Photo Essay: The Small Blessings Of Christmas In Sangachok, Nepal

30/12/2015 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Patrick Ward

In the past few months, Nepal has lurched from one problem to another. First came the April earthquake, then the aftershocks and then the fuel crisis. Christmas, hence, was tinged with much sorrow for Nepal's Christian community, and there were few places where this was more apparent than Sangachok.

Seventy kilometres from Kathmandu by road, the village falls in Sindhupalchowk, the district most affected by the earthquake. It started the year with 2,000 houses, but the earthquake saw that number drop to just around 200. Many lost loved ones, and most are trying to make it through a harsh winter in temporary shelters. But Christmas Day brought some joy for the village's small Christian community, as they gathered to celebrate in a church made of zinc metal sheeting.


This is the scene you see when you arrive in Sangachok by bus. Piles of rubble still wait to be cleared in this village, where few people were left unaffected by the April earthquake.


A few minute's walk from the main road is the church, here being decorated in preparation for the Christmas service. The original church was destroyed in the earthquake. So parishioners came together to build this temporary shelter with zinc sheets.


Outside the church, people prepare the Christmas meal. Around 50 people are expected, so it's all hands on deck to chop chicken, slice tomatoes and grind up spices. Cooking gas is in short supply due to the border crisis, so everything is cooked on wood fires.


The service gets started as people arrive. Pastor Kumar Pokharel takes up the guitar to lead off with some festive singing, as the congregation claps along.


None of this would have been possible without Bishnu Maya Ranamagar donating the land on which the church structure stands. "We may not have houses, but we are celebrating this Christmas," she says. "One day God will give us a way to have a good church building. I am praying for that."


After the service, the congregation sits down to Christmas lunch. These hungry children are taking a break from dancing and running around to enjoy their meal.


There is still time for some more music. Himal Sagar Hingmang sings as the celebrations draw to a close. "I lost my media production company in the earthquake, when the building collapsed," he says. He wants to now use his skills to make music videos to raise awareness of the earthquake.


Not everyone here is Christian, but these neighbours enjoy watching the festivities from their shelter next door. The entire neighbourhood is made up of zinc-roofed structures. Villagers spent much of their time outside, burning wood to cook, and keep warm.


A group make their way down the hill on their way home. There is little infrastructure here, so walking the precarious, narrow paths, up and down steep hillsides, can take some time.


In the evening, there is still time for some music. Pastor Pokharel entertains in his shelter, finishing off a day of celebration and sorrowful reflection.

All photos by Patrick Ward.

Patrick Ward is in Kathmandu for Aftershock Nepal (@AftershockNepal), a collaborative journalism project facilitated by GlobalBU.

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