I have been a humanitarian aid worker for 17 years but still on every frontline mission I feel the same sense of pure joy as we are able to give a ‘hand up’ to the forgotten families and positively change the lives of the people who have faced unbelievable devastation and huge challenges.
I have just returned to Kathmandu after an extraordinary journey. The village we have been in is high up in the Himalayas on the border of Tibet and Nepal.
For the past 18 months the village has been cut off by a massive landslide triggered by the earthquake. They have received no aid. After the earthquake it took 10 days for even the next village to reach them with basic survival supplies.
To reach the village, after a long off roading jeep journey we had to climb down a steep mountain side, across a stream and up another mountain face that was strewn with loose stones and boulders following the landslide.
The last half an hour trek in we faced strong winds and a freezing hail storm.
As my Nepali guide pointed out our final destination and I could see our red tents on the horizon the sky cleared and a double rainbow appeared. It was as if the Universe was cheering us on.
Local men and women stood with beaming smiles in the hail storm to welcome us as we walked through a make shift triumphant arch made of bamboo and leaves. They placed a sacred scarf, a kata, around our necks and with hands placed in prayer they led us the last few steps to their homes.
The village of just 150 dwellings hangs on the side of a steep hillside with no easy way to move around.
They had never seen a foreigner before, none had ever made it to their village, it was fun for all as they looked us up and down and touched our hair and marvelled at our footwear and clothes.
Exhausted after our journey we snuggled into our mountain home. A small red tent perched on a ledge. January in the Himalayas is pretty cold. Even with a Himalayan sleeping bag – I kept on my eight thermal layers and added an extra pair of socks and very warm hat with ear muffs. Waking up in the morning and unzipping the tent to a snow covered mountain was surreal and awe inspiring.
One by one we started to meet some of the most vulnerable families. So hard to know where to start – as all seemed desperately in need of help. Many of the villagers as well as losing their livelihoods and homes are severely psychologically traumatised. The landslide triggered by the earthquake killed many loved ones. One father lost both his wife and 15 year old son under the landslide and he cannot accept that they have gone. He still wanders the village stunned in a daze.
Pore Kamsya, a 30 year old woman had just given birth to her last child when her 29 year old husband was killed by the landslide, buried in the rubble. She has four children Prasad 12 years, Sunil 8 years, Maya 5 years and Sapana now nearly 2 years old. Everytime we met her she would hang her head as the tears fell holding Sapana tightly close to her.
The picture below is one of my meetings with her and her children.
Her husband was highly respected by the community, a great husband and father. Pore just could not recover from her loss. Her family were worried about her and her 4 young children. Pore seemed to have no will to live. Nothing could rouse her out of her depression and deep sadness.
Bit by bit through getting to know her, gaining her trust and through various of her friends and relatives sharing her story we began to understand that her living condition – a small dwelling with 10 other relatives – was adding to her stress and inability to recover and start again. She felt useless, dependent and numb.
The ‘Be The Change’ team bit by bit distilled a possible solution. We build her a small dwelling to give her space and independence with her small family and we also help to provide her with a sustainable income with her own buffalo. She could sell the milk for regular money enabling her to buy the staples for the family. A local man kindly said that he would donate the land.
I will always remember how Pores’ face lit up when our idea was suggested to her. She physically and emotionally changed, she lifted her head, straightened her back as a smile crept across her face. In her wildest dreams she never thought this could be a possibility. She was radiant. We had hit the jackpot.
Rebuilding shattered lives, facilitating mothers like Pore to regain their self -esteem and dignity makes me dance for joy! Feeling blessed and on cloud nine as we transform devastated lives here one family at a time.
The level of strength and resilience of the village people is almost unbelievable – and to hear them sing as they perform their daily tasks despite all of their hardship – I wish – just for one day everyone could witness and feel in their hearts such grace and courage.
Thank you to those who joined me on the frontline, made the long hard journey high up into the Himalayas and stepped out of their comfort zones to help those in desperate need with a much needed hand-up.
They have helped people in a way they have never before and those people will treasure it for a long time come.
I will be back in touch again soon with more stories of the amazing people we are meeting on the frontline.
With much love