Training and awareness lead to hard choices for a Red Cross worker

Published: 29 April 2015 12:18 CET

By Nichola Jones, British Red Cross

Father-of-two Bijay Dahal was upstairs in his two-storey home in Baneshwor, Kathmandu with his family on Saturday when his chair started to shudder.

“Suddenly, the house started shaking, I could feel it swaying – I knew what was happening,” he said. “I grabbed my kids and dragged them to the door.  I could hear my wife in the other room crying and praying.”

Dahal, a Nepalese Red Cross worker trained in disaster management, knew they had to escape the house as soon as the shaking subsided.  But 20 years’ experience could not prepare him for the heart-rending decision he had to make as he was fleeing to open ground.

“As I was running down the stairs with my boys, my elderly parents were clinging to each other in the bedroom,” he said.  “My dad is 79 and paralysed – she would not leave his side.

“In that moment, I had to make a choice – to get my kids to safety or to stay with my parents with no guarantee that the house would withstand the earthquake. My mum told me to go.”

Dahal’s eldest son, who is 15 and has Down’s syndrome, was begging his dad to save his grandparents but the disaster expert knew he couldn’t do both. “I am normally my son’s protector, his friend. But in that moment, I had to shout and drag him out – I could see the confusion in his face. That was very painful,” Dahal said.

The family were joined outside by crowds of bewildered neighbours, but  Dahal had to wait 30 agonising minutes before he knew his parents were safe.

“I wore my motorbike helmet to reenter the house to check on them after the shaking stopped. It was amazing to find them both okay.”

Dahal, his wife and sons were forced to sleep outside in the driving rain as powerful aftershocks continued to crumble buildings around the neighbourhood.

“A seven-storey guest house collapsed in my neighbourhood and I know there are still bodies buried under the rubble,” he said.

Dahal is now back to work and at the heart of the Nepal Red Cross Society relief effort  both inside the city and across difficult-to-reach areas across the country. He said the priority for the moment was immediate relief. “Food, water and shelter for the many families who continue to live outside are our priority right now, and we will be striving to reach those community that desperately need our help,” he said.