To members and supporters of the Earth Garden Foundation Australia
The tragedy of the Nepal Earthquake has come as a shock to us all. My family returned from Nepal ten days before the earthquake struck.
EGFA has been in contact with our partner organisations in Nepal: the Himalayan Light Foundation, who co-ordinate all our solar lighting projects; and TEAM Nepal who run the children’s home we support.
Initially, it was impossible to get through to anyone in Nepal. By Sunday night we had made contact with most of our friends, colleagues and partners. The good news is as follows.
Yadav Gurung, Manager of the Himalayan Light Foundation (see Yadav’s story in the autumn 2015 issue of EG) survived the earthquake.
On Sunday 26th, the day after the initial quake, when I finally made contact with Yadav by text, he replied as follows: “Thank you so much. We are not alone, there are hundreds of other families living together under tent and trying to support each other with whatever resources we all have and praying for the safety and long life. I will try to be in touch with much possibilities."
He and his family are still camped in a tent in the street near their home. As of Wednesday afternoon, 29 April, Yadav advised by text that there were still aftershocks taking place in Kathmandu and he was not prepared to move his family back into their home yet. He says his challenge is to make sure he and his family can keep getting clean water and food.
On Monday 27th, after many attempts, I finally made contact with the Founder of TEAM Nepal, Neel Bahadur Shahi, one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. Neel was very agitated but able to confirm that he and his family all survived the quakes, and also that all the children and staff at the children’s home in Talamarang village in Sindhupalchowk district (about 80 km north-east of Kathmandu) have also survived. Neel hopes to travel to the home this week to assess the damage and report back to me on what help EGFA might be able to offer the home and surrounding village.
The bad news is that Neel says 90%+ of the homes in Talamarang village have been flattened, and 20 to 25 village people have died in this one village. The roof of the brand-new volunteer’s building at the children's home has subsided but Neel pointed out that this is a small matter compared to the loss of life in the village where he has funded and built the high school for 700 students. Sindhupalchowk district is one of the 11 most-affected of the 75 districts in Nepal, as is Ramechaap - the district from which my family have just returned after installing solar lighting in a health post and monastery.
Remarkably, it is entirely due to the superhuman energy and foresight of Neel in creating a brand-new, purpose-built, quake-proof home, that the 20 children and staff were moved from a rickety old stone farmhouse on a steep hillside just three months ago, into the solid new home on a flat hilltop above the village. I have no doubt there would have been loss of life if they had still been in the old rented home.
I spoke to Neel again on Tuesday 28th April. He was much calmer. He said that people in Kathmandu are all calmer because the aftershocks are decreasing in frequency from once every hour to once every four hours or so. Like Yadav, he stated that the challenge in coming days will be for people in Kathmandu to maintain access to clean water and food.
On Sunday night 26th April I also spoke to Tashi Tenzing, a longtime Nepali friend and grandson of Tenzing Norgay. Tashi, his family, and trekking company staff - whom my family have depended on for many, many years when completing projects in Nepal - all survived. Tashi and his family are camped out in their garden next to their home. Unfortunately, three school children and a teacher have died in the village of Nuwarkot where Tashi and his family have built three schools and maintain a coffee farm to help local village people with employment to avoid sending their children off to work in other countries.
On Wednesday 29th April I finally got through to Pasang, our Mountain Guide, who has led our trekking teams on two solar projects into remote areas of Nepal. My family returned from installing solar lighting in a health post and monastery just ten days before the quakes, and Pasang was our guide again. Pasang and his family survived the quake but their home is "broken”, he told me. Pasang and his family live in a one-room apartment on the ground floor of a multi-storey building in suburban Kathmandu. They are now camped in a tent in nearby Army barracks grounds. Pasang said they are all well and happy to be alive.
It is still too early to fully assess the full impact of the earthquakes. As rescue teams reach remote villages the death toll will undoubtedly climb rapidly because, in a country with no building standards, it is the old, poorly-made buildings that have collapsed, killing people, whereas the newer buildings in city areas have mainly survived. Pasang pointed out to me that it is not just the roads that are ruined - the bridges will mostly be destroyed too. Many people in remote villages have had their food stores crushed under collapsed buildings. Neel remarked that it was extremely fortunate that the quake struck around midday: most Nepalis were outside working at this time of day. International aid teams are now piling into Nepal and the situation should rapidly improve in some areas accessible by helicopter.
Over the past seven years EGFA has installed solar lighting systems in health posts and schools in 36 villages throughout remote parts of Nepal ranging from Dullu and Dolpo in the far West to the Solukhumbu in the East. It is too early to know how many of these systems and buildings have survived. If they have survived, their importance is magnified now that the health posts will be working around the clock to treat sick and injured villagers.
In the days, weeks and months ahead EGFA will be slowly assessing the ways we can do our small part to help the remarkable Nepali people recover from yet another setback. Poor Nepal. They have nearly recovered from the disastrous ten year civil war started by the so-called Maoists. This disaster will set them back many years - perhaps ten or even 20 years. We will update members and supporters as soon as we know the best way to help.
In the meantime, if people wish to donate money to help people in Nepal, it seems to me that three choices stand out.
1. The UNICEF Nepal Earthquake Appeal (they are very good and happened to have an international earthquake rescue/relief team meeting in Kathmandu a few days before the quake).http://www.unicef.org.au
Or Oxfam’s appeal - they are great too.https://www.oxfam.org.au
Our own little Foundation is not set up for disaster relief but soon we’ll be asking people to donate, or join EGFA to help rebuild the village where our orphanage is located; and/or help repair/reinstate any existing EGFA solar power systems or health posts damaged by the earthquake. Joining or donating to EGFA will help Nepal because we have no admin fees - all money donated goes to Nepal. www.egfa.org.au