Many of us have been following Nikita and her team's efforts on bB's facebook page over the last month. Here, we invite her to share her experiences as her memories are still very vivid from her once in a life time journey to Nepal. Nikita's efforts are truly commendable and her account shedslight into bB's work, successes and roadblocks during this challenge.
The devastating earthquake of 25th April 2015 in Nepal shook the ground in the landlocked nation. Within a few hours images of shattered houses and displaced families shook hearts across the world. We at billionBricks with a vision to help the homeless were moved immensely by the aftermath situation. A 72 hour fundraising campaign- ‘Shelter for Nepal’ was launched by bB on May 3, 2015 to provide 100 shelters to Nepal urgently. The response we got was overwhelming and extremely encouraging.
After a strenuous week of procuring and purchasing the right tents and figuring out the surprisingly challenging logistics involved for sending relief cargo, we finally dispatched our first batch of twenty tents on May 9,2015. I left for Kathmandu via Delhi on the 10th along with the ‘Friends in Crisis’ group from Bangalore. A bunch of six, we were a mixed and diverse group of strangers who turned friends for a cause.
The Ground Shook Again!
Our landing at KTM was delayed by two hours due to damage on the runway. Being diverted to Lucknow airport initially, we had lost hopes of reaching Kathmandu by air then, but with some luck and wishes coming into play, we finally took off and reached the capital on the evening of 11th May. Our team had just managed to get a night’s rest after the long journey when the big earthquake of 7.4 Richter scale shook Nepal at noon of May 12, 2015. Along with two other friends, I was on the fourth floor of an old building near Patan Darbar Square. The quake lasting atleast 30 seconds felt too strong. It felt like being on a boat in stormy waters. I will always remember the intensity with which the house swayed, grateful that the roof didn’t collapse on me. We ran out to safety towards a nearby school playground once the tremor subsided. Six aftershocks were felt within a few hours of the big one.
Nepalese citizens had just begun their normal routines after a week of the 25th April Earthquake, when the ground shook again. It caused panic and widespread fear. Schools and offices shut down across the nation. People across all strata of the society started living and sleeping outdoors. We suddenly realised the reality of being on the same side as victims, scared and concerned. Our team moved to the countryside on the outskirts of Kathmandu by the next day. We wanted to be safe and make sure that we accomplish our mission and provide relief. With the rest of the neighbours, we participated in community cooking and slept out in the fields of Lubhu for the next one week.
Visit to the Cargo Terminal
Hoping to receive our relief shipment, we started on our way to the Kathmandu Cargo Terminal on the morning of 13th May. The city wore a deserted look. The shops and offices were shut and hardly any vehicle plied on the roads. Tarpaulin tents cropped up overnight on every piece of open land available. Everyone was homeless for once. The Earthquake had brought one and all on the same platform. Even the extremely rich refused to stay inside buildings. People were petrified by the aftershocks that kept coming in day and night.
Our hopes turned sour when we realised that the Cargo Terminal has been shut after the 7.4 earthquake. Officials had not reported to work yet. A lot of relief supplies from across the globe seemed to be piled up at the terminal, unable to reach the victims. The process of handling the consignment is beyond your control once it has been shipped. We could only wish for it to happen soon. Everything appeared to have paused in the city.
As a quick back up plan, we decided to start our assessment rounds of affected areas and volunteer at existing relief camps in and around Kathmandu till our cargo reached us.
The Glory that was…
To understand the impact of the Earthquake on the socio-cultural life of Nepal, we began our assessment by visiting the heritage durbar squares of Kathmandu Valley. Many tourists and locals alike were killed when some of these ancient structures collapsed on the fatal weekend of 25th April. It was heartbreaking to imagine the glory that was associated with these historic places.
Kathmandu Valley had three kingdoms and each of these had a Durbar Square hosting grand temples and public spaces. Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur- all three world heritage sites were majorly affected by the Earthquake. Bhaktapur was the most damaged with irreparable loss. As per stories from my local friends, these spaces were lively public squares with temple chants and ringing bells adding to the aura. Youngsters hung around the steps and platforms munching on snacks bought from the vendor carts parked at nooks and corners. The streets were animated with tourists shopping and taking pictures amidst the splendour of Monarchical Nepal. Seeing the ruins, wasreally emotional for the publicas they struggled to cope with the loss. These durbar squares and world heritage zones were a major tourist attraction and source of income for the country’s economy. People look up to these architectural monuments as part of their culture and traditions. It’s imperative that these are brought back to life soon. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a new era- a fresh start reminiscing the grandeur of the bygone.
Assessment and Volunteering
We learnt and understood the functioning of Relief camps meanwhile bB’s second batch of 66 tents was shipped by Kunal from Bangalore via Kualalumpur on 14th May. Since most other countries were sending in their relief support via India, huge piles of aid had queued up at the Delhi Airport awaiting customs and other formalities. Hence our first batch of tents and other supplies was still waiting to be transported to Kathmandu.
bB and other volunteers visited the villages of Sankhu, Lubhu, Gundu, Bhaktapur and many affected urban neighbourhoods like Boudha, Lalitpur etc to assess and volunteer. Over the next few days we trained to build temporary toilets and bamboo shelters. Both these tasks were quite laborious involving physical work. We would be extremely exhausted by the end of the day dragging ourselves back to our accommodation to sleep like babies. The amusing part: we slept through some of the minor tremors being so fatigued.
Deployment of Tents
Finally our cargo arrived on the 19th May and Kunal joined us in Kathmandu. We immediately took a stock check and put in place a plan of action. bB along with Yakru for Humanity and Nepal Olympic Committee prepared a final list of families and locations for the tents’ deployment. The identified communities were in Sitapaila, Sankhu, Bhaktapur and some families in urban Kathmandu. Kunal worked on ground distributing and deploying the tents for the disadvantaged families who had lost their homes. One of bB’s tent was the first home for a new born girl while another provided a safe and comfortable shelter for an elderly mother recovering after a surgery. In all we deployed 66 tents in Phase 1, while another 50 are on their way to be deployed at Kavrepalanchowk district- a remote region north of Kathmandu which has not received much aid till now. We are working hard to ensure that they reach the villages at the earliest. billionBricks is keenly looking at Re-building opportunities in Nepal as well. We are in talks with local and international agencies to help build sustainable and sturdy houses in the near future.
Nepal has been a resilient nation, enduring tough situations since years. People in Nepal have always come out of troubles stronger with vigour. Seeing their spirit to go on, I am certain they will be back on their feet soon. We need to keep supporting and cheering!
The journey to Nepal as an aid worker has been a very fulfilling one. It was an experience full of learning, adjusting, braving unexpected situations, making new friends and reaching out. The trip has given me unforgettable memories to cherish lifelong and at the same time I am grateful for having come back safe and surviving the Big Quake that took place within 24 hours of my landing in the country. It was a message in itself bringing forth the realities of life, what matters and what does not.