Blog 3 fromTrish Scott in Nepal

FROM TRISH SCOTT

Diary from Kathmandu – 26th November to 18th December 2015

As we prepared for our departure to Nepal on the 26th November, we were again as before our visit in July, filled with trepidation as to what we would be able to achieve in three weeks. This feeling was mainly perpetrated by the difficulties that would face us because of the fuel crisis.

A crisis which has hit no headlines around the world but which has strangled the ability of the Nepalese people to cope with their recovery process from the earthquake. A complicated problem but, simply put – the ethnic troubles in the south of the country – the frailties of the new constitution have “inspired” the Indian government to engineer a fuel embargo on their border with Nepal. The intransigence of the Nepali government has not helped and the effect on the country has been devastating. Just as the monsoon had ended and the preparations to start rebuilding were being completed it is now difficult to transport materials, medicines and people into remote areas. The only way traffic is moving at all is through a thriving black market; no amount of pressure from other governments seems to achieve anything – on our arrival we had a meeting with the British Ambassador, who understood our position, but we were not “holding our breath”.

Once again, we had a large team.

David Webber, Trustee,  Glyn Utting on the engineering side with Will Pearson – geologist from WYG, Dr Rob Lorge Trustee, Phil Powell – Trustee and indefatigable fund raiser for CAN; Anne Manger from CAN office UK, Denise Prior, Development Manager and Dr Richard Parkin, volunteer. Everyone pays for their own airfares in Nepal. With numbers as large as this, plus Nepalese staff in Kathmandu it is always a logistical nightmare for Doug to best place people. We were subsequently divided into smaller groups:-

  1. Sunday 29th November: Our first field trip was to Bahrabise School for Deaf Children. The depression we felt when there in July, where traumatised children, dripping tarpaulin and a devastated building left us feeling helpless was replaced by greater optimism. Here we found temporary steel buildings for dormitories, bamboo construction for classrooms and, best of all, children calm, normal and back to lessons. Anil the engineer, who has now left CAN for pastures new, fast tracked the job through, and one can only say that his legacy is a triumph.

Returned to Kathmandu for two days for back to back meetings. The strength of these meetings is achieved only by the support and efficiency of Murari Gautam who runs the Kathmandu office and Bhai Tamang who deals with all our very complicated travel arrangements. Without them, success would be very difficult.

  1. Tuesday, 1st December Field Visit number 2 to Ghunsa and Lapcha: A ten hour jeep hour and a two hour walk to Ghunsa where CAN has a school and a health post. The health post survived the earthquake but part of the school will have to be rebuilt. A three hour walk took us up to Lapcha school where there is no major damage. In both places we were made to feel so welcome. We then walked three hours to Paphlu where we stayed the night before taking a flight back to Kathmandu for two more days of meetings. In light of winter rapidly approaching we have organised 1500 fleece lined waterproof jackets and trousers for all school children under the umbrella of CAN. These will be ready in three weeks and is money very well spent. One of our meetings, thanks to Phil, was with a man called Sonam Lama, a very urbane and highly educated architect, with perfect English who comes from the Tsum valley in North Gorkha.
  2. Monday, 7th December field visit number 3 to North Gorkha. The team comprised of Doug, myself, Glyn, Phil and Rob and Sonam. As we were delayed at the airport we had several “meetings”! I suddenly noticed a group of British and Ghurkha officers clearly waiting to fly to Pokhara. Amongst them was Lt. Colonel Richard Walker, Commander of the Royal Ghurkha Engineers, whom I had met at the House of Lords reception in June. It was fortuitous as the result has been to connect him with Glyn Utting from WYG who has already worked with the MOD. It is possible the Ghurkhas will be able to help with logistics and future delivery of materials to certain projects. Doug then met Mima  from GHAP who has succeeded building a school and is now planning a health post that will complement CAN’s health provision in the area. We also met the Manager of MAF [Medical Assistance Fund] helicopter services – a Canadian. They are a non profit outfit – helped by UK aid and we have been using one to transport nurses and medicines to remote areas.

As there are five established health posts in North Gorkha we had a lot to do. First stop was Bhi where the new health post is nearly finished. In the rush to have it ready for winter short cuts had been taken. Doug and Glyn discussed the snagging problems with the overseer Suman who agreed to improve the situation by adding extra joists to strengthen the floor.

We then flew up to the village of Prok where the foundations and stone work of the health post is well advanced with excellent workmanship. Here we found a very sick man and the pilot agreed to take him back to Kathmandu, free of charge, after dropping us at Namrung for the night. We then walked up to Lhi Gaun to stay at the health post and check out the school. I managed to find a horse to take me there to save my legs and lungs!  The cold in Lhi  in December descends like a mask and creeps into your bones – it was good to experience it ourselves as it will precipitate insulation arriving quickly to put on the floors, walls and particularly the roof space of the health post and school. At this time the children have lessons in another building where it is sunny whilst a team of stonemasons complete repairs to their school. It is such a deprived community.

Next we flew further up the valley to Lho. The breathtaking scenery set against the back drop of Manasulu on a cloudless sky almost made us forget the troubles surrounding us. The health post is to be rebuilt and we walked to the new site where Doug and Glyn did their inspection. Small engineering challenges but basically building will start in March. We then took off for Sama – also breathtakingly beautiful. A very eloquent headman and a vibrant community and, accordingly to Rob, the most organised and efficient health post with two excellent nurses – Goma and Tsewang. The health post will have to be replaced in the spring but is fully functional at time of writing.

“Light relief” came in the form of being able to visit the “Butter Festival” which had started that morning and would continue for seven days and only happened every three years. It was an amazing and privileged experience. Time was not our friend and the pilot, ever edgy to keep to his schedule, so it was off again to fly to the Tsum valley landing at Chhekampar where Sonam comes from and where the charity PHASE has been operating. Here we saw nothing but extreme deprivation and earthquake damage and great need. This is now under discussion with Sonam, the community and PHASE for the best way forward. The final stop – still in the valley – was Ripochet where there is only one word of description – desperate. There are now plans to put an outreach clinic here at the request of Sonam and the villagers.

Back to Kathmandu for a day of regrouping before taking off for Helambu

  1. Friday 11th December – Field trip to Helambu where five areas had to be seen. Because we were a large number and a lot to do Anne and myself flew with Murari and Purna and wife in a MAF helicopter straight to Melamchi. Here we had six hours of a long and calm inspection of everything. When I was here in July it was a very emotional meeting with the community – now they have gathered themselves together, and so have we – it was very useful to go around with Purna, Murari and Kami Lama, the Headman and absorb all their stories – stories of 113 children having lunch when the earthquake struck and not one killed – Purna saved by a table – the drama of dragging his wife Jhamu from the rubble. There is not a house standing in Melamchi but the only support from the Nepal government is £100.00 per household. Where is all the money, given by the generous British people to DEC?

Meanwhile, Doug, Rob, Glyn and our new engineer Keshab set off to check out other projects in Helambu. They were able to renew CAN’s commitment to rebuild Kutumsang Health post, the nearby “Himalayan” School and Birenda School. Cash for work on preparing materials for recycling was encouraged so that work can start in the spring. They then flew to Melamchi to meet up with Richard, Denise and Will who had walked in from Sundarijal over four days. The whole team set about making the temporary nurses shelter warmer by cladding the sides with tin sheet from the adjacent ruined health post. Dr Richard was to remain at the temporary health post to assist our wonderful nurse Durga for four days. After discussion with Purna the village committee, Keshab and Glyn it was agreed work would start on the health post under the cash for work scheme – the first job being to bring rocks from a quarry in the forest to put into wire baskets in support of the collapsed retaining wall.

My last job was on the 13th December to fly to Melamchi with Murari and the helicopter loaded to the hilt with apples, oranges, bananas and eggs for the communities at both Melamchi and Milareppa. It was an adventure in the sense that we were not with our usual pilot and, as a consequence, got lost!

We met up with the rest of the team and flew to Milareppa landing precariously on the small damaged helipad – where discussions and decisions were made re the siting of the new health post and cash for work schemes started immediately with the gathering of stones and timber ready for the rebuild.

To sum up our three weeks here I can say that not one minute has been wasted. I have often thought of the marvellous title of John Hunt’s autobiography – “Life is Meeting” – this is what has happened in the last eight months since the quake. Somehow or the other, from the darkest hours of the disaster we have emerged with renewed energy in CAN in the form of expertise and youth mainly through chance meetings or perhaps not?!! But the CAN family, both here and in the UK, is as strong as it has ever been with the confidence to rebuild better.

To rebuild better can only be possible with the financial and moral support that you have all given us and for which we are truly grateful. I can assure you that your support is being very carefully managed.

A Happy Christmas and a peaceful 2016 to you all from Doug and Trish

12th December 2015

 

  1. At the time of writing we have been informed that our engineer/consultant Glyn Utting has been nominated by British Enterprise as “Consultant of the Year” based on the work he has done with CAN since July. The final decision will be made in April 2016.
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