On Thursday, five days after the devasting earthquake in Nepal, I joined an ActionAid distribution of food and materials for shelter in the community of Panga.
Driving through the streets of Kathmandu and the surrounding communities and villages at the moment is bewildering. The elegance of the old city in some places is relatively unscathed, but in others debris lies strewn across the pavements and roads.
So it was in Panga, rounding a corner it was impossible to predict whether you’d be confronted by great beauty or utter devastation.
Arriving at the camp where people were sheltering, I quickly realised it was actually a repurposed higher secondary school playground. That realisation led swiftly to concern for the children who were casualties of the earthquake.
While packing our pickup trucks to go to Panga, I’d heard from a colleague in a different district called Kavre, that 80% of the schools there had been destroyed.
As with every community we’ve visited that evacuated from their homes, we were greeted with smiles and gratitude for the international support we represent and more tangibly for the food that we carried in our pickup.
This community had clearly been badly affected. They lost 140 homes. These homes often had large and extended families living there, that (I’m told) average around 7 or 8 in a household.
I met a few people from the Maharjan family, including Khanchi picture below and her daughter Kristina.
Kristina had been playing with two of her friends when the earthquake struck. They huddled together in fear as their home shook violently. Tragically a wall then collapsed on them, and crushed them still together against the floor.
One of Kristina’s friends didn’t survive, and she and her friend suffered injuries from the falling masonry.
To ensure fair distribution of resources and that everyone in the community receives support, the Panga community organise themselves, and one of the key groups in this is the Women’s Leadership Forum (pictured at the top).
In the community there are quite a few women breastfeeding, who require a regular and nutritious diet in order to produce milk. We brought special food rations for them.
The women that comprise this forum are among the most impressive people I’ve met. Strong and resilient, but also empathetic and intelligent.
Richard who had just arrived to lend more support to our relief effort, joined me and the local team to help distribute food. We spoke to Nanda Nhahgan, the head of the local school and key member of the Women’s Forum.
She told us 3 children from her school were killed in the quake, and several more from the community. As she told us she started weeping uncontrollably and apologising profusely to us and to the people around her who she was representing. She had been so brave and strong for so long to support other people in her community, when we arrive with food and assistance, I think she let go of some of her pain with us, I certainly hope so.
I will never forget your help. Please continue and give to other communities. I hope that no one has to face this kind of disaster ever again.
We both hugged her, and will carry a part of her spirit with us always.
Leaving the playground, and walking through the streets of Panga it was devastated. Many buildings were destroyed, some had lost their foundations and leaned perilously over other buildings ready to reduce both to rubble.
The community of Panga have pulled together and are united in their response to the disaster. They’re receiving basic medical attention and supplies donated from a local chemist, and with Nanda helping with their reconstruction and recovery, I expect and dearly hope to see them making rapid progress to heal after the earthquake.
If you can support our response, please do: www.actionaid.org/nepaldonate.
I’m also trying to give regular updates via my Twitter account, and I try to pass on all the kind words people are sending me to the people here: twitter.com/geecologist