I travelled to Nepal on 20 May with donation money collected by Reach Out Nepal in my pockets feeling a bit like a drug mule.
Anyway I sailed through Sydney airport, KL and then Kathmandu (Ktm) airports where they just waved me through, much to my pleasant surprise. I met Margot and Hari outside the airport and off we went to Hari's place in Ktm. Hari exchanged the money at one bank and then deposited a bag full of rupees into the HHCP account at his bank.
By this time it was almost four weeks since the earthquake and I was pleasantly surprised walking around Thamel how much had been cleared up, particularly around the big tourist areas like Dhurbar Square, which has since been reopened to the public. There was also a big presence of foreign aid relief workers/teams in Ktm. Hari acted as a tour guide on a couple of occasions for teams on their final day in Ktm before they flew home.
After three days Margot, Hari and I caught a bus (the driver was a wannabe F1 driver) up to Kalakastan, from where we walked to Hari's family home. The trip in the bus, especially once we crossed into the Rasuwa district, revealed huge amounts of damage to buildings along the roadside with people obviously still living under tarpaulins or in tents. In some cases there were fields of tents and tarps housing displaced people who had been moved from landslide affected areas.
And then we arrived in the village of Janglang (20 minute walk up a rough track from Jibajibe) where Hari's house is, and there were ruins everywhere. Houses built from stone and mud had simply crumbled and collapsed leaving huge amounts of rubble. Hari's house was no exception and was almost unrecognisable. In fact his eldest child, Manila was in the house when the quake hit and she dived under a bed which saved her life.
By the time I saw the house the family had cleared away the roofing iron and timbers. Basically the entire top floor was completely destroyed but the ground level walls were damaged but not beyond repair. The toilet walls had collapsed as well. Fortunately the animals all survived.
So the deconstruction/reconstruction started, and Margot and I worked extremely hard moving rocks, moving soil from pile to pile, all by hand and shovel because no one has a wheelbarrow. We also had the task of removing the flooring that remained of the upstairs 'guest room' and storeroom.
Hari then employed a team of local Tamang workers who rebuilt walls of the house and built other retaining walls. By this time Margot had hurt her ankle and decided to go back to Ktm.
When walking around the village and down to the market in Jibajibe and to the schools and hospital, I saw scores of destroyed and uninhabitable houses.iVillagers were in the the process of building temporary shelters and some were rebuilding their homes.
North Pole School was virtually unscathed but Jibajibe High School had two badly damaged buildings. Fortunately the recently built hospital was virtually undamaged suffering superficial cracking. The sad fact is that the hospital barely functions due to lack of staff, equipment and government funding.
The generous donations to RONEP have enabled Hari to purchase a thousand sets of 8 sheets of roofing iron that has since all been distributed to the community. The distribution was staggered over three occasions and I was present on Saturday 30 May for the second distribution. It was extremely well organised, the roofing iron being distributed from the back of a truck in the main street of Jibajibe. Family names were marked off a list as they picked up their iron, and people scurried away with their bundles.
I walked around the village on a number of occasions and was invited to tea with a few families, all of which took place in their 'new' temporary shelters, usually a small structure with an iron roof and sides constructed from timber or iron or tarps, whatever could be salvaged from their damaged houses. People were hurriedly finishing their shelters before the monsoons arrive in full force, generally around 10 June although this year it is slightly late.
On another occasion I went with Hari to visit Ghormu village, about one and a half hours walk from Jibajibe. A year and a half previously we had delivered a computer and printer to the school at Ghormu. Unfortunately, Ghormu is now a ghost town, completely deserted. Every building has been rendered uninhabitable and the population has retreated to the higher forest areas. The school is unusable and the printer was destroyed in the earthquake. Hari has a plan to get the children accommodated at Jibajibe so they can attend school there until a new school is built in Ghormu. Time will tell what happens.
On the way to Ghormu, we visited the school at Kimarchung which was also badly damaged. A singletent for some 40 students has been supplied to act as a classroom. And further on in the village of Sarsiu there were damaged buildings at the high school which houses some 400 students. Five unfinished classrooms were in the process of being built and school was meant to start the next day.
By the end of my first stay of 10 days, I had noticed a huge amount of rebuilding taking place. Temporary structures were mushrooming around the village. Some people might wonder why it has taken the best part of six weeks to get to this stage. Basically the population was shell shocked by the earthquakes and continued aftershocks, the absolute devastation that occurred, the mourning for lost family and friends, and the fact that remote areas of Nepal had taken a long time to get relief aid to. If not for people like Hari to push for the purchase of roofing iron, recovery would take much longer.
Meanwhile at Hari's place, the building was nearly ready for reroofing, but there was a delay in the final delivery of more roof iron, so I decided to go back to Ktm and go to Pokhara for a few days of R & R.
By the time I returned to the village on Friday 12 June, huge changes had occurred. The family has moved into the rebuilt house, albeit less than half its original living area size. There is now a separate kitchen room built on the side of the house, there is a water pipe with tap close to the house, the toilet has been rebuilt and everyone is so much happier.
There is progress everywhere you look and people can now focus back on their farm work knowing they have adequate shelter from the monsoon.
I also revisited Jibajibe High School where the police were issuing government disaster relief identity cards (Hari received his) which will allow people to qualify for a government no interest loan of up to $15,000 to enable people to rebuild permanent homes. (Time will tell how well this is implemented.)
The school itself had undergone a huge change in the week that I was away – I was impressed. The two damaged buildings had been demolished to make the site safe, there were 3 new tents erected as extra classrooms, the community had almost finished building 6 classrooms using roofing iron and there were new pit toilets erected. Some young teenage boys I got talking to were excited about the changes and the fact that they could safely attend school.
School was back after the extended 'Earthquake holiday' period of 6 weeks and generally life had returned to normal. However people still live with the fear of constant tremors and violent rain storms, 3 or 4 of which I had endured in my tent at night.
I finally left again on Sunday 14 June to go back to Ktm and home on Tuesday. There is still so much to do in the rebuilding phase but there is certainly a sense of optimism. Unfortunately there are still a lot of Nepalis living under tarpaulins in places where they have been relocated to, and with the onset of the monsoon their lives will be really hard.
Having been in Nepal for the past month and witnessing the devastation and then the rebuilding, I can only say thank you to those people who have donated money to help this rebuilding work. It has made such a difference to the lives of so many people, enabling them to rebuild shelters that are solid and weatherproof.
Obviously there is still a long way to go but with good planning in the future from the community and the government, and with your continued support, especially for the childrens' education, life will improve and positive change will follow.