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Making do with small mercies

Sleeping within patched-up walls under tarpaulin roofs, cooking their meals in donated pots, Nepalese families are living through their toughest monsoon yet.

There's a sense of being in limbo on the hillsides in Rasuwa district, hit hard by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake just three months ago.

Between terraces of ripening maize stands a reddish two-storey house with an adjoining pen of goats. Here sits Sita Magar, 27, washing dishes at an outdoor tap. The metal plates and plastic mugs are from a Red Cross kitchen set.

Sita Magar's house, which she shares with seven family members from the Magar ethnic community, looks sturdy enough. But part of a wall collapsed in the earthquake and cracks appeared in the other walls.

"We're worried about the rain coming but we haven't had time to fix the roof yet," Sita Magar explains to Nepal Red Cross volunteer Tara Karki.

The family has shored up the damaged walls with salvaged materials but they still sleep on the veranda, afraid that an aftershock will bring the walls down on them.

Sita Magar received shelter materials and tools from Nepal Red Cross, which they used to build a chicken coop. It's vital to protect the livestock from the monsoon rains.

Nearby, Ujali Kumali is camping with her family and mother-in-law in what used to be a goat shelter next to their ruined house. There's a Red Cross tarpaulin over their heads but it's hardly monsoon-proof.

"We're grateful for everything we've been given, but the tarpaulin is the best thing because our shelter was open to the elements before," Ujali says.

Ujali was working in the rice fields on 25 April when the earthquake struck. She ran as fast as she could in bare feet. Her friend, working in slip-on shoes, ran slower and was killed by falling masonry. Ugali arrived home devastated, to find her house badly damaged.

They'll need help to rebuild but it won't be cheap - labour costs have risen since the earthquake. Ujali's husband works in a traditional Dalit occupation, making knives and sickles. Her son is a labourer in Saudi Arabia and sends money when he can.

With the monsoon underway, it's raining too hard to build anything for a while. Their Red Cross shelter tool kit, with its saw, hammer and nails, is neatly stored waiting for the monsoon to end and reconstruction to start.

Ujali's family plan to build a simple structure of corrugated iron sheeting. It will be hot in summer and freezing in winter, but they'll feel safer there than under mud or stone.

Red Cross aims to provide 40,000 of the most vulnerable families with small cash grants to help them see out the months ahead.

Original story and photos by Rosemary North, IFRC