Sandesh was on his lunch break when the earth began to shake. Along with his classmates he fled his room. Outside, the wall collapsed on top of him, pinning him to the ground.
“I was playing chase with a friend in the corridor. We were going to hide under the beds but then we decided to run,” he says. “Then the wall fell down on me. I was unconscious until I got to hospital.”
Sandesh was rescued from the rubble and after reaching hospital he received the terrible news that his best friend had been killed.
Sandesh was in a critical condition himself. His shoulder was seriously injured and his left leg was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated straight away. The doctors did all they could to save his remaining leg but, after seven days, the decision was taken to amputate his right leg too.
During his time in hospital, Sandesh felt very unmotivated and found it difficult to accept his condition. However, with help from Handicap International therapists and a fellow patient Ramesh Kitra, he was able to slowly come to terms with his disability. He gradually began to use his wheelchair, followed by crutches, until he received his prosthetic legs.
Sandesh explains, “I thought I would never walk again. When I stood up for the first time I was so happy.”
Photos © Alison Baskerville / Handicap International
Frightening aftershocks at school
At the time of the earthquake, Sandesh was living along with over 1,400 school children at the Nepal Police school, a boarding school on the outskirts of Banepa, less than an hour from Kathmandu. The school was built to look after the children of serving and former members of the Nepalese Police force. Many of the school buildings were destroyed in the disaster, including the teacher’s rooms which have now been replaced with tents.
“After the earthquake the pupils got frightened during the aftershocks. There have been over 460 aftershocks in the past 10 months” comments police woman and Camp Commandant Ranju Sigdel. She lives on site and is on call 24 hours a day to deal with the logistics of running the school and is now responsible for the lengthy rebuilding process.
Almost 8 months after his injury, the decision to allow Sandesh to return to school was made in January. Ranju Sidgel adds, “We were reluctant to take him at first. We don’t have any pupils with disabilities and we didn’t know how to adapt, but we’re glad we did.” The school has built a toilet for Sandesh to use, located on the same level as the classrooms.
“I’m so happy to be back at school” says Sandesh. “I can be with my friends and study again. I used to love sport but now I’m really interested in maths. Sport is not an option for me anymore.”
Learning to cope with steep slopes
The classrooms and accommodation areas are divided by a steep slope, which creates difficult access for Sandesh. As he can only manage the steep track with the help of his friends, he chooses to stay in the classroom for the duration of the school day. A local school worker pops in with tea and a jam sandwich as he sits and reads.
“I’ve become really interested in maths now. I have plenty of time to read the books,” Sandesh laughs as he closes his book and tucks into his sandwich.
Towards the end of the day he prepares himself for the walk to his room with the help of his close friends Saroj and Badal. With one on either side they make their way up the dimly lit path. At dinner time, the school allows Sandesh in first so that he has the space to move around without being knocked. With 1400 pupils to feed, meal times can get very crowded.
Over dinner, Sandesh explains “We all used to play football together, that’s how we know each other. I used to be the captain of the team. After the earthquake, people who weren’t my friends before are now helping me out. We are all very close.”
Pulling together as a family
During his recovery, Sandesh spent more than 8 months at home with his two sisters in a house shared with extended family members. His father, a police officer, was killed in 2006 by Maoist rebels, but he left a legacy that allowed both Sandesh and his younger sister Sabina, 17, to attend the police school.
His older sister Sandyha, 21, became the main carer as their mother had to leave home to find work in one of the villages near the Everest region, over 8 hours away from the city. “I gave up my job to be with him,” comments Sandyha. “He needed me and we had to pull together as family to take care of him.”
There is a busy atmosphere in the house as various family members come and go. Sandesh and his sisters spend much of their time studying and preparing food. Although at boarding school, the children are often allowed to return home on a Saturday. However, as his family is short of money, Sandesh is often unable to get home.
“I like to cook him a nice lunch if we can get him home” says Sandyha as she crushes herbs and spices. As she continues to prepare the dinner a cousin pops in to see the siblings. He is a Nepalese army officer and, before his accident, Sandesh also wanted to join the army. He now accepts that he will no longer be able to do so.
As Sandesh gets up and picks out his favourite Chelsea football club T-shirt, he adds that in the future he would like to work for other people with disabilities who are in a similar situation to him.