Oct 15, 2015

The People You Meet Along the Way: A Nation Rebuilding

Nearly six months have passed since the devastating earthquake struck Nepal on April 25th, 2015. Life in the streets of Kathmandu has returned to normal. The easy-going ‘buzz’ has returned with the familiar honking of horns, cars kicking up dust and shops once again open with colourful smiling local people selling their trinkets on the streets. Rather than the ‘great quake’, the topic on everyone’s lips is the current fuel crisis in Nepal which has resulted in fuel rationing,  line-ups of hundreds of thousands of cars and motorcycles along the streets and the cost of fuel sky rocketing.  

Flying into Kathmandu last week I was relieved to note that the tapestry of bright orange, blue and green tents and tarps which once formed a patchwork across the country was significantly less prominent. Today, shiny tin and corrugated iron roofs shine brightly against a lush green backdrop of trees in the countryside and amidst the brown dust of the city. 

Organised piles of bricks, wood and other debris now sit alongside the once iconic historical sites. On Tuesday I visited Bhaktapur, once home to some of the most beautiful examples of ornate terra-cotta and carved wood Nepali monuments, temples, palaces, pagodas and religious shrines. The neatly piled bricks brought back vivid memories of a chaotic and hot day I spent helping to clear bricks and clamouring over devastated homes in early May, shortly after the earthquake. The atmosphere then was of shock and disbelief. Today the atmosphere is one of gratitude for what was left behind, hope for the future and a deep rooted determination to move forward. A brick pedestal that once served as the foundation to an ornate monument, now provides the perfect perch for groups of boys to fly their kites, rising high against the warm breezes.

Aftershocks are now the ‘new normal’. It’s not uncommon to pause mid-conversation, raise an eyebrow and comment, ‘Did you feel that…?’ Only to then continue on as normal as the shock was deemed to be nothing more than a 3.5 or a 4…  

Whilst there are inspiring signs of progress in Kathmandu, in the more rural areas, thousands of people are still living in tents and under tarps which provide little warmth and protection from the elements. Many communities are still missing the vital parts of a daily life: schools, stores and monasteries. There are continued promises of aid and respite from the government, but things move slowly here and often times the local agenda is buried among the tectonic shifts of a constantly moving political agenda. The current fuel crisis is an example of this.

I’ve spent the week working with Sherpa Adventure Gear’s Paldorje Education Foundation and focusing specifically on a school rebuilding project in the remote and rural village of Dalchoki. The school is attended by approximately 445 students, many of which travel up to 3 hours (each way) to get to and from school.  According to UNICEF estimates, almost 24,000 classrooms were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, impacting at least 950,000 children. My work this week has focused on understanding what rebuilding activities are taking place at the local level, the processes that underpin these activities, and the level of community engagement and ownership. What I’ve found is that ultimately, for any rebuilding project to succeed and to have the greatest possible impact in the community (employment, skills transfer, and local empowerment) there needs to be significant local ownership and engagement. This has now started in Dalchoki and it’s inspiring to have been part of the first steps in bringing positive change to this friendly rural village. 

A wonderful example of positive change and engagement at the local level was sharedduring a visit to the Chaudhary Foundation’s Bhaktapur shelter site, just outside of Kathmandu. As part of its commitment to supporting the rebuilding efforts, The Chaudhary Foundation has pledged to sponsor the building of 10,000 transitional homes and 100 schools. During our Bhaktapur site visit, we chatted with the local people who showcased their community of 60 transitional shelters. It was inspiring to sense the pride in their eyes as they shared the features of their simple yet comfortable homes – one solid room with two windows and a roof over their heads. As most of their lives are spent outside in the fields, working the land or interacting with others in the community, there’s little need for anything more. Happy people don’t have the best of everything. They make the best of everything.

I learn something new with every adventure to this amazing country. Having been on numerous expeditions in Nepal I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the Sherpas, from my guides and team mates and from those people I’ve met along the way to the summits of some of the highest mountains in the world. These lessons have been about teamwork, decision making, and agility. During my topsy-turvy time in April /May this year, the theme of my journey was resilience as I learned from the local people that life isn’t about how high you climb but how well you bounce. On this trip, I’ve learned about gratitude.  Whilst it’s clear that there is still much to do here in Nepal and that the challenges facing its people are significant, there is a deep-rooted sense of gratitude. For the local people, this gratitude has transformed common days into days of thanksgiving, routine jobs into joy, and ordinary opportunities into blessings. 


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