Rebuilding Lives in Earthquake Stricken Nepal

June 15, 2015

A personal account of hope and support for a more sustainable future

The ground beneath them rocked and in all but a few merciless seconds their world came crashing down around them. 'That was an earthquake!' Hem posted on facebook, a statement of disbelief and shock as much as fact. I helplessly looked on from behind my computer screen, safe on another continent, as the full scale of the disaster unfolded. The trickle of news soon gave way to a torrent of heart wrenching accounts and images - of lives and livelihoods lost, of bare hands digging in dust and rubble, of unrecognisable ruins, of panic and despair.

Nepal was long overdue this earthquake but no-one was prepared for the devastating impact that it would have, the series of violent tremors that followed and the second earthquake that hit just 17 days after the first with almost as much ferocity.

Reaching out to those most in need
Hem was at home when the earthquake hit. He and his family were lucky - their building remained standing, although they're still afraid of going back inside. From that first fateful day he's thrown himself into the service of those in need. Initially, he went out on his motorbike, to survey the damage and report back to the government forces and rescue teams where people were trapped alive under the rubble. By Day four, once the live rescue was over, he turned his attention to the more remote and far flung villages beyond the Kathmandu valley.

Thanks to his solid reputation in the tourism industry and decades of service, personally welcoming guests into his home from around the world, Hem has made many friends who came forward to offer donations soon after the earthquake struck. Working alongside other affiliated local organisations he has been busy delivering supplies to remote locations across the country. He finds a way to make contact with someone in the village, asks them how many people are suffering and invites them to walk to the roadside, to collect whatever supplies they need.

On a crackling phone line Hem tells me:

'In the first few days after the quake people needed emergency shelter – a roof over their heads. After three or four days it was food. Then we started handing out sanitary items like soap, medicines, female hygeine products and milk formula for infants'.

Nepal is a largely rural population. It lacks infrastructure and the majority of villages are inaccessible by large vehicles, with some having no road access at all. In the villages, the voice of the people goes unheard. Thankfully, the earthquake struck during the daytime and on a weekend when many people were outside in the fields, which no doubt lessened the loss of life. But whole communities of people, whose peaceful ways of life have remained unchanged for generations, now find themselves homeless, living outside, their few possessions, including their valuable livestock, gone. I visited such a place last year, a small rural village which now lies is ruins, abandoned. The inhabitants have received no outside help, no aid from government or international organisations. It's a heavy price to pay for the simple life.

Tourism, Nepal's biggest industry, has also taken a massive hit. People like Hem have all but lost their income. But he has other priorities now. Rebuilding lives will take time and his task is to help those in need both in the short and the long term.

Sustainable Housing for All

The monsoon will arrive in a few months so rebuilding homes is a massive priority. As I write, Hem is travelling to the remote village of Rhamicha? to provide metal roofs for 100 hundred houses being rebuilt the traditional way, from mud, stone and bamboo. The village school is also being completely rebuilt using earthbag building, part of the new demand for sustainable housing, using earthquake proof roofing and cheaper, natural resources that have a low environmental impact. This is a long term project that could continue for 5, 10 or 15 years, not just to rebuild homes that have been destroyed but to replace ones still standing with stronger more sustainable alternatives.


How can I help?
Hem is asking for volunteers and donors to rebuild sustainable housing. He is also organising training for volunteers on how to build using the earth bag method. Any donations would be gratefully received and you can donate directly via Western Union (details below).

But what about the official channels for donating funds I asked him? This was his response:

'The Nepal government isn't making it easy to donate money outside of it's own relief fund. Many of my old customer and friends from the West have contacted me to offer their support, but if they pay me money it will be taxed heavily. The government is very angry that donations aren't going through them. But no-one trusts the government! They want us to coordinate with them, but we don't know where the money is going. I've gone along to meetings of government officials and aid agencies where volunteers are being put up in fancy hotels and only a small percentage of donations are going directly to people who needed it whilst the rest is being allocated to 'expenses'. I left those meetings. I don't want to be involved with those people'.

Nepal is in crisis. People are struggling to survive, suffering from shock and in fear of further aftershocks. But one thing remains certain. Life will go on. Children are returning to school, people are starting to rebuild their lives out of the debris and the tourists will come back to boost the economy once more. People are helping each other, untiing amid tragic circumstances and showing the true strength of the human spirit. They will overcome the confusion and deep sense of loss and out of the chaos will emerge a stronger and more stable Nepal than ever before. Let's help them make this happen.

1) Donate Money: Supporting earthquake victims directly in the most isolated communities

Anything you can afford to donate would be greatly appreciated. Here are some examples of where donations are needed:

60 GBP / 93 USD 1 metal roof for small family house

1,638 GBP / 2,539 USD Earthbag materials for school

65 GBP/ 100 USD Food package

6 GBP / 10 USD

20 GBP /  35 USD Baby Formula

6 GBP / 10 USD Sanitary items

Western Union details: Hem Bahadur Mugrati, Sachetan Marg Baneswor Kathmandu.


2) Donate your time: Help build a community earthbag school or rebuild a family home (+ optional trekking)

Hem is also offering some amazing packages for people who want to offer their practical help.

Volunteer alongside people affected by the earthquake and help them to rebuild their lives whilst getting a real taste of Nepali culture and the Nepali way of life. All food and accommodation and transport during your stay are covered in the price with all profits going directly to the people you are living alongside.

If you are helping with a school, you will be living within a small tented community and eating in the local restaurant. If you are helping a family directly, you will eat all your meals with them and stay in their home. For people who prefer to stay in a hotel in Kathmandu it is also possible to drive to your place of work and back each day (at extra cost).

150 USD for 1 week (minimum)
500 USD for 1 week volunteering, plus 5 day trek (choose from Everest, Annapurna or Kanchanjungs regions).

This is a great opportunity and an even better cause. I can personally vouch for Hem's honesty, reputation and expertise in offering you an amazing experience that will directly help to improve lives. I encourage anyone and everyone who can to please spread the word and get involved!

Contact Hem  for more info

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