Blog : Reports from CAN (UK) visit to Nepal Nov/Dec 2015

A team from CAN’s UK office is visiting Nepal during November and December 2015.

The team includes Doug Scott and  medical, construction and  charity fundraising experts. The team will try to post news of their trip during the visit – as and  when they have access to the internet. Please visit this page to keep up to date. Thank you.

THE CAN BLOG – NUMBER THREE by TRISH SCOTT  12th Dec.

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.

THE CAN BLOG – NUMBER TWO WRITTEN DECEMBER 5th 2015  by Anne Manger

A maxim of writing something like this must be to keep it timely so the fact that ten days has passed is hopefully an indication not of laziness but only of how busy we have all been together with the difficulties encountered in getting internet access. This has been a real struggle and a lot of time has been wasted in the endeavours but it would be very unfair to blame all of the delay on the Malla system – some nights it’s been a question of falling asleep virtually on one’s feet after the hectic schedule of the day.

I started to write up Day Three – see below:

DAY THREE – WEDNESDAY, 25th NOVEMBER: A day where Richard and Denise kindly took me in hand and showed me around a little bit more of “real Kathmandu” – it was a leisurely start! The star of the morning was The Garden of Dreams – which was a tranquil oasis amidst noisy chaos [except it cannot really be called chaos because bikes, rickshaws, taxis, even pedestrians seem to arrive at a destination unscathed in spite of many close shaves].

but have since had a spectacular period of silence.

So here goes on DAY THIRTEEN with some of the highlights of the past ten days or so.

Doug, Trish and Dr. Rob Lorge arrived safely on Thursday 26th November since when it has been a whirlwind of meetings and greetings. Once the news that Doug-sir is in town then there are so many old friends, today it was the family of one of Doug’s old climbing companions and yesterday evening Jamie Rutherford, fresh from running the Everest Marathon, called by as previously arranged.  Jamie is a dentist working in Darlington and the report from the local paper has done both him, and CAN proud. Please follow the link from the Darlington and Stockton Times:  http://www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk/news/14115990.Darlington_dentist_gets_his_teeth_stuck_into_Everest_Marathon/?ref=mr&lp=17

Everyone at CAN thanks Jamie for his magnificent fund raising activity which stands at around £1,500.00 – and in the course of yesterday evening’s conversation he has indicated he would like to volunteer his professional expertise as a dentist – hopefully sometime in 2016. If you wish to offer your support there is still time so please go to the Just Giving page Jamie Rutherford and follow the links. In fact, the organizer of the Everest Marathon called in the following morning – she arranges the event from her home in Windermere – does not charge a penny for admin fees [save the costs of the annual audit] and gives away the proceeds to charity including CAN. It was another reminder for me just how respected CAN is amongst such a wide range of people.

Sandwiched in between has been what, for me at least, the highlight of my stay in Nepal to date and that was our team visit up to Bahrabise School for Deaf Children. Don’t even begin to imagine that being over here one is having a lazy time with breakfast in bed and a leisurely hot shower to start the day. Sadly, the 5 star Malla doesn’t always manage hot water but then the fuel blockade continues to bite and has a lot to answer for. Nonetheless, it’s a far cry from home where my power shower of virtually scalding water shocks me into action but then perhaps the cold version actually works equally well in it’s own way – certainly as a shock! No, early starts are the order of the day and we were all on parade and in the mini bus by 05.30 hours to leave town before a demonstration put paid to any means of our escape from town.

A long drive of around six hours with stops for breakfast at a roadside tea house where I couldn’t believe I could tuck in with such relish to dal bhat at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. Not your average fodder to start the day but simply delicious when washed down with black tea – milk tea being a step too far for me being so sweet – and a meal which Doug could enjoy for breakfast, lunch and dinner without any problem at all!

Another stop enabled Doug and head teacher Mina, with Murari’s help, to purchase around £50.00 worth of fresh fruit and vegetables – an enormous amount – in order to ensure that all forty of the children in school could enjoy an apple, orange and banana with veggies on the menu the next day or so.

The final stage of the journey into Bahrabise was over extremely rough terrain, a reminder of the devastation this region suffered in the earthquake. I know that many images have already been posted on CAN’s website but nothing quite prepares you for the shock of reality and looking across to the damaged Bahrabise village community brought home how difficult life has become for so many Nepali’s.

A short walk of around half a mile brought us to the temporary school site and, for all of us, this was a revelation of relief. We had all been so anxious to discover how these traumatized children, who had no understanding of what was going on as their home and school cracked up around them during the earthquake. It is hard for me, perhaps for any of us with normal hearing, to truly understand that moment when, not being able to hear anything as the earth ripped apart their security. Instead, we were greeted by an advance party with beautiful garlands of marigolds and were led inside to meet all the other children.

School has two temporary classrooms – built as a rectangle – and made of bamboo with a tin roof – but, as sign language is silent, four year groups could be taught in one room. It was emotional and having written “My name is Anne” on the whiteboard I was instructed in the English alphabet – Bahrabise sign language style. The simplicity of the signs fascinated me but my favourite has to be “e for elephant” which involved running a finger down one’s nose but adding on an extension for the trunk!!

We then re-joined the path, walking past the fields being ploughed by teams of harnessed buffalos – and listening to the cries of the villagers it seemed as if many of the teams had minds very much their own – until we reached the damaged school. Words become inadequate at this point and, although they have been displayed on the site before, some of the images are shared again. For me, the most poignant has to be that of one of the Mickey Mouse family grinning cheekily from within a severely damaged dormitory.

It was a quietly sober and reflective journey back to Kathmandu and the enormity of the task ahead was not lost on any of us. As many of you will know from reading reports from previous visits a constraint to managing the site is access and before any rebuild can take place the concrete structure which was Bahrabise School has to be demolished involving getting heavy plant across the river. It can be done but adds in factors of complication and expense.

Jumping forward a day or so found us squeezed into a four wheel drive Land Rover for an even earlier start [alarm set at 0400 hours!] en route to Ghunsa. Once the city was well behind us this route, although metalled for much of the way, proved to be a sporting challenge both for the driver and to our bottoms!

It was a long day on the road and, having arrived in the Ghunsa area, we then had to undertake a bit of what is termed by one of CAN’s trustees a “wee bit of uppies and downies” reaching the Health Post in the dark. We were shown to our accommodation – Denise and I being fortunate in being able to share one of the nurses bedrooms for which we were very grateful; Dr Rob slept on the examination table – being about the right length for him – whereas Dr Richard bedded down on the delivery table in the birthing suite. All great fun and a testament to the support CAN receives from a team of medical practitioners.

Only in the morning and the cold light of day did we appreciate the hard work put in by a group from Yorkshire dubbed the “Project Nepal Team” which has left this particular health post one of CAN’s flagship projects. Our sincere thanks go out to this dedicated group for what must have been ten? [I think that’s right] long days of hard work.

We all walked up to see where many Tamang’s have their houses – a lot of them damaged including Tej’s and Bhai’s – but then split up. Doug and party walked up to Lapcha to see the school and Denise and I to walk through to Paphlu along a trail which went passed many holy places.

Which brings me more or less up to date – another nighttime walk into Paphlu – and a couple of overnight stays at a less than hospitable hotel where any source of warmth was obviously considered unnecessary! Doug, Trish and Dr Rob arrived the following evening and Tej, one of Doug’s guides, managed to wheedle a glowing brazier which went some way to thaw the bones – but as Nepali’s seem to be immune from the cold it was a battle to keep the door closed!!

In the meantime Denise had set off to walk a circuit ending up in Jiri taking the opportunity to familiarize herself with a trekking route; for myself the thought of all the uppies and downies and the fear of holding Denise up on what was a pretty tight schedule gave me the bonus of a “ruhetag”.  My lovely guide Dawa Tamang – from the Ghunsa community – led me up the valley to the Pera tea house.  It was a delight to take time to engage with the locals – whether they were splitting bamboo before weaving baskets or leading cows to water – but it was a very special six hours of sunshine.

Dawa initiated me into Buddist chanting when we came across a wall of 164 mani stones – all that was missing was the sound of a singing bowl.  Another enchanting image was the one of the numerous donkey teams plodding backwards and forwards along the track carrying produce up the valley. None of the loads seemed particularly heavy and, apart from one animal which hobbled somewhat, all seemed placidly fit. Many of the houses in the valley had been damaged by the earthquake and bright blue shiny tin roofs gleamed in the sunlight – my understanding is that all households have received a small grant from the government toward repair work – I’ll try to find out more about how this works and write it up later. A lot of work was going on – a great deal of carpentry taking place – but one gazed in astonishment at a five storey monstrosity with concrete columns and solid walls up to the roof arch and could only hope that the valley had suffered enough and further tremors would leave the place unscathed.

Now, back in the comfort of my room at the Malla after a long morning of meetings, the images from the past few days resonate. The contrast between life in the Solukhumbu and life in Kathmandu is almost indescribable – and if I hadn’t experienced it no one would have convinced me otherwise!!

The one thing about blogging on a laptop is the inability to proof read a paper copy – so as always apologies for spelling and grammatical errors. Place names in Nepal seem to be spelt with so many different varieties it’s hard to know which one is the correct version – at least that’s my explanation and I’m sticking to it.

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THE CAN BLOG No. 1 : Date Sunday  29 2016 by Anne Manger

It seemed a great idea, before leaving the security of home and Stewart Hill and Cumbria in general, to write a daily blog of this particular trip for the CAN website – a journey which was to be a first for me never having been to Nepal before. It should be added at this point that the opinions expressed over the following days are my own and, like any caveat expressed by any editorial, should not be taken to necessarily reflect those of CAN.
No doubt like other similar suggestions the overriding issue then becomes a factor of time management and squeezing in those moments to sit at a computer – which hopefully works and has an internet connection, something of an issue at the moment in Kathmandu – and tap away.
By way of introduction my name is Anne Manger and I have worked for CAN for the past sixteen months providing what can best be described as office back up to Ruth Moore. Theoretically this was to be part time but since the catastrophic earthquakes in April/May this year the work load has increased to such an extent that some weeks are virtually full-time. Consequently, my involvement with all aspects of the charity has brought me into contact with loyal and generous supporters, many of whom who are so knowledgeable about all aspects of CAN and the projects which were being supported, as to make me feel extraordinarily ignorant and made me realize how important it would be to make my own very personal “recce”. Doug was very supportive and with very little time for preparation I had purchased my ticket [TIP: anyone planning a visit go to Ash at Deurali Travel! He sorted out my return flight with Oman Air for under £450.00]. So, leaving Ruth to hold the fort for the next three weeks I left the office on Monday afternoon November 23rd on the first stage of the journey. It goes without saying that it would not have been possible to get away if Ruth’s support and understanding had not been forthcoming – she has my sincere gratitude as the office remains extremely busy.
DAY ONE – TUESDAY, 24th NOVEMBER: TRAVEL DAY: What can one say to make a journey by air read as something exceptionally exciting? I’m not sure that one can save that I joined up with Denise Prior in London and we flew out together delighting in the companionship of a shared journey. Denise was making the trip on CAN’s behalf with reasons similar to my own. She needed to know more about the staff and on-going projects in order to feed that knowledge back when talking to supporters and developing fund raising initiatives. She was also making the journey on behalf of Community Action Treks [CAT] to familiarize herself with certain areas she had not previously visited, especially the region around Ghunsa.
We both had an abundance of luggage as Doug had asked us to take much needed items with us [another bonus with Oman Air was that even in steerage we each had a 40 kg baggage allowance] so to have help handling the bags was wonderful. At the last moment I had bought an enormous 96 litre capacity suitcase in a sale at Carlisle – a case nicknamed “vulgar” which is a more than apt description. Sadly, when packed this whopper weighed in at nearly 30 kg which, along with my other grip, brought me well over my limit. The staff at check in [no queue, no waiting around time – all very civilized] then graciously allowed us a combined weight allowance which fortunately did not exceed the limit and meant that boots, text books, items of clothing found a way in.
It was spectacular to fly down the Gulf and land at an airport surrounded by desert and mountains but the stopover was short and within a couple of hours we were on the last leg to Kathmandu. On this leg of the journey we were accompanied by many Nepali’s returning home for leave. Irony of irony that they were working in construction in an oil/fuel rich kingdom but returning home to one from which fuel was being deliberately withheld – in this case by India – more on this later.
We were met at the airport by Bhai Tamang – Community Action Treks in-country trekking partner – who hung garlands of marigolds around our necks and ensured we all squeezed in beside his driver – “vulgar” taking up most of the boot space – to make the journey to the Hotel Malla. To me it seemed as if the roads were crazy with traffic but to those who know the real Kathmandu I was assured that in fact we shouldn’t have been able to drive straight through without being caught in a traffic jam! And when we arrived at the Hotel Malla who should be waiting to greet us in the lobby but our very own Captain Tek? It was wonderful to see him on his own patch and not just in the office at Stewart Hill. It was exceptionally kind of him to come in person as the fuel situation means that any journey has to be considered as “is this journey really essential”? We were presented with the most beautiful of wedding invitations and, although we’d both been invited informally when in the office, this was very special. The wedding celebrated the marriage of his brother-in-law Kamal which was to take place the following afternoon.
The image of the day shows two rather bleary eyed travellers standing in the hotel corridor displaying garlands of welcome although, before stumbling into bed, we had chance for a brief catch-up with Dr. Richard Parkin whose flight had arrived a few hours after ours – we agreed to meet up for breakfast, or at least this was the plan provided I remembered to ring him at 0740 for his wake up call!
DAY TWO WEDNESDAY 25th but DAY ONE IN NEPAL: In spite of the previous long day spent in travel we did breakfast together at 8.00 o’clock [and at Richard’s suggestion asked for one of the Malla’s wonderful omelettes] to be followed almost immediately with the arrival of Murari Gautam, CAN’s Manager in Nepal and Bhai Tamang. We adjourned to the hotel’s garden and sat in glorious sunshine [for me a totally unexpected bonus] where we continued our discussions and were brought up to date with the current fuel crisis and political situation.
Walking out from the oasis of calm in the hotel and out onto the streets of Thamel for a first timer like me it is true to say that all one’s senses were called into play! The noisy hustle and bustle and miraculous near misses of bicycles, cars, rickshaws, vans along with the incessant parping of horns was such fun. Once again I was reminded that actually the lanes were not really as crowded as they should have been and it was “quiet”. All I have to say to that is that if that is “quiet” I dread to think what “busy” would be!
We called into CAN’s offices and met the staff including Binita, Laxman, Kalpana and Sharmila and made our Namaste’s to a group of nurses who were in the process of being interviewed. [By the time we called back a day later three candidates had been selected; regrettably the only name I can remember is one which when shortened became Pritti so with apologies to the other two. We wished them all well and welcomed them to the CAN family].
Murari was holding a meeting with a member of one of the government committees – it all seemed relatively informal and our arrival only a slight distraction – which was an indication of the sound working relationships Murari has been able to achieve. This gentleman kindly took the picture which shows us all in the office saying the Nepali equivalent of “smile” which is “yak cheese”.
But the grand finale to the day was being royally welcomed to the wedding between Kamal and Beda – another sumptuous feast of colour and sounds and taste – with the most exquisite saris on display. Denise and I had done our best to smarten up but were completely outshone by so many hummingbirds of colour. Bhai has some incriminating video footage of Denise and I trying out the local dance moves – I doubt either of us will be called up for Bollyhood any time soon.

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