Destruction in Nepal

I have seen the havoc wreaked by natural disasters on TV and in photos before, but I can tell you that it is entirely something else to see it in person. I came to Nepal over a month ago to climb a mountain, and am leaving with images of total human misery and loss burned into my memory.

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Grandmother and granddaughter still at a loss over where to begin two weeks after the April 25 earthquake in Nepal.

 

Kathmandu – the sort-of good news

Ralf and I got back to Kathmandu last Wednesday and were happy to see that life is returning to a semblance of normal for most people. Most of the buildings we have seen in the city appear to be okay. Before coming, we were hearing stories about complete devastation, cholera and other diseases that follow when thousands of people die. It isn’t like that. For the most part, life in Kathmandu doesn’t feel all that different than it did when we were here a month ago, except that it is much, much quieter. Don’t get me wrong – there is damage from the earthquake. Many older brick buildings were destroyed or became uninhabitable. Some people are still living in tents. Many people were killed or injured in various parts of this city of 2.5 million. For the most part, though, life in Kathmandu is carrying on.

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Fortunately, we’ve witnessed very few scenes such as this one in Kathmandu.

 

One of the biggest problems for the city now is the lack of people filling the streets and stores. Foreign tourists numbers are down, and apparently 500,000 Nepali people left the city to return to their villages. The streets are noticeably quiet. Businesses are hurting. The beautiful Nepali people are as kind and friendly as ever – I encourage you to come and see them!

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Despite all of their losses, the Nepali people still have smiles for everyone. The other night, Ralf and I got caught out in a heavy thunderstorm. A friendly Nepali family invited us into their home to wait it out, even though the majority of their village had been destroyed.

 

Durbar Square

Tragically, Kathmandu’s historic Durbar Square with its ancient Hindu temples and palaces was almost completely destroyed. When we were here one month ago, the square was spectacular and it was a hive of activity. It is so sad to see it now. Two weeks after the earthquake, locals and tourists alike are still looking around in somber disbelief.

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Note the text on top of the green sign: “Welcome to World Heritage Site”.

 

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The brick steps were the foundation of  multi-storey beautiful and ancient wooden Hindu temples.

 

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Sindhupalchok

Nepal is divided into several regions, of which Sindhupalchok is one. It is a 2,500 square kilometre area east of Kathmandu consisting of steep forested and terraced terrain. It contains dozens of remote villages with populations of between 200 and 6,000, totalling about 60,000 people. Ralf sponsored two schools in Sindhupalchok in 2001 (300 students) and 2009 (600+ students). He heard they were damaged in the earthquake and he wanted to see the extent of the damage for himself. We were offered the unique opportunity of travelling to the villages with a medical team. I will never forget what we saw.

About 85% of the homes were flattened in each of the countless villages we drove through. All possessions were buried under rubble – food, kitchen supplies, clothing, furniture, mattresses, tools, etc. Two weeks ago, the people ran from their homes with the clothes on their backs and that is all they have now. A few lucky people have tarps or sheets of tin roofing to sleep under.

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Ralf and I came back to Nepal thinking we could help in some small way, but these people need bulldozers and cement foundations and furniture. They need endless truckloads of supplies. They need the large scale support that armies provide. We felt very small, useless and helpless. We weren’t really able to provide assistance to the medical team. We decided that the best thing we can do is to spread the word as far as we can get it. Financial support is desperately needed. As of May 8, the UN had only received $22 million of the estimated $400+ million needed.

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The village of Thulosirubari.

 

I felt destroyed as we drove the three hours back to Kathmandu. We passed through village after village, all reduced to rubble. Ralf and I were heading back to clean sheets and a hot shower, and we saw the villagers sitting on the piles of bricks that used to be their homes, settling in for what must have been another night of hell. Incredibly, all of the people we interacted with still smiled and gave a heartfelt “Namaste”.

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As for the schools that Ralf sponsored, the rumours were partly true. His 2001 school was intact. But 95% of the homes in the village were destroyed.

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The school that Ralf sponsored in 2001 is pretty much the only building left intact in the village of Irkhu. It is in a lovely location on top of the hill.

 

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Ralf with a current and past student of the Irkhu school. The 21-year old man on the right spoke excellent English – surprising for a someone living in such a remote village. Good school!

 

The 2009 school sponsored by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Ralf Dujmovits is a ruin. It was three storeys high, but the first floor collapsed. It needs to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch.

 

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This school in Thulosirubari held 600-700 children. Some of them walked incredible distances from even more remote villages.

 

Everyone is incredibly thankful that the worst earthquake happened on a Saturday – thousands of children could have been killed and injured had it taken place during the week. It was also fortunate that it happened during the day and most people were outside of their homes.

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Kids with their new “homes” behind.

 

A helping hand

The six doctors and three nurses we travelled with saw more than 300 patients. Two others, representing an organization called Nepalhilfe Beilingries, handed out hygiene supplies. Over the years, Nepalhilfe has raised money to build over two dozen schools, a hospital, an orphanage and they have given a lot of assistance in times of crisis. I’ve now seen some of the work they’ve done, and can easily recommend them as a good charity to give to.

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Sankhu

Yesterday, we rode bikes to the village of Sankhu, just outside of Kathmandu. It looked like it would have been a really pretty village to visit before the earthquake. The devastation there was overwhelming.

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They don’t have a shortage of man-power. The people simply don’t know what to do or how to start. Their tools are buried. They only have flip-flops, bare feet and bare hands.

 

Even here, in a village that is very easy to get to by road, we saw very little aid. There were a few Nepali police with shovels and pick-axes and a single aid tent from the Chinese Red Cross. One man told me the Canadian army was working in the area with a bulldozer, but we did not see them or any work they had done.

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We passed about a dozen of these Nepali police in Sankhu. We have not seen any other organized group performing manual labour since we’ve been back, two weeks after the earthquake.

 

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And still, a smile.

 

Recovery will need our help

All I have left to say is… please give generously. These lovely mountain people will never be able to recover without help from the rest of the world. There are many organizations to give to – do your research online and find a reputable one.

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In Bhaktapur, Nepal.

 

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Me, feeling small and helpless. Photo by Ralf Dujmovits.

 

About the Author: Nancy Hansen

Nancy is a Canmore-based climber and ACC Ambassador. She has worked on and off for the ACC for the past 20 years. She is the first woman to have climbed all 11,000 ft peaks in the Canadian Rockies and is now working on something no other woman (or man) has done: climb all 50 Classic Climbs of North America. She is the 2014 recipient of the Guy Lacelle Pure Spirit Award. Follow her on Instagram: @nancyjhansen

  1. Lynn Baker Reply

    Thank you so much for all the information and great pics. We don’t often give to charities we are unfamiliar with so if you can give me those charities you saw do good work , I will spread the news! Thank you for sharing! Lynn

    • Nancy Hansen Reply

      Lynn, I know there are many charities helping Nepal, but the one whose excellent work that I observed first-hand is http://www.nepalhilfe-beilngries.de/en/home/. It is a very reputable charity in Germany, and the money goes directly to help the Nepalese people. Many famous people in Germany are donating their time to raise funds for this organization. There may be a Canadian equivalent, but I am unaware of it.

  2. Sherri O'Keefe Reply

    Hey cousin …. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have shared with family, friends & staff at school. Wanted them to get an understanding of the devastation you have shared. Wished you had reached the summit & that the earthquake had not occurred – but proud of you for sharing so that we have an understanding of what is now needed. Lots of love … Waiting to hear you are safe. XOXOX

  3. Brian Robinson Reply

    I was in Namche when it happened.

    The countryside is actually much worse – so many houses destroyed, so much suffering. I helped as much as I could but I share with you the sense of helplessness at the situation. I gave money and rented a tent for a family but that is one family out of how many? And did it really help that much?

    Good for you for getting the word out Nancy.

    Please donate to the Nepalese Red Cross. A Google search will bring it up.

    • Donna Reply

      Brian; A mother and her young son were walking along the shore and when they turned around a point they saw that thousands of starfish had been washed up and stranded on the beach. The little boy rushed over and started throwing them back into the ocean. The mother said that “it is no use son there are just too many of them, you cannot help”. As he picked up another starfish and threw back into the ocean he said “well I helped that one” I am sure that the family that now has a tent over their heads and the ability to purchase some essentials felt blessed that they met you, most certainly you helped those people.

  4. Heather Taxbock Reply

    Thank you, Nancy and Ralf, for your pictures and commentary showing the reality of the devastation and letting us know that the way to help is through financial support.

  5. Marsha Nelson Reply

    Thank you Nancy for the blog…. One of our schools is doing a fundraiser and I’ve passed on your site for them to ‘feel’ the need through the photos you’ve shared. So glad you are safe and although you were unable to complete the climb, your being there and sharing will help so many more get the support they need to recover so your timing for being there is perfect. Safe travels home Cuz.

  6. Pat Duffy Reply

    Good for you Nancy and Ralf, with your important images and impressions of the task at hand. Matched cash to the responsible NGOs is the theme. Mindful of my work in Nepal with CIDA to create a 10 year project in the mid `70s . . . basics with clean water, foot bridges, food storage. etc. A much larger and complex task now, needing collaboration and all hands on the job to help these lovely people.

  7. Dyane Lynch Reply

    Very down to earth and heartfelt account. Thank you, Nancy.

  8. Dyane Lynch Reply

    Thank you, Nancy, your report is so honest and undramatic yet giving us the facts. Refreshing. Thank you.

  9. Glen & Liz Boles Reply

    Thank you Nancy & Ralf for the pictures you showed on your Blog of the devastation that took place during the Earthquakes. We have no idea what the Nepalese people are going through it must be horrific. Unfortunately you did not complete your mission however we are sure you are
    happy to be alive. Looking forward having you back in Canmore with your family and friends.
    Love, Glen & Liz

  10. Glen & Liz Boles Reply

    Thank you Nancy & Ralf for the photos, we have no idea the devastation that has taken place and what the Nepalese people are suffering from the first earthquake and then the second one which you personally experienced that must have been horrific, hopefully no more to come. Thank the good Lord that you and Ralf are safe. It’s unfortunate that you were not able to full fill your mission
    but however we are sure you helped the Nepalese people in anyway you could. Love, Glen & Liz

  11. Nathalie Drotar Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing of your experience in Nepal Nancy.. I’ve been following your posts regularly. I was there 10 years ago and like you felt small and helpless seeing the Nepalese’poverty – and yet amazed at their warm welcoming smiles- and so I can only imagine how much more helpless you would feel seeing all the rubble and so little help. We will do our part and share the word from here. Thank you to both of you for abandoning your big mountain project and showing a true example of help and humility. Nathalie – ACC Calgary

  12. Allan Reply

    thanks for the direct reporting. Although it is good to know you guys are safe, it is a unimaginable task that is now in front for the country and these kind people.

  13. Joanne and Ed Reply

    It is hard to completely understand just how devastating these earthquakes have been but your dialogue and pictures do help and yes we all need to help in donating monies so these beautiful people can get their lives back in some type of order. Stay safe and we will be glad when you are able to fly home. Love, Mom and Dad

  14. Martin Cameron Reply

    We totally love you sharing your experiences with all of us. The devastation is a one thing, but the locals smiles are encouraging. I am so glad you and Ralf were able to help, in person.

  15. Julie muller Reply

    Thanks Nancy, it’s so good to hear from someone who is really in the know, how is the best way to help the Nepali people.Sending you love and support, hugs, Julie.

  16. Shannon Reply

    Thanks Nancy, for sharing your story and photos of the state of Nepal after the earthquake. It’s beautifully written and honors the wonderful Nepali people who we need to reach out to. I wish I could hop on a plane tomorrow to pay another visit and help the families, children, the businesses. I’ll be sure to donate some additional funds to a charity organization and will encourage others to do the same. Take care! Shannon

  17. Jean Gaucher Reply

    Thanks Nancy and Ralf for these glimpses of what we cannot imagine from here. Such lovely people. We must help.

  18. Linnea Hansen Reply

    Thank you Nancy and Ralf for the photos and the helpful report. I’m sad that you were not able to pursue the goal of climbing Everest and I cannot imagine seeing all that you have seen. I’m sure it has humbled you and put a different perspective on your climb when you see the immense suffering of so many by this force of nature. Looking forward to seeing you!

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