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Nepal earthquake: Resilience on top of a mountain

Sunday, May 3, 2015 - 15:12

The vibrancy of Kathmandu was beginning to return this morning. 

The queues for petrol stations that had stretched almost as far as the eye could see on previous days, were no longer there. As we came past the main park in the centre of Kathmandu that hosts events in the city, it was clear there were fewer tents and shelters. Asking people nearby they said of the roughly 5,000 people that sought shelter there, only around 200 were left, the others having made more permanent plans with family and friends, or returned to homes that were still habitable.

One week on from the first earthquake, we came together as an office and held hands for a minute of silence to remember those that lost their lives. It was the first real moment of calm we shared together, and it stirred emotional memories for staff who lived through it.

After embraces and reassurances, we were swiftly back to loading 4x4 pickup trucks destined for rural areas that are hard to reach. People are telling us their primary need is for waterproof shelter, and a very close second is food, depending on the community.

I jumped on a fully laden pickup heading for rural Kot Danda with our IT guy Devendra. It is of course all hands on deck, or rather all hands to help deliveries.

On the way the BBC World Service got in touch by Twitter.

Some of our youth volunteers accompanied us to the village to help out, and went ahead of the pickup on motorbikes. The only way to describe the road honestly would be ‘perilous’, it must have been a steeper angle than 20°, and dropped almost vertically on one side. It was only a mud track as well, so I’m sure wouldn’t be navigable in the monsoon season.

Our volunteers stopped after a while and said, ‘it gets really narrow up ahead’. To say I was nervous would be an understatement! Despite my concerns, we obviously did make it to the top, and our extraordinary driver showed no signs of stress at all. 

Ashish Sinha, a friend of ActionAid and a new farmer in Kot Danda, acted as our guide and translated conversations for me as the non-Nepali speaker. He said in their community 96 of the 114 homes were no longer structurally safe. 

The first person we met was Gaynu Nagar Koti (above with Archana another friend and board member of ActionAid). 

I’m living in this tent with my husband Vishnu, my son, daughter in law and their twins.

Her twin grandchildren, Ram and Laxman, are 3 months old and very vulnerable to the cold weather. She was happy to learn that as well as the food we’d brought, we knew they needed waterproof materials for shelter and had some in the back of our pickup.

We walked up towards one of the community kitchens they’d established, where our pickup was being unloaded for the food distribution. They have created community kitchens at either end of the village to ensure that the old and / or injured villagers can easily get to one.

On the way we saw Sushila Tamang’s house. When the earthquake struck she was working out in the field. 

Most people could barely stand, but I knew I had to reach my children.

She ran across the field and into her house as quickly as she could. She couldn’t see anything because of the dust and debris that was flying everywhere. Her daughter is only 5 months old, and her son 5 years old. She sensed where her children were in the room, gathered them in her arms and carried them to safety. 

Sushila is heroic in my opinion. She is soft spoken and seemed shy when I spoke to her, especially when I asked to take her photograph, but her resilience and bravery are formidable. 

While still in Kot Danda, I spoke to the BBC’s World Service, and once the local people knew what I was doing with the strange looking satellite phone, they said they’d tune in. 

We also visited the local school that was devastated by the earthquake. One wall had come away completely revealing the classroom inside. 

There’s a blue sign on the wall that’s survived. It says, ‘Welcome to our school’.

Our guide for the day Ashish said he’s trying out some new crops, including almonds and coffee. Previously the farmers on this mountain top grew mostly subsistence crops which relieved them of the burden of transporting food up the mountain. If they start growing additional crops for sale, as Ashish is, they will also have another steady income to the village. Other villagers who aren’t involved in farming commute down to Kathmandu and work as drivers. 

The community of Kot Danda is just one example of how strong communities in Nepal are, and how quickly and equitably they have organised themselves to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake. The food is distributed by the Village Welfare Committee, a sub-section of the Village Development Committee. 

It’s humbling and inspiring to have the privilege of meeting these people. 

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