While clearing homes over the past 5 weeks I often heard volunteers say, “It’s been over 3 months, why haven’t they started rubbling their own homes yet?”. Sometimes this question was posed out of pure curiosity and other times it was said in a disparaging manner. I had a few answers of my own, like they are busy in the rice fields or it’s monsoon season, but I wanted to get a better set of answers so I could help combat the misconception that Nepali’s are lazy so I talked to the Nepali assessors that work for All Hands. The assessors go out everyday and find destroyed/damaged homes for volunteers to clear and are also responsible for prioritizing where we work.
Before: a collapsed home in the town of Melamchi.
After a long conversation these are some of the reasons I was given for why people haven’t started working on their own homes yet.
- They are busy in their rice fields. Rice is a major part of the Nepali economy and diet and the rice they are growing now will support them for the rest of the year. Tending to their rice fields this season is even more important because many people lost their food reserves when their house collapsed in the earthquake.
- It is monsoon season. It will be much easier to work on their houses in a few months when the weather is much drier.
- Their home represents trauma. Besides losing their home and their belongings many people lost family members, friends, classmates, and livestock when their house collapsed.
- It takes considerable time and effort to clear a home. The homes around Melamchi are generally constructed of mud and large rocks. We are young, well-fed, well-equipped, work in teams of 6-8 and can clear a home in just a few days. We aren’t 55, widowed, living alone, and trying to clear our home one stone at a time on our own after we’ve spent the day in the rice fields or tending to our livestock.
- It is a novelty to work with foreign volunteers. After homes are assessed sometimes the homeowner will wait until the volunteers arrive before starting to clear their home because they are interested in meeting and working alongside the volunteers.
- There is no young work force in rural Nepal. Most young people leave the rural areas to attend school in Kathmandu or to work out of the country. This leaves the rural areas without a works force that can be hired by the government to help clear the homes of the elderly, injured/ill, or single parents.
- They don’t have money to clear and/or rebuild their house. Many people have little to no income and their home that was destroyed represents 15-20 years of hard work. Though the government gives each household 15,000 rupees (150 USD) to rebuild their house an approved building plan must be used.
- Up until a month ago homeowners hadn’t received government compensation. Understandably, homeowners were hesitant to clear their home, in case there were any complications, until they were compensated.
- The government hasn’t released the approved building plans yet.
After: It took us less than 2 days to clear this home.
Lastly, those who can are clearing their own homes, but it is slow and strenuous work. We worked on one home outside of Melamchi where the owner, a widowed elderly woman, had been removing stones from her collapsed home for 3 months. Our team of 6 was able to clear the remaining 3 walls of her house in one afternoon, leaving her with a level area to build a tin shelter. Since April, All Hands has cleared over 100 rubble sites in Nepal. To read more check out this AHV update.
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