Nepal Earthquake Relief Update
Nima Sherpa and Nick Moon’s visit to Nepal, June 2015
On June 1st, Nima and Nick left for Kathmandu, about 5 weeks after the first quake in late April. What they found in the city was a mixture of areas that were left untouched by the two major earthquakes and others that were completely destroyed. In general, the latter were buildings that were poorly constructed and the oldest historical areas that date back 100’s of years. Some city roads were impassible, others seemed unchanged.
Their family and friends were living in conditions ranging from dangerously primitive to simply uncomfortable. One family had set up a makeshift shelter of donated tarps, along with family rugs from their ruined home; eighteen people were eating, living, and sleeping in this covered area. Another family had a home that was damaged, but still standing. They would go inside to gather things they needed, but were afraid to sleep under its roof, for fear that one of the continuing tremors would be another big one and bring down the entire house.
All of these conditions were exacerbated by the onset of the monsoons. Torrential downpours made the 100 degree heat stifling, caused a thriving mosquito population, and created perpetually-soggy living conditions in Kathmandu. The chaos of the initial weeks after the two major earthquakes was replaced by a resignation of some kind of “new normal.” There was now food and access to some health care, along with running water, but the future depends on the hope that the government would, in fact, be compensating for the loss of the homes.
Nima and Nick were able to distribute a number of donated items from the US that proved useful: rain jackets, mosquito tents, Crocs, umbrellas, sleeping bags for the kids, and a camp mattress to protect Grandma from the wet ground. They also purchased plywood to build a crude privacy shelter for the two elderly women. They also visited friends of Nima’s, one of whom was in a hospital due to internal and bone injuries suffered in the avalanche on Everest. Like many, he arrived in Kathmandu after heroic rescue efforts, only to find that health care was sparse. However, he is expected to live and the visit by his longtime friend made a big difference to him.
Perhaps the most important “gift” that Nima and Nick gave was to simply be there – to show their care and concern, and to deliver the well-wishes from those in the US and elsewhere, who contributed to the supplies and funds that were donated so generously.
This was true as well when the two of them traveled to the Khumbu region. They were able to fly into Lukla, the start of most trekkers and climbers on their way into the Everest region. This village is very close to Nima’s home, Kangma. There he found his mother and many of his family, who were all sleeping out of doors either in tents or under tarps. Some of the homes in his village were rubble, others standing with stress cracks, and a few untouched. However, no one wanted to sleep indoors, for fear that they would be trapped if another quake hit. At this time the aftershocks were occurring almost daily.
Here they distributed the monsoon supplies (rain jackets, boots, Crocs, umbrellas) as in Kathmandu, and also many rugged work gloves. The latter were put to good use as Nick helped the local men sort through the ruined buildings and clear the rubble into piles that could be used later to rebuild. The main work at the time was to clear away the debris from the local school, a Hillary institution, which was completely unusable. Getting the school back and functioning was a high priority for the village; even with the recent destruction, the local children were already back to class in tents.
Meanwhile, Nima donated money to the monastery to help rebuild the local community shelter, in addition to cash donations to family members. He also purchased almost 40 extra tarps to be sent from Kathmandu. The ones distributed earlier by aid groups were useful, but too small for practical shelter. There was also a need for extra tarps in order to protect the summer’s harvest; it was time to harvest the barley and potatoes and they needed dry storage. Nima joined in the harvest as well after Nick left for the States. However, they first had a fact-finding trek to take up into the Khumbu.
Over a period of 5 days, the two of them hiked on the familiar routes, through Phakding, Jorsale, Monjo to the Namche Hill. From there they went to Namche, Tengboche, Khumjung, Thamo and Thame. The trek was arduous due to the never-ending monsoons and the uneven trail conditions, including some that had been wiped away completely from landslides. Some of the villages were deserted due to fear of slides and floods, others had some occupants; but all were struggling with the destruction and aftershocks.
On the well-known route to Everest they saw a random arrangement of international efforts of help, from the German Red Cross cooking tents to the Chinese supplies. However, the situation in the off-the-beaten-path villages was a different story. There was no organized aid, if any at all, to help with housing, food and clothing. One traveling couple of South America had taken it upon themselves to stay in Thame after the quake and to organize relief efforts for some residents in even more remote locations. Nick and Alex donated money to their effort, which was largely a Facebook-run event.
Upon return to the States, both Nima and Nick expressed their opinions about ways to utilize the generous donations the Maya Sherpa Project had received. They agreed that the best approach is to help rebuild village structures – the schools, health clinics, and monasteries – that will not be supported by government funding. Nothing could be more important, as these places are the heart of every Sherpa village; this is where they come together as a community to celebrate, share, learn, and mourn. And this is where they will find the support to help each other heal. The Sherpa are a resilient people, but first, let us help to get them back on their feet.