In April and May 2015, two large earthquakes struck Nepal. Since Nepal was MEPO’s first ‘home’, this event struck us deeply. So even though for the past 10 years MEPO’s work has been concentrated in Afghanistan with the House of Flowers, we knew that we must return to Nepal and see what we could do to aid in the recovery effort.
MEPO consequently gathered donations from worried and generous donors, collecting nearly $6000 to take to Nepal. We knew that with our history there, our connections and our flexibility, even though we were not a large organization we would be able to reach many who might be falling through the cracks in recovering from the effects of the earthquake.
From June to August of 2015, Mostafa and Allison were in Nepal, working on a small but intense scale to offer medical and financial support to those in need.
Below is the final report of their activities over the summer and how the money was spent:
There was absolutely no plan to go to Nepal this summer, but the sudden earthquake in the country where we once lived and served made it imperative to go back and lend a hand. We knew that our work would be guided by some basic principles that drove MEPO’s philosophy. We knew that our strength lay in our ability to talk to people, visit their homes, hear their stories, and see with our own eyes exactly what they needed. We aimed most to help those who had perhaps fallen between the cracks, who had escaped notice. In times such as disasters, there is an enormous amount of corruption and hoarding of resources, and so we were very careful to check and see how much help (if any) someone or group had already received. We wanted to help those who had not received much, and who were honest about their needs. We also concentrated on those who were the most vulnerable, especially young children and very low income families.
We also knew that we would have certain constraints. Since it was monsoon, travel would be very difficult. We also would not have the extensive logistical support that large organizations have, and could not undertake large projects such as building shelters for people. Since it had been 2 months since the earthquake hit, needs were not the critical survival needs of a time of rescue, but instead were the needs that came with being displaced, traumatized, and having life turned upside down, but trying to resume the normal flow of existence.
Therefore, during the two months we spent in post-earthquake Nepal, we tried to target the earthquake victims, but as time passed, the range of needy people extended beyond those affected by the earthquake. So our program started with health camps in various earthquake-hit areas in collaboration with the Nepalese Society of Texas (NST), in which the team saw over 2500 patients in 5 camps. Mostafa himself saw about 500 patients during these camps.
NST had collected extensive donations of supplies such as medical supplies (medications, medical equipment, blankets, soap, toothpaste and brushes,etc), blankets and granola bars, which we passed on to individuals, hospitals and clinics, and at camps for those displaced by the earthquake in Langtang and Sherpa communities in Sindupalchowk regions.
One village in particular during a health camp caught our attention, Dothar in Sindhupalchowk. We visited the village, 3 hours away, on 4 different occasions, hoping to be able to focus our energy on helping one extremely hard-hit village begin to recover. They had received aid, and were now in the mode of waiting to begin reconstructing their homes. We did not have the resources to help with home construction, but after having given them mosquito nets, flashlights, and other basic supplies, we began talking with them about establishing a preschool for the dozens of very young children in the village. On each visit, besides having discussions and making plans, we also followed up with patients and conducted mini-health camps. Unfortunately, the preschool did not materialize, for various reasons, and we had to let go of that plan.
Consequently, our attention turned to activities that would directly benefit individuals or families struggling in various ways, or camps where displaced families had temporarily relocated due to the earthquake.
The details of what we did and how the money was spent can be found here: Summary of MEPO work in Nepal 2015 post -earthquake but below are some highlights:
• cash support to the Langtang IDP (internally displaced people) camp. This camp of about 250 people had relocated from Langtang village due to the earthquake, and were living in tents on the grounds of a large monastery in Kathmandu. While visiting there we met several women who had lost their husbands in the earthquake, and had small children. The camp was neat and organized, and were saving money to be able to rebuild their village after the monsoon. They also said they needed money to buy vegetables for the camp’s meals
• financial support to an IDP camp of 260 Sherpa community people who had to relocate after the earthquake, coming from remote Sindhupalchowk to a tiny camp on a hill on the outskirts. This group was also very organized, but was struggling to fit over 200 people in a very small space. They were uncertain about how they were going to feed everyone long-term until the time that they could return to the village, hopefully in 3-4 months.
• toys for preschool children at the Sherpa camp
• scholarships to lower caste girls to study computers in order to further their education and opportunities
• donation for a toilet-building project
• financial support to families that had lost everything in the Kopan area
• medical and financial help to those struggling with medical issues, ranging from a street vendor collapsed on the street who needed to go to the hospital, to a village child with hepatitis who needed medications and hospitalization, to helping a family who had a family member in the hospital for 2 months due to back surgery gone wrong.
Individual stories were compelling as we listened for those who had not been helped. For example, Chamar, the driver at the hotel where we stayed, is an older man who drives in thick traffic and pollution to the airport every day. He sleeps at the hotel, and is quiet and never complains. When the earthquake hit, his house was destroyed in the next district, yet he stayed at the hotel, one of only 3 staff who stayed to help the 150 guests who were staying at the hotel during the earthquake. He has few resources available, and so we decided to give him 5000 Rs ($50) to go towards his rebuilding of his house.
Thanks to the dozens of caring people who donated to MEPO for this work, we were able to be flexible and responsive in what we did. Our work varied from helping one single individual in crisis, to donating to an NGO (Educate the Children) involved in reconstructing a village that had been almost completely destroyed in the earthquake and was undertaking a project to build 600 toilets in the community as part of the rebuilding process.
Nepal is slowly making its way back, with reconstruction plans underway and people regaining the patterns of their lives. But the trauma is deep-seated; some people have trouble talking about anything except for that day in April, and the slightest aftershocks elicit screams in the streets as people seem to immediately relive the terror of those days. So Nepal now needs time. Money won’t fix the issue of anxiety and fear, but hopefully with each bit of help that people receive, they can at least know that they are not alone in their lives.