Hello from a cozy cafe in Kathmandu! I’ve been here for nearly a month now working with All Hands Volunteers. They’ve been here since two days after the earthquake and I joined the assessment team a few days later. It’s been a pretty extreme experience, especially being here when the second earthquake struck.
Things are about to get a whole lot more extreme as I head out of Kathmandu tomorrow an area called Sindhupalchok when the devastation of buildings is said to be as high as 95%. We’ve sent two teams out there to scout around for a base and make connections and they’ve come back totally shocked at the damage. Houses in this region (and many regions outside of Kathmandu) are constructed with stacks of rocks and simple mud mortar. This building method hasn’t held up well and almost all of the buildings have been destroyed as a result. Compared to Kathmandu where the damage is often difficult to find, I think I’m going to have a bit of a shock when we get out there. It’s one thing hearing about almost complete destruction and another thing to see it first hand.
I came to Nepal a bit apprehensive at first, afraid that All Hands were going in a bit too quickly. I have complete faith in the work we do, but providing search and rescue, medical care, shelter, and food relief is not it, and that’s what’s needed in the early days of a major disaster. I didn’t want to be a burden in an already tense and difficult situation and so much in the countryside was still unknown. Plus, as someone who’s been away from this sort of volunteer work for awhile, it’s easy to get caught up in the anti-volunteering rhetoric. Major NGOs and international aid agencies are always very quick off of the mark to point out how little volunteers can help and that they’ll only be a burden to the people who really know what they’re doing (ie. – them). After taking stock of my own skills (not a doctor, medic, nurse, or trained in anything useful, really) I started to agree with them.
What sold me on coming to Nepal was the presence of volunteers here already kicking into action. Several Nepalese volunteer groups sprung up over night and have been doing amazing work. International volunteers have often partnered up with them and a few smaller groups have also started to arrange their own work. Knowing that volunteers were already on the ground in Nepal and that All Hands excel at volunteer coordination, I saw a niche for us – helping to coordinate all of those volunteers who were going to go to Nepal regardless of what they were told and finding a way to connect and coordinate those massive amounts of manpower.
It’s been a long month with a growing team working long hours but things have finally started to take shape. We’ve been coordinating dozens of local and international day volunteers who show up and want something to do each day, mostly on rubble removal and salvage projects. We were responsible for coordinating a team of volunteers to build the first of 30,000 temporary classroom structures. We’ve partnered up with UNICEF, Save the Children, and Habitat for Humanity already and are working on other high-level partnerships. Today we finished up work on rubbling a UNIESCO World Heritage site and tomorrow we’ll meet with the army to finalise plans on working together on safe deconstruction, rubble, and a rebuild project in Sindhupalchok.
In short, I’m convinced that our presence here has had a positive impact so far and that there’s a lot more to come. It never takes long to convince me of the good work that responsibly funded and coordinated volunteers are capable of and I’m proud to be a part of the team here in Nepal. The best part is that we’ve already attracted a huge number of Nepalese volunteers which is great since we were really hoping to engage locals as much as possible. Turns out that volunteers here are eager to help and don’t take nearly as much convincing (what? no money??? madness!) as in other countries we’ve worked in.
I’m really excited to have been a part of the project start up (WAY more work that I could have imagined) and I’m looking forward to see what all of this energetic and coordinated people power will do in the coming months. If you want to know more about our work here or to volunteer, check out the (embarrassingly crappy) All Hands Volunteers website. There’s a lot of need here in Nepal and that’s not going to change as the news stories fade away. All Hands is stll in its early planning stages but we’re hoping to be here for at least two years.
Hope to see you on project!