Potala, o.p.s.

Czech voluntary help for Nepal

Authentic testimony about the earthquake in Nepal and immediate help-

It was three weeks after the first and four days after the last great earthquake in Nepal. We had just returned to Kathmandu after a month’s trip to the beautiful mountains on the northeast of the country, mulling over our experiences. Luckily for us we had chosen an area which the earthquake did not affect. Out of touch as we had been in the mountains, we received only fragments of news which portrayed Nepal as a country in ruins. It was clear to us that we must help when we descent. We love Nepal and our professions and experience suit us ideally to this task. Pavla is a general practitioner, who has worked in developing countries before, Jan is an ecologist and activist with experiences of organizing events in extreme conditions.

The earthquake had a massive regional impact and the capital city by comparison with some rural areas remained practically untouched (some houses may be statically labile and thus uninhabitable, however). Our Nepalese friends in Kathmandu helped in the heavily afflicted mountain villages they come from, and so we had to find out in our own way where and how best to involve ourselves. Asia is flexible, ever-changing and creative. Everything flows like a river. A person with a managerial approach and rigid planning doesn’t have much of a chance. By comparison intuition and attention to what doors are opening and what doors are closing as well as lack of insistence can lead one safely to one’s goal. Maybe it’s a different goal than one had in mind originally, but ultimately it may prove a better one than that which he had planned himself.

We found out on the internet that an airplane full of medical materials from the Czech Red Cross had just landed in Kathmandu. For 24 hours we then attempted to get in contact with its team. This attempt was futile. Only once we had gone to the Nepalese branch of the Red Cross did things start moving – and very fast. By the next morning we were already sitting in a jeep headed to the village of Katakuti in one of the most heavily affected areas, Sindupalchok. We became the members of a team of volunteers which nevertheless worked on a very professional level. Its driving force was Maya, a neurologist from Kathmandu, now a universal field doctor and indefatigable organizer. Our group handed out tarps, covers, healed wounds, infections and common illnesses, gave tetanus shots, helped in clearing away the collapsed school, motivated children to drawing pictures the auction of which will be a contribution to a collection for a new school. Our medical team treated 350 patients in two days. Our Nepalese friends spoke with locals to find out what these need and translated this to the volunteer centre Yellow House in Kathmandu, which collected open information from all over the country. Three days later, when all medicine and materials were exhausted – unlike the volunteers – we returned to the capital.

There were many similar volunteering centres all over the country. The Nepalese soon discovered that they will not be able to rely on the help of their government, and so they invested themselves with great ability in mutual civic aid.

We continued to collaborate with the volunteer centre in the following days but it became clear to us that we had learned what was necessary, and now it was time to make ourselves independent. The only thing missing was money for the purchase of foodstuffs, medicine and sheets, which are necessary in the villages as protection against the approaching monsoons. We were inspired by emails from friends asking how Nepal might be helped. We promptly organized a private collection.

We were touched by the rapidity, goodwill and funds sent us by people close to us as well as by complete strangers. It became clear that our help doesn’t end when we leave Nepal. We joined up with friends from the Czech non-governmental organization Potala and agreed that the money which will not be used up for immediate help in the villages will be used for more long-term projects in collaboration with the Nepalese non-governmental organization Sagarmatha International Foundation.

Together with our new friend Ongchhu Sherpa we set out for the mountain village of Mesipa. A small shrine stands here to the goddess Seti Devi which was the only structure to remain standing intact. Our friend from the village Rabin explained: “We are grateful to the goddess for her protection. The houses may have fallen, but nothing serious happened to anyone.”

The experience of Mesipa was different that that of Katakuti – more personal and deeper. The reality of aid we already knew and it became possible to immerse ourselves spontaneously in the tales the locals had to tell. We lived here amid the ruins of houses next to primitive shacks which housed people alongside goats, buffaloes and other animals. Everyone here comprised a broad family of our close friends. Mesipa brought the deepest lessons for our hearts.

Alongside boxes of medical materials we brought 300 kilos of flour, 60 kilos of salt and 1 800 packages of noodles into the village. In Kathmandu during the loading of the truck this seemed like an immense amount of things which could hardly fit into it. Here in the big mountains and facing dozens of people who had come for food, this was transformed into symbolic aid better equipped to feed the heart than the stomach.

Pavla ran her medical practice in Mesipa on the terrace of a modern medical centre built with Western financial aid. It was the only house left standing, although it was heavily damaged. Ongchhu was an excellent translator and a competent nurse. The teacher’s family neatly organized the admittance of patients, Jan was responsible for children and drawing. 175 patients came in two days. Even this crowd was manageable thanks to excellent organization, consideration and the loving atmosphere. Our medical intervention ended, as in Katakuti, with the exhaustion of materials, but not human resolution.

Jan’s focus in the villages was on schools and their re-establishment. He met with teachers and the foremen of civic school commissions and photodocumented the situation. We want to invest the remainder of our friends’ collection precisely in local schools. The vast majority of schools in the afflicted mountain areas remained in ruins. Children enjoy the holidays, but the teachers bemoan their situation. Education has immense value in Asia and families sacrifice much for it. They must therefore quickly build provisional schools – out of wood or bamboo, sheets or tin. Otherwise children won’t be able to study during the upcoming monsoon.

The Nepalese people we met appear happy despite having lost their homes and almost everything in them. Except poor 8 000 people who have lost their relatives the others have remained with their families, children, animals and fields, what more could they want? And above all they have retained their spiritual roots in hinduism and buddhism, which leads them to preferring the inner over the material life. They learn to accept reality and focus on the positive aspects of the present. How would we Europeans react in a similar situation? Would we also be so brave and resilient? How will we act in the face of the nearing global crisis, which can take many forms?

Much work remains to be done after our return to Prague. The private contributions of our friends brought us 168 000 Czech crowns (6 900 USD) already. All of this is already helping in Nepal. Part of it has been used in Mesipa, more was used for the purchase and transport of 85 tarps and help to the poorest families in the remote mountain village Lumsa in the Solo Khumbu area where Ongchhu Sherpa comes from. Other money was used for the building of a temporary school in the nearby village Tauo Maidane, and the same will happen in Lumsa. We are preparing an auction of childrens’ drawings for the school in Mesipa. We have reliable friends in these three villages who guarantee rapid and pertinent use of money. We are in communication with donors as well as our Nepalese friends and have gotten offers to lecture. We published a big article and photos in the Czech newsserver. Documents and information about our aid are shown at the Potala’s website. We have a lot of work to boot. But namasté from Mesipa touched us so deeply that we remain highly motivated with an energy shared by those who have and/or will help our project of aid in the future. Czech solidarity is as supportive as the work of Nepalese volunteers. Thank you!

Pavla Hrdličková, medicine doctor

Jan Piňos, ecologist and activist

18th of June 2015

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