Building Shelters in Nepal: Part 1
It has been an amazing week. Upon arrival I was welcomed into the home of the director of CASD-Nepal, along with the team of four that I was joining. In fact all 6 of us slept in one room, three women on the bed and three men on the floor. Last night we were laughing about how they took a big risk on me, and I took a big risk on them. It couldnt have turned out any better.
Early the next morning I loaded into a taxi with Sean, Benjamin, and Shauntae for the hour long ride through Kathmandu and out to a rural corner of Lalitpur region. It wasnt until that drive that I started to see the real devastation of the earthquake: buildings partially and totally collapsed, some leaning against each other or propped up with supports, and make-shift tents in the highway median, the airfield, and every open space. People were too afraid to sleep in their homes in case another quake hit at night.
The team had been working for four days already in the village so they already knew everyone’s names and we got straight to work. The shelters are made of bamboo with zinc/tin roofs and made to last 5 years, to give some structure while the families rebuild. Nepali homes are traditionally made of stone and mud and can take generations to build. So the recovery process will take decades.
You would never know what these people have been through. We always had helping hands, tons of laughs, and children playing around us. We were given tea twice a day and sometimes invited to dinner, while we knew they only had a four day supply of food (one of our supporting organizations is managing food aid.) There was a spontaneous dance party one afternoon when a big speaker appeared. We were offered Nepali whiskey at every opportunity. We were given everything they had to give and even though landslides were continuously slipping in the valley around us and small tremors were a daily occurance, the atmosphere was beautiful.
After a couple of days we were joined by an extraordinary international team of trauma councilors that the boys had met at a hotel. While half the team played with the kids in the courtyard they taught the women how to help their children and family through trauma.
Then they all lended their hands to building, along with a contingent of the Nepali army that happened to be stationed nearby! We built three shelters in one day-thats new homes for 18 people. That afternoon Shauntae left and Ric, an Australian vet and CASD-Nepal ambassador joined me and the guys. We were an awesome team and after building so many shelters we were very efficient. We built eight shelters in a week.
One of the new shelter sites was directly in front of a man’s partially destroyed home, which we were all concerned might fall exactly on top of the new structure. That man worked so hard on everyone elses shelters and we were so upset that we may not be able to finish his. Enter the Nepali army who was based nearby and so happy to see people helping the rural village. They had special training in demolishing damaged houses and although they made me very nervous (climbing inside and kicking out the walls from the inside while the roof bounced on top of them), they did an awesome job and we were able to finish the new shelter. It was the last one we did and it was the most important thing that we finished.
Our last morning we went to the village leader’s house for our usual milk tea before catching the bus, and ended up with the most beautiful send-off I’ve ever had. Out came a platter of flowers to hang around our necks, red tika that the elder blessed and smudged on our foreheads, and urns of water and more flowers for us to walk between on our way. I had been there less than a week and I cried the whole time. We were all so happy and sad to leave.
The boys flew back to America yesterday to go back to work and continue fundraising. But the project they set in motion is still going, and even expanding. We were asked by the government to build over 200 shelters and 20 temporary schools. The bamboo foreman will be paid to continue without us as long as the funds for him and the materials last. Bamboo prices have started to rise as everyone is starting to follow suit and rebuild. Now maybe cost will be $200 per shelter, so the fundraising effort is the most important in order to continue helping these beautiful people.
I have heard predictions of an even bigger quake to come in the next couple of days, so please hold us in your thoughts.