like abortion, which is prohibited under Ecuador’s criminal code.

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After Tamariz’s probationary release, the legacy of Palabra Libre has continued, but with some challenges. There are now only eight people inside the prison who are producing the show. Some of those involved behind the scenes think the prison should take the program in a new direction.

Luisa Pluas Orozco has been the program’s coordinator since Tamariz’s release in mid-2015. Prior to becoming the coordinator, she used to be involved in the radio program’s research and narration. Over email, she explained that current inmates are experimenting with a show called When Science Transgresses Reason, a debate show. “It’s a big responsibility because I am a guide who has taken the reins and am creating a path for future producers,” Orozco wrote.

Meanwhile, USFQ is finalizing an agreement with the Ministry of Justice that will allow inmates to take university classes from within the prison. “The initiative is very healthy and I am hoping we can soon provide classes on packaging at the centers,” Samson said. He said that bringing students into the prison to teach the inmates will, in turn, benefit students themselves. “I want them to know what it’s like inside a prison and how it’s important to empower inmates.”

Tamariz and Rojas both say their time in radio is far from over. As part of the process of social and professional reintegration of detainees promoted by the ministry, inmates on probation will air a new radio program called Pata Llucha (“bare feet”). The focus will be on indigenous groups in Ecuador.

Pata Llucha will be recorded in Quito at the offices of Radio Pichincha. Tamariz and Rojas said they were looking forward to working in a professional radio studio and going out into the field to report. “We don’t have to rely on people coming to the studio in the prison,” said Rojas excitedly. “Here we can actually go to them.”

“My journey will not end when I walk free,” said Tamariz, referring to the end of her probation, as she finished her last K-chito and licked her fingers. She hopes to continue pursuing radio, whether teaching the skill to other inmates back home in Mexico or trying her luck at becoming an independent radio entrepreneur. Her dream project is to start a program aimed at Ecuadorians abroad.

“I want to focus on Ecuadorians who live away from home in other parts of the world. If I can take that to jails in Mexico and offer a support network, I will really come full circle,” she said.

As the clock struck 11, she stood up. It was time for her to do her weekly probationary signing at the ministry.

“Even though I got stuck in Ecuador, I made some good friends and have done some rewarding work,” she said, wiping her fingers on her black spandex pants. “Now it’s time to continue and give back.”

This article was supported by the International Reporting Project with translation and assistance from Carolina Loza Leon.

Published on BuzzFeed News,  April 25th, 2016


NEPAL REPORTAGE, APRIL 2015, THE INTERNATIONAL REPORTING PROJECT

> NEW YORK TIMES, WOMEN IN THE WORLD | Photo Essay : Women in Nepal look to rebuild and recover in aftermath of devastating earthquake

> VICE NEWS | Visiting the Nepali Villages Struggling with Staggering Losses in Earthquake Aftermath

> NEW YORK TIMES, WOMEN IN THE WORLD | After earthquake in Nepal, sanitary menstruation practices at risk

> QUARTZ | A Kathmandu crematorium is struggling to cope with the earthquake’s dead

 

Purvi was also interviewed for BBC World News' Public Radio International on what it was like to be on ground in Nepal and report on natural disaster


NEPAL REPORTAGE, APRIL 2015, THE INTERNATIONAL REPORTING PROJECT

> NEW YORK TIMES, WOMEN IN THE WORLD | Photo Essay : Women in Nepal look to rebuild and recover in aftermath of devastating earthquake

> VICE NEWS | Visiting the Nepali Villages Struggling with Staggering Losses in Earthquake Aftermath

> NEW YORK TIMES, WOMEN IN THE WORLD | After earthquake in Nepal, sanitary menstruation practices at risk

> QUARTZ | A Kathmandu crematorium is struggling to cope with the earthquake’s dead

 

Purvi was also interviewed for BBC World News' Public Radio International on what it was like to be on ground in Nepal and report on natural disaster


NEW YORK TIMES, WOMEN IN THE WORLD

Women in Nepal look to rebuild and recover in aftermath of devastating earthquake

Women in the World spoke with people on the ground in Nepal, each facing a different challenge amid the dire situation

According to the U.N., the magnitude-7.8  earthquake that ravaged Nepal on Saturday has impacted more than eight million people. The death toll has climbed over 5,500, CNN reported on Thursday, and more than 10,000 people have been injured in the worst earthquake to strike the Himalayan nation in eight decades.

Thousands have been left homeless, many of whom are living in temporary camps in squalid conditions with little access to food, water, and blankets.

Above is a series of photos of various people Women in the World encountered on the way to and in Kathmandu — migrants, aid workers, local women, who, despite their diverse backgrounds, represent humanity in the chaos. They are mothers, proud citizens, teachers, all ordinary women trying to play their part.

This article was supported by the International Reporting Project.

Published on New York Times, Women in the Wold,  April  30th, 2015


VICE NEWS

Visiting the Nepali Villages Struggling with Staggering Losses in Earthquake Aftermath

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VICE News is on the ground in Nepal, here reporting from Melchour, Chautara, and Lamosanghu villages in the Sindhupalchowk district, northeast of the country's capital, Kathmandu.

Approximately three hours from the center of Kathmandu, via the Arniko Highway toward China, is the Himalayan district of Sindhupalchowk, where the death toll from Saturday's 7.8 magnitude earthquake has exceeded that of the capital. The forlorn shantytowns within the sprawling district are scattered over the confusing rugged terrain and meandering narrow roads, drastically hampering rescue and relief efforts as crews scramble to reach the area. But in its sixth day of the disaster, the obvious lack of government-coordinated assistance has left the communities in Melchour village and the district headquarters of Chautara disillusioned and indignant, their patience hanging by a shoestring.

"This is the first time someone has even come and asked us if we are okay," Ghoma Lana told VICE News as she wiped the tears from her wrinkled face and walked toward the remnants of her house — a debris of rubble, bricks, and aluminum panels. The stench of rotting carrion, feces, smoke, and grass wafted through the air as she pointed to a small hut where she and her husband have put up a picture of their 24-year-old daughter Srijana, a school teacher who died instantly when their house crumbled.

While most in the small village of Melchour had to dig up trapped and dead cattle with their bare hands, so that they could sleep on the streets without the overpowering smell, others have flocked to a nearby school where blankets lay carelessly strewn. "When they want votes, they flock to us. But no one cares that we have lost our identity and sense of belonging," said Anrit, as he elaborated that the constituent assembly member for the village has not even made one phone call to inquire on the scale and scope of need.

About three miles farther in the district headquarters of Chautara, the loss is staggering. Mudhouses groan under the weight of bricks, and concrete structures tilt precariously over the hill. Krishna and his wife are hastily packing a few surviving belongings into large polythene bags and moving to the encampment above in the Chautara Maidan, where a makeshift health clinic is operating with the help of the Nepali army and the district public health office. "Local Nepali media has not even bothered to come here, how do we communicate to international journalists what we are going through?" said Krishna, as he angrily motioned with his hands.

To address this important issue of accessing the needs of the people on the ground so as to deploy coordinated and organized help in a systematic way, Dr. Tshering Lama, director of Childreach Nepal, and Lokesh Todi, entrepreneur and member of the Global Shapers NGO's Kathmandu hub, have come together to jointly map out a clear disaster relief action plan. "We want to add value, so we sent out a team of volunteers by dirt bikes to decipher the real problems on ground. There is only so much overhead helicopters can discern," said Todi.

Based on the initial response from the team, both Todi and Lama have brought in water purification tablets, tents, rehydration medicine, and diarrhea tablets to distribute to the health camp in Chautara. They've also managed to procure solar power generation so it can be installed with the help of an engineer and technician in the nearby Melamchi health camp. "It's vital for a health camp to have light and mobile charging points," said Subhash Pandey, from Gham Power, which has donated solar panels, battery backups, and other installation materials worth $3,000.

About a third of a mile ahead, in the Chautra makeshift encampment, Dr. Sagar Rajbhandari, chief of the medical team from the district public health office, sits cross-legged on an orange mat under a tarpaulin blue tent and emphasizes the pressing need of the hour — clean water. "I'm trying to educate people to filter and boil water as water-borne diseases will definitely lead to an epidemic," he said. While UN Habitat is planning to send in water purifiers, Rajbhandari feels a tanker with chlorinated water could definitely help. "There is open defecation here and people are relying on rain water. They are drinking that same water they use to clean themselves," he adds.

Meanwhile, Bharat Shresta, from UNDP Nepal, said that food, water, and even shelter needs to be made priorities, adding that the people of Chautara are incensed and feel they are being ignored. "Agni Sapkota, a constituent assembly member, came by helicopter to examine the situation and people started throwing stones at him and he needed to be rescued by the army," Shresta told VICE News. There is a clear frustration among the people as the army camp's limited relief commodities are not being distributed in a cohesive manner.

"My friend got two packets of biscuits, and I just got one packet of noodles," said Naani Karki as she paced outside a tent designated to treat the elderly and the hurt. The lack of continuity or structure has prompted Childreach and Global Shapers to come up with a plan where they are planning on making the Melamchi army barracks into an information, collection, and disbursement point from where donated aid can then be divided among villages. 

"If you don't have a well thought out ground presence, then even a good intention can go wrong at a time like this," said Lama. While his initial plan via Childreach is to focus on families for now, he wants to rebuild the destroyed schools so that the children are not exploited or trafficked at this vulnerable stage.

"The children are suffering the most as they play in the rubble and are prone to mosquitoes and malaria," said Urgen Tamang, the 29-year-old principal of a children's school in Lamosanghu village, which is about an hour away from Chautara. He's grateful that the earthquake struck on a Saturday when kids were at a picnic. Originally from Darjeeling, India, he pointed to the turquoise and white wreckage in the distance by the water, mere vestiges of the school he used to consider his home. "I will leave. I know everyone, but have no one to support me," he said sadly.

With the cash-strapped government, and an array of problems including sustainable rebuilding to housing, health, water, sanitation, food, and medical relief structures, Nepal's long route to recovery has only just begun.

"I only hope that my mother doesn't die with this vision of her country in her head and my 5-year-old son isn't forced to grow up with this image," said 35-year-old Usha Tomang, her expression swinging from hope to utter despair as she sees her son picking up a stone and putting in his mouth.

This article was supported by the International Reporting Project.

Published on Vice News,  May 1st, 2015


NEW YORK TIMES, WOMEN IN THE WORLD

After earthquake in Nepal, sanitary menstruation practices at risk

Menstrual health is low in the list of priorities during initial disaster relief management activities

In the Himalayan foothill district of Sindhupalchok, the village of Chautara is a ghost town after most of its inhabitants moved to a makeshift encampment in the wake of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated the area. Bright orange and blue tarpaulin tents dot the hilltop where the camp serves as a shelter for thousands whose houses were either swallowed or destroyed.

Outside one of the tents, an improvised health clinic is operating in full force with Nepali Army doctors tending to lacerations and fractures. Nineteen-year-old Nani Karki sat by her mother and tugged at her lose pale pink salwar (pants) as they waited for their turn. She was nervous about staining herself. Like many other girls in the camp, she was menstruating. “I have been using the same cotton cloth and washing it in the area there,” she said, pointing to a patch of land used for open defecation. There, Karki uses the same unfiltered water she drinks to wash herself and the single cloth she has been reusing as a sanitary napkin for three days.

Due to the overwhelming need for food, shelter and water, menstrual health has fallen down in the list of priorities during the initial disaster relief management activities. Before the earthquake, Nepal scored only 45.4 out of 100 on the South Asia Women Resilience Index, a tool that assess how well a country is prepared for disasters and how women are considered in the national rebuilding efforts.

“There are no proper toilet facilities or private spaces in the camps and so girls sometimes just keep the cloths on for days, which is very worrisome,” said Dr. Hema Pradhan, consultant gynecologist and fistula surgeon at the Kathmandu Model Hospital. To educate girls about the potential health risks of such practices and teach them how to dispose of overused cotton cloths or sanitary napkins responsibly, Loom Nepal, a women’s rights NGO, is deploying teams to camps in rural areas. “We went to the village of Kavre on the outskirts and saw some girls sitting huddled in tents, covered in blood,” said Ursula Singh, program officer. She said that most girls wait until it gets dark to step outside.

“We want them to at least practice hygienic disposal because they are in super exposed conditions and that puts them at a higher risk to contract diseases,” she elaborated. Digging holes and burying the used sanitary napkin under ground is so far the only option.

Singh added that she was glad the age-old Nepali tradition of ‘chaupadi’ —where some communities in the far-western part of the country expect women to isolate themselves when they are menstruating—had been outlawed, preventing further handicaps in the present disaster situation.

Meanwhile in the Tundikhel relief camp in Kathmandu, the women have been indulging in safer sanitation practices than in the neighboring rural areas. “There is a gas station around the corner and WaterAid has set up portable toilets,” said Priya Lama, as she rocked her sister’s son in her arms. Her biggest problem with menstruating is finding clean water to boil the cloths she uses.

Another organization empowering women in Nepal, Women Lead is handing out free packets of sanitary napkins to girls involved in their mentorship program. “Just in one day 175 out of 225 packs were taken by girls and that is the first item they asking for,” said Giselle Bolton, development fellow. She added that the organization takes into account how many family members each girl has because they assume that everyone is sharing. “We are operating on personal donations, but we understand that there is an immediate and urgent need to figure out a system to get more quantities,” she said.

Chemists in Kathmandu say that many sanitary napkins have been purchased in the past week and they aren’t increasing the prices. A packet of 8 napkins costs about 50 cents and a larger packet of 15 napkins costs about $2.50, which is quite affordable by Nepali standards, said Santosh Giri, a local chemist.

This article was supported by the International Reporting Project.

Published on New York Times, Women in the Wold,  May 1st, 2015


QUARTZ

A Kathmandu crematorium is struggling to cope with the earthquake’s dead

 

KATHMANDU—The blackened funeral pyres by the Bagmati river at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu’s largest Hindu open air crematorium, haven’t stopped burning all week.

Grey-white pungent smoke billows in the air, flecks of swirling ashes slowly fall to the ground. Stray dogs and crows wander among grieving men queuing to have their heads shaved, as the Hindu funeral custom dictates.

Wreaths of decaying marigold, jute string, holy vermilion residue and half-lit incense sticks line the muddy steps of the Bagmati, a river now thickened with scorched wood and reeking debris.

Further downstream, on a sandbank at the river’s centre, barefoot men shovel through the waste to try and clear the river.

But all of this—and the overpowering stench of dead bodies—fades before the sound of human misery as wailing families continue to gather for cremations, a week after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal and left over 7,000 people dead.

On May 1, there were just nine funerals of earthquake victims, but still the temple’s staff and priests were struggling to cope after days of being overwhelmed.

“I have been working overtime this week since a lot of the staff have left to go to their villages and check on their homes,” said Kharga Adhikari, a temple worker, wiping the soot off his hands on his white dhoti.

Immediately after the earthquake, there were so many bodies—more than 300, by his estimate—and so many cremations that the crematory was forced to keep the pyres burning non-stop for two days.

“There were so many funerals back to back that we didn’t even clean all the pyres,” he said. “In the haste we couldn’t even use the mixture of rice, sesame and fresh grass that we usually sprinkle to purify the area after burning.”

Adhikari, who has worked here for 30 years, and his colleagues were overwhelmed.

“There was no space to accommodate so many bodies as we only have 11 pyres, and so makeshift pyres were made by families on the steps leading to the river,” said Purshottam Pochrel, a priest at the temple.

Those were the more fortunate of the deceased.

Another 50 to 60 unclaimed and unidentified bodies were burnt together soon after the earthquake, with no one to decorate them with garlands, or pray for their souls. “We just needed to get rid of them so we could accommodate more,” Pochrel said.There were families who were forced to conduct their own ceremonies, after priests in the temple were inundated with mass funerals. “Imagine letting your loved one go without the proper blessings and rituals of Hinduism,” said the Brahmanand, or priest, shaking his head in disapproval.

With the resident staff struggling, volunteers and social workers offered a hand to help lift swollen bodies off crude bamboo stretchers; or to help move wood from the nearby storage shed to the pyres. Some came simply to console families and offer support.

Harisaran Poudyal, a coordinator at the temple office, governed by the Pashupati Area Development Trust, appreciates this show of solidarity, but there are some duties that only he must discharge.

“I have been working round the clock and haven’t even got a chance to go back to my home in [the nearby district of Sindhupalchowk] to be with my family,” he said, fanning himself with a newspaper in the cramped office space.

Sindhupalchowk is among the worst hit of Nepal’s mountainous districts, with over 2,500 dead. Poudyal displays a voluminous ledger with copious pages of entries—from the names of the dead and their family details, to a separate section on fire wood allocation.

“Usually we charge Rs2,500 (roughly $25) for wood, but the government instructed us to just give it for free. Now they want a whole breakdown of how much,” he explained.

There is a separate receipt book containing invoices, which had to be fed into a computer for verification.

“There is not enough manpower,” he said. “I have to do all this as well as act like a central information desk directing people to the bathroom or the wood shed and even to the exit.”

Turning to instruct a group that is cleaning up carelessly thrown plastic bottles, medical masks and latex gloves, he irately waves off a bystander waiting to ask him about the location of the toilet.

“It will take some time to get organised in the aftermath of approximately 2,000 funerals this week,” said Poudyal. “The scale [of the tragedy] is too much for us to handle.”

This article was supported by the International Reporting Project.

Published on Quartz India , May 4th, 2015