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 has started and many of the roads in the countryside are starting to deteriorate. Landslides will soon become the norm and some roads are expected to wash out completely. For the next three months, these remote villages will now be even further cut off from the aid they so desperately need. We plan to continue supporting relief projects in remote areas, but have decided to do so based out of Kathmandu.
Over the past month, we’ve been volunteering 6 days a week with an organization called All Hands Volunteers. They are an American disaster response organization that has had volunteers on the ground since just a few days after the first earthquake. Currently, we are working in various lower-income communities on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Our projects consist of temporary classroom construction, transitional home building, camp improvements, and rubble removal.
We are living at the All Hands base with over other 50 volunteers. It’s a very communal environment with groups of people from all over the world. For some, it’s their first time to Nepal, while 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 everyday in the intense summer heat and the pouring monsoonal rains. Some days we work 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 around 7:30am, when we drive to our given work site for the day. We work for about 7 to 8 hours each day, and take a one hour lunch break where someone in the community prepares a meal for us. Lunch is a favored time for everyone, not only because we are usually pretty hungry, but also we get a chance to get to know the family we are helping. The food usually consists of a massive Dal Bhat platter, with rice, lentils, and curried vegetables, which is the standard meal here in Nepal.
My first week was spent mainly working on rubble removal projects, which is the hardest work I have ever done in my life. Usually, a team will 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 have 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 removal projects, it always amazes me how much rubble one home can create.
The families seem overwhelmed by the wreckage they’ve been left to deal with, and it feels really incredible to be able to help them. As gratifying as it is, it’s also sad at times. Particularly when finding items like clothing and children’s toys that were destroyed and buried in the rubble. Sometimes we uncover family photos that are still intact. The faces of family members always light up when given a photo they thought had been lost. Once all the rubble is finally cleared, you can see the huge weight lifted from everyone’s shoulders.
Another place where we have worked is inside Kathmandu’s IDP camps. They are official government camps that house families who’ve lost their homes and had to vacate their land completely. Most families are from rural villages in the mountains, where until now have lived a very quiet and peaceful existence. Because of the earthquake, they’ve been forced to relocate to the chaotic and bustling city of Kathmandu. Without work, and in unfamiliar surroundings, many camp residents appear depressed and despondent, spending their days sitting idly around the camp.
All Hands is working to improve the living conditions in the camps, where there is frequent flooding and a lack of sanitation facilities. Our aim is to create a safer, more dignified environment for them to live in. Families seem both surprised and excited when we show up each day, and are eager to jump in and help. Recently in one camp, we created an irrigation system as well as constructed toilets, showering rooms, and a platform for them to wash clothes.
Over the past month, Ben and I have received a stream of donations. To everyone who has contributed, we cannot thank you enough! We are so overwhelmed by your compassion and desire to help those on the other side of the world. It’s been incredible to put these funds towards projects that we believe in, and whose impact we are able to witness first-hand.
While we’ve been volunteering in Kathmandu, some of the donation money went towards constructing temporary metal shelters in the devastated Gorkha district. After spending time in remote villages last month, we came to understand how important temporary shelters are at this time, as it is the fastest way provide protection for people to ride out the monsoon season. We decided to donate to Karma Flights, after getting to know the organization personally, and provided enough funds to have 15 shelters constructed. Prem, the director of Karma Flights, informed us several days ago that they had been built and sent us some photographs. Seeing photos of the constructed shelters felt amazing.
Admittedly, I was a little disappointing not being there in person to help with the construction. 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 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, 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 have donated, there are 15 families who have adequate shelter for the remainder of the monsoon season, until they can hopefully construct a permanent home later this year.
At this time, we have decided to help fund an All Hands project, called the ’50 Homes’ project. This is a unique home construction project, that uses a prefabricated, resilient design. The design features a steel frame that can be constructed in a single day. The frame is then encased in a wire mesh 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 process. You can read more about the home design on our fundraising page.
One of the things I really appreciate about this project is that All Hands has chosen to build the homes for mainly Dahlit families. For those who are unfamiliar with the caste system in Nepal, Dahlits are deemed as having the lowest status in Nepali society. Even before the earthquake, these families had very little opportunities and they are in the most need of help during this time.
Throughout our experience in Nepal, we have found that 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 still have so much hope.
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 really proud of how we have chosen to spend your donations. Stay tuned for more updates on the 50 Homes project and on our journey here in Nepal!
These photographs were snapped quickly while working with our iphone and some belong to other volunteers*