Nepal Earthquake: Rebuilding with Hope

Line Højland, Communication Officer from Mission East in Denmark, shares with us some of her impressions and experiences from her time in Nepal. Mission East, building on their established work in the country, have been partnering with fellow Integral Member Medair in the distribution of essential non-food items …

Photo: Mission East,  Line Højland with Kamala

What was your impression of the situation on arriving in Nepal?
Upon my arrival in Kathmandu it was of course shocking to see the many devastated buildings, but in the countryside it was even worse. It surprised me that life was somehow continuing. In the villages that I visited people were gathering around the teahouses, and even though in some places they had collapsed, it had been a priority to start them up again – all seemed very ‘normal’.  

What were some of your activities after arriving?
I went and talked to some of the people living in tents in Kathmandu. Some of them had lost their houses, while others were staying outside because they were afraid that their house would collapse in some of the aftershocks. 

I have also participated in two of the distributions in the villages outside Kathmandu. Almost all the houses were damaged and not suitable for living, so people were staying outside in poorly constructed tents. They told me that when it rained, the water came in. People were largely in shock. Many have lost family members, including children. I talked with one family who lost four children. While having to cope with their grief, people furthermore have to cope with loss of physical assets – many cattle were killed, and the stored rice and grain was buried under the ruins. It has to be separated from the stone and gravel before it can be used. Added to this, is the challenging work of rebuilding their houses and the fear that it will happen again.  

Can you share a highlight or something that has struck you so far? 
It is indeed very touching to see the happiness of people after receiving very simple things – tarp, a jerry-can, soap, a cup and water purifier. In the distribution the people who gathered around us seemed pretty desperate, but afterwards were relieved; they thanked us while they happily walked the one hour walk up the hill to their scattered homes with their heavy burdens. 

Yesterday we were introduced to a group of people with disabilities by a woman from a local disability organisation. Many were in wheelchairs and most had lost their homes in the earthquake and did not have anywhere else to go. I talked with Kamala aged 23 (pictured) – she was in a wheelchair and used to live with her mother and sister in a town outside of Kathmandu. On the day of the earthquake she was visiting friends in the capital, whilst her town was completely destroyed. She does not yet know what has happened to her mother and sister and does not have anywhere to go. The Chinese Red Cross has provided some tents, Engineers without Borders have dug some latrines and local volunteers were providing two meals a day. Mission East will provide a water tank and food for a month, and perhaps also some sanitary towels and soap, which Kamala told me she needs. She became so happy when I gave her a simple black and white copy of the photo taken of us. Kamala is really in a precarious situation, but it is very moving to me how she still manages to smile and is so gentle.

What is Mission East currently doing in Nepal? 
Mission East has been working in Nepal since 2007 in the remote region of Karnali, and since 2009 in the area of Disaster Risk Reduction. Our programme manager was already working in some of the earthquake-affected communities and had good relationships with them. Furthermore, in Karnali, we have been working together with a local partner and cooperating with a conservation forum. These relationships have proved very useful in the work of providing relief aid to the local communities. Together with Medair, and with the help of local partners and volunteers we have distributed items to ensure better shelter and hygiene. We also have an inclusion and protection coordinator working on how best to include the most vulnerable in all we do.

What value do you see in the coordination Integral Alliance is providing?
The combination of Mission East’s established work in Nepal and good relationships with local communities, and Medair’s expertise in relief aid has proved to be very fruitful indeed. Certainly it is as we collaborate that we make use of our different competencies. 

As you leave Nepal what is your hope for the future?
I hope that this terrible disaster will cause NGOs, the government and local communities to be more aware of how to prevent damage after earthquakes. People are rebuilding their houses now the same way as they were before, i.e. still vulnerable to earthquakes. After the relief distribution has finished I really hope that the NGOs will start working on training the population and implement more earthquake secure building techniques. It is a slow development and long term investment, but now is the time to do it, when the houses need rebuilding anyway.