Yesterday I shared the before-and-after photos above. The image on the left was taken on the 22nd April, 2009, almost exactly six years and one week before the image on the right. They show the same street in Bhaktapur, one of Nepal’s most historic cities, before and after last Saturday’s earthquake.
In 2009, whilst photographing for a magazine feature, I spent a while photographing these two sisters on their way home from school. One of the images appeared in my first exhibition.
Returning to Nepal this week under less happy circumstances, I found myself, by complete coincidence, at the same spot. Recalling the time spent at the end of that narrow alleyway in 2009 was bitter-sweet in the face of the damage and destruction. I wondered what had happened to those charming, cheerful, carefree young girls.
So many people have lost their lives in Nepal this week. So many more have been seriously injured. Having seen dozens and dozens of buildings reduced to piles of rubble, having heard so many stories of loved ones, relatives, friends and neighbours lost to the earthquake, I have found it difficult to get the image of these two girls out of my head.
With a couple of hours free at the end of today’s assignment and with copies of these photos on my phone, I took a detour to Bhaktapur, intending to search for the two sisters. A fool’s errand perhaps.
I’m pleased to report that I found them, both alive and well.
Yamuna and Jamuna are eleven years old now. Sadly, they lost their home and have been sleeping outside with their older sister, Saraswati, since Saturday.
They showed me what remains of their home, no more than a pile of bricks just a few steps from where these photos were made.
Their parents have gone to stay with their uncle in order to protect their few remaining belongings. I’ve heard several reports of opportunistic thieves operating at night, which were confirmed to me by the local police.
There is not enough space for the girls at their uncle’s house. They eat from a simple, open-air community kitchen twice a day and there’s been a water tanker delivery each morning. They have almost no money and are relying on the charity of neighbours. Yet their situation is no different from that of so many others and is better than some.
Yamuna and Jamuna were quiet and withdrawn today. Shell-shocked, I suppose. Not quite the happy-go-lucky, skipping five year-old children I encountered previously, although seeing pictures of themselves on my phone did make them laugh together, which was a happy sound. I did what I could to improve their situation and they are much better equipped now than they were this morning.
Whilst it was really pleasing to find the girls alive and well and I know they’ll have a more comfortable night tonight, you have to multiply their story tens of thousands of times to get an idea of the current situation in Nepal.
Aid agencies are doing what they can but the lack of infrastructure, the difficult terrain and the weather all conspire to make delivering help where it’s needed a truly monumental task.
Many remote areas have yet to see any meaningful support nearly a week after the initial earthquake and the evidence is that the majority of people are fending for themselves with what little they have.
Each of these organisations are providing essential, potentially life-saving services where they are needed most.
About the author: Gavin Gough is a freelance photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. He works on assignment and is represented by Getty Images and 4Corners. You can find his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A selection of his 2015 Nepal earthquake coverage can be found here. This article originally appeared here.