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:-
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.
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
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