When a huge natural disaster strikes, like the dual earthquakes that shook Nepal last spring, it is hard to look at the damage they caused and be thankful. Yet after working in Sindhupalchok, one of the districts that suffered unimaginable damage, for over three months I am thankful for two things.
I am thankful both earthquakes happened around noon and most Nepali’s were not asleep in their homes – over 90% of homes in Sindhupalchok district were damaged or destroyed during last springs earthquakes.
I am thankful the first earthquake was on a Saturday and students were not in school – around 5,000 school were damaged or destroyed by the earthquakes and aftershocks.
One of the biggest projects that I worked on while in Nepal this fall was All Hands first mobile rubble team in Sindhupalchok. Earlier in the fall All Hands demolition team had safely brought down a 5 room school building (plus 2 bathrooms) in Jyamire, a 2 hour drive, yet not very many kilometers, from our base in Melamchi.
Just before Thanksgiving our mobile rubble team packed up our gear and headed up the mountain for the week to clear the rubble to make way for new classrooms to be built. About 30 minutes from Melamchi, as our jeep crawled up the steep mountain roads, the principal, who I was squished into the front seat with, turns to me and says, “We are now in tiger country.” and proceeds to tell us about how a woman had been attacked by a tiger in this area. This was not comforting news to receive as we headed even deeper into tiger country where we’d be camping out for the week!
This was physically the hardest site I worked on and as a team we were determined to finish this site before the week was over. Yes, competitiveness may have played a part in this drive, but also we were in a position where as an organization we still didn’t have much access to fuel and we didn’t want another team to have to come up the hill for just a few days to finish the site.
We often worked until dusk moving some of the biggest stones I’ve ever lifted and we finished the site in just 3 1/2 days!
This week was memorable for several reasons. First, the principal of this school is an all-star. No only is he incredibly gracious he also is extremely dedicated to his school and his students. Because of the fuel shortages he would walk down the hill 3+ hours into Melamchi each time he needed to meet with All Hands and 4+ hours back up the hill when he was finished. He is incredible! Secondly, this rubble team was the most cohesive and hardworking team I worked with on project and I gained a ton of respect for the people on this team for the effort they put in everyday, no matter how sore or tired they were. Next, I got a horrible case of food poisoning on our second-to-last work day on site and and had so little energy I holed up inside a partly demolished building to be near a toilet. This led into me riding out a 5.0 aftershock in said partly demolished building. I was so weakened mentally and physically by the food poisoning that I had trouble processing what was happening, in part because I was hearing the aftershock rattling the tin sheet on a nearby classroom instead of feeling it, so I kind of slowly strolled out of the building to see the Tee, my team leader, and the principal, all racing towards me, eyes wide with panic. The students were safe, as was the team and I, the building I had been in was sound, and soon work continued.
When we left at the end of the week the principal and school board organized a tika ceremony to thank us for working on his school. I am thankful to have the opportunity to volunteer in Nepal and work on improving the safety of schools for students in Sindhupalchok. If you’d like to help as well, but aren’t able to volunteer, you can support more school improvement projects in Nepal by donating to All Hands.