Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shelters for Sankhu

We have been in Nepal for just over a week now and the original plan was to help the people of Changunarayan rebuild what we could and to perhaps make some temporary shelters. After assessing, by comparison, the people of Sankhu – a larger town on the Kathmandu Valley floor about 1.5 hours walk from Changunarayan, needed more urgent help as the scale of damage was monumental. It was the hardest hit town in the Kathmandu valley.  When we visited Sankhu we were all in agreement that this place really could do with extra help, as we noticed many people living in tents or out in public places such as building veranda’s.  It was decided Sankhu would get our immediate help, and Changunarayan after we had completed the building project in Sankhu.  People were getting on with ‘business as usual” and trying to rebuild their stunning ancient town as best they could.
We were lucky to meet Dilip, who appears genuinely interested in helping his fellow townsfolk and being able to construct the shelters on his property was a huge help for us.  Dilip has also been extremely helpful in sourcing building materials and all the things we need – even if it does take forever and often gets forgotten! He has a good kind heart and I feel he is working in our best interest.  Of course all the surrounding shops are benefitting too as we eat everyday at the cafĂ© across the road operated by a young couple, and we purchase our supplies in the village, plus other goodies such as Nepali donuts (AMAZING when just fresh), and biscuits.  


Lovely Nepali woman who cooks our lunch in her small cafe. 

I placed a water filter on the tap at Dilip’s house and so now we do not have to buy umpteen water bottles in a day and add to the already enormous litter problem in this country.


Water filter in action at our building site which is making the workers there very happy.

I have placed half the water filters there plus I have also had a chance to teach some children in one of the local schools. It has been incredibly rewarding so far.


I just loved this little girls school bag ... "DEATH"! I am certain they do not understand what it says!


Nepali school children doing their "english". Even the teacher could barely understand me, so I am not sure how these kids will get on speaking it!

The frustration with “the way we do things around here” is far out-weighed by the beauty of the people, the opportunity to help and the chance to make new friends.  It has been emotional, heart-warming and humbling. I have loved every second of my time here so far, even the walk back up the hill from the bus stop on the main road (about 40 minutes down the hill from Changunarayan) which is no walk in the park after being out in scorching heat all day working in Sankhu.


The view from Changu. We walk a track down this hill to catch a bus at the bottom every day.

As a team, Steve, Sam and I work pretty well together and we have had a steady hand from Chris – an American also staying at Starview Guesthouse in Changu.  He has been documenting our progress with the building project.


The second shelter going up and Chris filming the action.

The project has been to complete ten houses by this Wednesday or Thursday if possible.  That has now gone by the way-side as things have gone much much slower than expected due to all the problems we have had with tools and equipment. Today we completed the first home in situ for a very elderly man in amongst an extremely damaged area, and we are part way through a second house with a third also waiting for assembly at the site. 


    The elderly man we built the first shelter for.



One completed shelter in situ.

We transported the house in parts on a weird contraption common to Nepal, sort of a small half tractor which is an experience to ride on!


Little tractor thing that hauls our material to the sites.

Placing the parts to assemble the houses (made from metal frames and corrugated iron) to the spots is very challenging as access is usually awkward - this is a town that has literally fallen down, with only the modern buildings surviving; so the more central part of town is mostly collapsed as that is where the original ancient homes were. 


 We erected the second shelter in amongst this in a space cleared by the      recipient.


   The third site is a dream in comparison!

When I look at the places people have been living since this quake destroyed their home three months ago, I feel very humbled and sad.  It was very touching to be able to complete the first home today for the elderly man (who is mute).  Right next door to him was a woman living in a tent – so hard … how to choose who gets what?


   Dilip in amongst the rubble.

We have the aim of completing and erecting two more houses by the end of tomorrow – working around the power cuts and any other tool malfunction (and there will be!).  


The generator that just about saw Steve in tears.  What could possibly go wrong next ...!


Yesterday we hired a generator to use whilst the power was out.  Sadly it could not cope with the load the welder drew, and stopped going.  Soon after that the power went out for four hours and we ran out of battery in the portable drill.  Steve was not impressed.  
Sam, Chris Livio (an Italian also staying at the guesthouse) and myself, all decided to go and help someone in the town until the power came back on as none of us wished to be sitting around. We grabbed the shovel I had purchased the previous day and soon found some people digging out a pathway to their home. We all got stuck in and after an hour had the pile of foul-smelling mud, brick and litter “glob” almost completely removed.  Now THAT was a really satisfying thing to do and we will spend the power–off days doing the same thing.


Helping people dig to kill time between power outages.

Today the welder blew up; an extra cordless drill purchased to help assemble houses with more efficiency couldn't cope with the heavy metal box section framing, and the heat was so fierce we all felt like our batteries had also died!
It is a challenge indeed to get the job done and our original plan of having ten houses up and running by this weekend looks to be stretching further and further back. This worries me as now I know there will be no time left to devote to Changunarayan - which was why I originally came here.  Even though the damage is not as severe as in Sankhu - not by any stretch of the imagination - people here still need and want help.  


   Changu kids ... and stray dog.


Changu - a great village for kids to be raised and to visit.

There is clearing still to do; building projects happening and some people who could do with modifications to their homes. I guess the take away lesson from all this is not to go against the grain - this is Nepal and it is what it is.  There is an inherent respect in 'getting' this, and also life will be a lot less stressful than attempting to make comparisons with how things are done somewhere else.  I can see why things take so long here.  I imagine people will be digging out their homes in Sankhu for the next six months at least given the scale of damage, and the fact that Nepal runs on its own time.  People simply do not have the means to get stuck in and make things happen quickly; everything is done by hand - literally. 


Beautiful old Sankhu home.

I look at the beautiful old damaged buildings and I think New Zealand would possibly make some attempt to retain as much heritage as possible but would more than likely bowl anything over that presents a further earthquake risk.  Here the Nepali just re-do the brick work the same way they always did and life goes on.  They live in amongst it and make do.  
Its very humbling.

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