Since our last post, about our experience delivering school supplies to students in Saurpani, Gorkha, Ben and I decided to return to Kathmandu.
The monsoon season had started and sadly, based on our experience driving to and from Saurpani, we could see the roads were already deteriorating. Landslides would soon become the norm and some roads were expected to wash out completely. For the next three months these remote villages would now be even further cut off from the aid they desperately needed. We decided we would continue supporting relief projects in these areas, but would do so based out of Kathmandu.
We have been living in Kathmandu for the past month and have loved our experience here. We’ve spent our time volunteering 6 days a week with an organization called All Hands. They are an American NGO that has international volunteers on the ground, working in various communities in and outside of Kathmandu. Their current projects include temporary classroom construction, transitional home building, IDP -Internally Displaced People- camp improvements, and rubble removal.
We are living at the All Hands base with over 50 volunteers. It’s a very communal environment where we’ve met some really inspiring people from all over the world. For some, it’s their first time to Nepal. Others have been here several times over the years and are familiar with Nepali culture. No matter previous experience, everyone works incredibly hard. I’ve never seen such a hard-working, inspired group of volunteers before. We work in the intense summer heat and pouring monsoonal rains, with injuries, stomach aches, cuts, bruises and various traveler related illnesses. Everyone gives so much everyday and complains very little. I feel really lucky to have met this random mix of people who care this much for Nepal.
A typical day for us starts out around 7:30am, when we drive out to our chosen work site for the day. It usually takes about one hour to get to a work site since most of our focus is on the outer areas of Kathmandu Valley. We usually work 7 to 8 hours each day. We take about an hour break to rest and eat lunch, where someone in the community prepares a Dal Bhat (rice, lentils, and curried vegetables) for us, the standard meal here in Nepal. We usually eat in someone’s home or temporary shelter and it’s a great chance to get to know the families we are helping.
On our first week we were mainly working on rubble removal projects, which is the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. We work on one family’s home for about a week, slowly removing the mountain of rubble that was once their home. So many homes fell in Nepal because they were old and poorly constructed. Some traditional building methods have been lost over generations and it seems in recent times people just made do with what they could afford or use around them. Many homes used clay bricks with cement made of mud, which completely crumbled in the earthquake. While doing wreckage removal projects it continually amazed me how much rubble one home could create.
The families are so overwhelmed by the massive amount of rubble they have to deal with; it feels incredible to be able to help them. As gratifying as it is, it’s also sad, particularly when finding various household items, and things like clothing and children’s toys that was destroyed and buried in the rubble. Sometimes we uncover family photos that are still intact. Their faces always light up when given a photo they thought had been lost. After all the rubble is cleared, you can see the huge weight lifted from their shoulders. And despite having lost so much they are still smiling and laughing. It’s really stunning to see these families deal with their circumstances in such a gentle and dignified way.
Another interesting project that we’ve been working on is in the IDP camps. They are official government camps that house earthquake survivors who’ve lost their homes and have had to vacate their land completely. Most families are from rural villages in the mountains, where up until now they’ve lived a very quiet and peaceful existence. Because of the earthquake, they’ve been forced to relocate in the chaotic and bustling city of Kathmandu. Without work and in unfamiliar surroundings, many seem depressed and despondent, spending their days sitting idly around the camp, until enough time passes and they can return to their villages.
All Hands is working to improve the living conditions of the camps, where thousands of people are living with flooding issues and have no access to bathrooms or showering facilities. We have just closed work in one IDP camp where we created an irrigation system and constructed toilets, showering rooms and a platform for them to wash clothes. The families and camp manager were very pleased with our improvements. Four days ago we moved to a new camp where 250 people have been living for the past two months with very little assistance. The camp has terrible flooding issues and completely lacks sanitation facilities of any kind. Our first priority is digging trenches to help drain the camp.
The families seemed both surprised and excited when we showed up on the first day. Several people stayed around our worksite and were eager to jump in and help us. I’m really looking forward to improving their camp so they can live in a cleaner, safer and more dignified environment.
Throughout the past month, we’ve continued getting donations from friends and family looking to support Nepal. Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed! We’ve been so overwhelmed by your compassion and desire to help those on the other side of the world whom you may never meet. It’s been really incredible to put this money towards projects that we believe in and are able to see the outcome first-hand.
While we’ve been working at All Hands in Kathmandu, some of the donation money went to building temporary metal shelters (TMS) in the devastated Gorkha district. We decided to give to Karma Flights after getting to know the organization personally. I didn’t feel comfortable traveling out to Gorkha given the road conditions. Prem from Karma Flights informed us several days ago that 15 shelters were constructed because of our donors’ contributions. Seeing photos of the shelters felt amazing.
It was a little disappointing not being there personally to help construct them. The way Karma Flights operates is by employing local carpenters and laborers in addition to using an experienced volunteer team when building the shelters. Any volunteer based project that employs locals, and provides an income for someone in the community, is a project we will stand behind. As much as we wanted to be there, despite road conditions, I think it’s really important when volunteering to know when you will be helping and when you will be getting in the way. And now, because of those who’ve donated, there are 15 families who now have adequate shelter for the remainder of the monsoon season, until they can eventually construct a permanent shelter later this year.
Recently we’ve decided to help fund an All Hands project, called the 50 Homes project. The ’50 Homes Project’ will help earthquake survivors rebuild their collapsed house using a ‘resilient’ home design. The design features a steel frame that can be constructed in a single day, with a wire mesh on the walls that makes the structure earthquake-resistant and provides a much higher level of stability. The home is categorized as a transitional shelter, but will hold up for years if necessary. This project has just started and we are really excited to be able to participate first hand in the construction. (more info on the home design on our fundraising page)
One of the things I love most about this project is that All Hands has chosen to build the homes for a group of Dahlit families, which is Nepal’s lowest-caste community. For those who are not familiar with the caste system in Nepal, they are communities which are deemed as the lowest status in Nepali society. Even before the earthquake, this group of people had very little opportunities and they are the ones who need the most help during this time.
Throughout our experience in Nepal, we’ve found most people are very empowered to help themselves. It’s very motivating as a volunteer to see such resilience. Even though they have lost so much, they are still driven to help themselves.
We can only stay in Nepal for 3 more weeks before our allotted visa time is expired. After finding a home at All Hands, it will be hard to go but we are both really proud of how we’ve spent your donations, about our current project, and those that are to come in the next couple weeks.
Note: These photographs were snapped quickly while working with our iphone and some belong to other volunteers*