November 30 2015
Distribution of blankets and mattresses in Takure & Bangoan
Many drops will eventually become a cool rain. When we were here in Nepal back in May and June, we did some adventurous journeys in the mountains with trucks full of goods and food. The idea was that people who had lost all their possessions to the earthquake should get food and temporary shelter material such as tarpaulins and corrugated iron. Back then we taught that organizing all of that was a big and challenging task, but come seven months after the earthquake, we learned the true meaning of the word “challenge”. The situation of the population remains unchanged. They will have to spend the coming winter in their “makeshift” tin shed shelters as no family has so far received the promised money for the reconstruction of their houses from the state. There is a serious food shortage and moreover warm clothing and blankets are scarce. It must be mentioned that the foreign donations made to the official Nepalese NGO accounts were intercepted during the first few weeks after the earthquake. The huge amount of donations flowed directly into a government fund. The government has since then been promising that the money will be distributed to all the families whose houses were destroyed. But if you ask anyone in Nepal about the money, they will shrug their shoulders in frustration and confusion. “It will never be paid”, that is the general consensus. As a result there has been no tangible progress in the villages. People simply don’t have the money to build new houses, so hundreds of thousands of people continue to sleep in tents and shacks. We have therefore seen the need to distribute blankets and mattresses to at least some people to prepare them for the winter. And even if it is just a drop in the ocean, we wanted to do it. So as said, we’re going to have a great challenge ahead of us. On top of the inhuman conditions, India’s petrol blockade will plunge the Nepalese people into complete ruin, desperation and possibly starvation. Not only gasoline and gas are missing for transport and cooking, but food, building materials and other goods are also getting more expensive every week. So it took a lot of negotiation skills to find a trustworthy dealer with a good price for 400 mattresses and blankets, which we aim to distribute to a total of 400 families in the mountains of Sindhupalshock. However, before the distributing we had to do some waiting as the dealer took 10 days to gather all the goods. Our local friend Naresh did a great job. He has not only put us in contact with the dealer, but he also, on very short notice, organized two trucks and drivers to take us into the mountains. Many truck and taxi drivers no longer accept such orders as the drive is too far. The little fuel they have is usually intended for short trips in and around Kathmandu instead of long journeys. But Naresh has organized trucks that run on diesel and has also bought enough diesel for the ride. It is virtually impossible to get petrol these days. As we drove the loaded truck through the city, we saw countless kilometers long queues of trucks, buses and taxis waiting in front of closed gas stations. Some of the drivers have been sleeping in their vehicles for weeks to get a bit of gasoline. Sometimes the gas station opens for a few hours, only to be closed again for days waiting for the next smuggled delivery. As foreigners we really could not obtain any fuel on our own, so we are eternally grateful to our good friend Naresh for his help. So now we have visited the villages of Bangoan and Takure. The trip in the mountains was a dream. We had not seen much of the Himalayas until now, but after passing the through the boundaries of the first high mountain range after a couple of hours they were there. White and huge spirits of the ancient giants suddenly appeared on the horizon, powerful and impressive. The roof of the world! We noticed our jaws were dropped and our eyes were wide open. Naresh looked at us with confusion and asked: “What’s going on?” Then he looked at the mountains and said “Oh, that …” and smiled. From then on, the white giants accompanied us on our drive through the beautiful and impressive sceneries consisting of green mountains and countless terraced fields which were incorporated into the hills. We were able to overlook the soaring clouds surrounding us. Many people were working in the fields, bringing in the harvest. Old and wrinkled women were carrying big bundles of crop or huge bales of hay up the mountains in the baskets that they had tied to their foreheads. As fascinating as the journey was, it was also depressing to see time and again the catastrophic conditions of the makeshift dwellings in the mountain villages, which people had to live in. The mountain roads were in very poor conditions and almost impassable. Most of the time we were on dusty gravel roads with giant potholes and huge mud-pits, where the trucks were about to sink. But our drivers were masters of their work. We were really shaken for about 4 long hours, but finally we and our cargo arrived safely in the first village, Bangoan. We went to the local school where many people were already there to welcome us. Here we quickly distributed some mattresses and blankets and stored the rest in one of the school’s rooms, so that the goods should be distributed by the teachers to all residents of the village. In fact, the school consisted only of a bamboo hut with two rooms and a shelter, which was built of logs and corrugated iron. The actual school had also been completely destroyed by the earthquake. After we said goodbye, we went up to the next village Takure. In this village we are also planning to help with a long-term reconstruction of houses. Many villagers, especially the children recognized Björn back, who had already helped out in Takure in May. On the little village square, we were once again greeted with a tikka blessing, floral wreaths and fine silk scarves. This is the traditional ritual of Nepalese thanksgiving and means a lot to the people here. For us, it is often very unusual to be received so gratefully, but it’s a piece of the Nepalese culture, and to be able to experience it, is a wonderful gift. The villagers had already gathered and so we immediately began the distribution. Each member of a family had received a coupon with the name, signature and stamp. In exchange, each received a blanket and a mattress. Naresh collected the coupons, Germaid distributed the blankets and Björn handed out the mattresses. We had four other Nepalese helpers on board who helped us in the distribution. It was once again a great feeling to be able to deliver the goods, and we would like to thank all the donors who make such actions possible. We thank you for you generosity, for enabling us to have this wonderful experience through your money, to hand over relief supplies to these people. For us it has become clear that the most beautiful gesture that a person is capable of is to open their hands and to reach another, or to hand over gifts. We beamed at each other, put our palms together, holding our hands to our foreheads and said “Namaste!” It once again made our hearts a little bigger. Afterwards we wandered a bit through the village and were invited to tea. Some teenage girls giggled and pointed at Germaid’s white skin which they apparently found so beautiful, “Ramro Cha!” Unfortunately we had to say goodbye here quickly. We had received a permit from the local government to stay in the region until 6:00pm. These days there is an enormous number of police officers at the check points on all regional borders and particularly in and around Kathmandu. You can tell that the situation is tense. Back in town, we were stopped and checked every two kilometres. From the mountains we brought a lot of firewood loaded on the trucks. This we wanted to take back to Kathmandu, so our friend Naresh could distribute it to families in need. The reason is because firewood is only sold in rations in the capital, and often the poorest of the city residents who live in slums are not able to get any wood. So they need to burn garbage to be able to cook something to eat. Unfortunately, we did not have a permit for the firewood. Without the permit we could have been convicted as smugglers. There was too great a risk that the firewood be seized at one of the check points. This would have been a disaster for the truck drivers. Therefore we left the firewood lying on the edge of the region. Naresh is planning to get a permit, so that he can bring the wood through the official way back to the people in need in the city. We will certainly return to the village Takure soon, as there are still many children who wear very thin clothes for the approaching winter. The next step is to collect and to buy clothes, especially for the children. But first, we’d like to reflect on the last days. Even if it always feels like the beginning, as if it was just a drop in the bucket, right now we can make many people happy and be happy ourselves through their happiness. And once again it becomes clear: Many small drops in the bucket will eventually become a cool rain!
The situation in Kathmandu worsens dramatically. Nepal has not received any gasoline, natural gas or medical supplies for more than two months now. One can only obtain petrol, if at all, on the black market, petrol that has been smuggled through the perilous border crossings. Yesterday the Nepali Times wrote that a man was “caught” smuggling gasoline across the blockade in Madhesi. He was doused with the smuggled gasoline and sent on fire… UNBELIEVABLE! The Hindu, religiously influenced, ethnic group Madhesi is composed of settlers who originally come from India. They form about 20% of Nepal’s total population. The Madhesi feel not sufficiently considered in the new constitution, claim their own district, and especially demand more influence in the new, communist-oriented government. In Nepal, everyone is now sure that this blockade was actually initiated by India and that the Madhesi are strongly supported by India. It is a demonstration of Indian power, aimed at holding on to its political influence, at the risk of bleeding out one of the poorest countries in the world. You only get gasoline if you know somebody, who knows somebody, who perhaps has some. You pay around €5 per litre and you’re often cheated with the amount of the already adulterated gasoline. Gas for cooking is no longer available. Therefore, for weeks, the 1.5 million inhabitants of the city Kathmandu have been actually cooking with wood and anything else that burns. At dinner time the smog is burning the eyes. Even wood is scarce and it is only sold in small amounts. The rations are not sufficient to cook for a family, so more and more women pick up the smallest wood scraps on the streets in order to have something for a fire. Many small restaurants had to close. The operators are deprived of their livelihood, but still have to pay the rent. Tourism is the largest economic factor and it has shrunk by at least 75% compared to the previous year. Many schools are faced with the threat of closure, in which case the children must be sent back to the destroyed villages, since they can no longer be cared for. Hospitals are gradually running out of drugs. Already, complicated operations can partially no longer be carried out. The only available source of energy is electricity. However, the demand has increased immensely as many try to cook with electricity. Consequently there are regular power outages. In the district of our friend Naresh, residents only had electricity for a few hours at night during the past 4 days. The prices of staple foods such as lentils have tripled in just a week and continue to rise. There are millions of people who have lost everything after the earthquake and have to survive the winter without help in tent cities and tin sheds, as even seven months after the earthquake the reconstruction still has not begun. “Kirghani” means “what can you do” and the word is often used these days. But you can hear that it is no longer uttered with the typical Nepalese ease, but it is more and more uttered in great despair. There is just a lot going on in the world, but I would ask you not to forget Nepal. These wonderful people need our help more than ever.