Tshering Palden

Tashi Chedup, a basic health worker at the basic health unit (BHU) in Yangneer, Trashigang, has a very special reason to be grateful to his boss, health assistant (HA) Tashi Dawa.

If Tashi Chedup can proudly hold his eight-month-old son today, it’s because of what the HA did when the earthquake hit on September 21.

September 21 was a warm sunny day and the two of them had decided to have some orange squash. The HA went to the tap outside his house to fetch some water, while Chedup stayed in with his one-year-old daughter, the gewog administration officer, and two other children. The basic health worker had come over to the HA’s house to watch an EPL football match. He lives in the next building, which houses the BHU on the ground floor and staff quarters on the first floor.

Chedup’s wife, Tashi Wangmo, 27, was in the kitchen garden below their house weeding the chili and bean beds and getting some groundnuts for her kids. She had just put her eight-month-old baby to sleep.

That was when the ground shook. “I saw my house fall apart,” she said. It was a sight she might never want to remember but can’t ever forget.

“Parts of window blocks and the walls at the sides were fall- ing out and the house was slowly engulfed by a storm of dust,” recalled Tashi Wangmo. “The building swayed to the right and then to the left. The gaps in the cracks of the walls joined as the building stopped to swing.”

“The first thing that struck me was my baby sleeping in the bedroom. Before I realised anything, I was standing in between the HA’s house and the BHU,” she said.

When the tremor hit, those inside the house jumped and rushed towards the door, Chedup in front. He carried his daughter with one hand and held the HA’s son with the other. He was about to step outside when the verandah gave way. He picked up the two children and stood at the door, his feet frozen.

Dawa stood still for a moment near the tap. He heard Chedup and the children shouting and headed towards his house. He crept over the single plank remaining on the verandah and took the children and others to safety. It was then they realised that Chedup’s son was inside. None could gather courage to go near the house. Dawa knew it was now or never. “I thought it might strike again and, if it did, his son would be no more,” he said recollecting his thoughts.

He rushed to the house and somehow climbed to the upper floor through the small hole created by broken wooden frames. “I took the baby and rushed out,” he said. The father, Chedup, waiting outside first took the child and then pulled the saviour to safety.

“We owe him the life of our child,” said Chedup. “It’s like his second birth.”