The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
However many times I attend an immediate post-disaster scene it never ceases to astound and horrify me that as quickly as the great and the good arrive; the UN, The Red Cross, Save The Children, so do the ‘nasties’; the sex traffickers seeking out vulnerable women luring them into prostitution and the opportunists preying on displaced or orphaned children, kidnapping them and forcing them into hard labour. But this time I encountered something new and equally shocking – organized gangs roaming amidst the disaster chaos seeking out possible unsuspecting organ donors they can kidnap, if unwilling or pay, if willing. On the frontline we must be in a constant state of vigilance to these unpleasant activities and also educate the innocent and vulnerable to be more aware of the motives of these predators.
Raju Khadka, the ‘cake factory’ hero.
As I sat in one of Kathmandu’s typical ancient, dusty, tiny white tin-box taxis, my knees awkwardly jammed into the back of the driver, I noticed another earthquake survivors camp had popped up. The flapping of the bright red plastic sheeting had caught my eye and I asked the driver to stop.
The constant level of fear, caused by the continuing powerful shakes, drives the people to sleep in open spaces as far as possible from the cracked and unstable buildings that have already taken so many lives.
Slowly I tip-toed my way between the make-shift tents, trying to avoid the guy ropes and deep mud puddles caused by the heavy monsoon rains and insufficient drainage.
Hearing our approach a middle-aged lady popped her head out from under her shelter, a beautiful open face beamed up at us. Laxmi Khadka crawled out and we exchanged the customary Nepali greeting, with a slight bow of our heads, our hands pressed together close to our chests, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards we quietly uttered the word ‘Namaste’ which in translation means ‘I bow to the divine in you’.
As I looked up a thin young man was approaching us slowly, limping, the top of his left foot looking angry, red and swollen. He had obviously suffered a deep cut that had healed over before its time trapping a large area of pus and infection.
He smiled at us.
Raju Khadka talked about his families situation, their poor living condition and minimal food but he was most concerned about his mothers deteriorating emotional health.
‘ Every time a strong wind blows or there is an unexpected noise she starts to shake uncontrollably, the memories of the earthquake flooding back. She hardly sleeps. She hardly eats,’ Raju said wringing his hands his face etched with worry. ‘I fear for her health’.
At that moment a tall, lanky teenager bounced into the middle of the group with a beaming smile clearly showing his perfect white teeth and in the clearest English said, ‘ Did you know that my brother is a hero’. He paused, staring at us with his head on one side.
We all smiled and looked at Raju eagerly.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
Raju looked down at his injured leg and nodded shyly ‘ Do tell us?’ I asked again encouraging him to share his story.
Without hesitation Sajan Khadka, 11 years old, the younger brother of the hero, jumped in,
‘He saved my mother and the three other workers at the cake factory’.
He took a deep breath and continued at speed,
‘ It was the first big earthquake and my brother was at work at the cake factory. The building started to shake terribly and fall apart as if stamped on by a giant, my mother fell to the ground screaming and sobbing. Raju picked her up and threw her out of the building just before a brick wall collapsed. She would have died’.
We all looked at Laxmi as she nodded in agreement.
‘ Then my brother went back inside and saved the other factory workers. Blinded by thick clouds of dust and the bricks raining down on him, he ran back into the horror, three times and one by one he brought them out. But you see his luck ran out on the last journey and a wall fell on him,’ he said pointing at his brothers foot. ‘ He thought he would die there, he was trapped, but finally he managed to wriggle out just tearing his leg’.
Raju smiled at his brother, ‘ Anyone would have done the same’, he said humbly. ‘ I am just happy that my mother and co-workers are all alive. The factory, totally gone, destroyed beyond repair. My main task now is to find another job’.
Once the dust settles and the emergency crews leave a focus on livelihood recovery remains as essential as ever for the survivors. However resilient the people are and Nepali’s are resilient giving a ‘hand up’ at these times is the only way. They want to get back on their feet, back to work, independent and able to feed their own families. And when Raju has returned to full health this is how we will be helping him.
Namaste – my new mantra
‘I bow to the divine in you’ isn’t it a wonderful greeting and my new mantra, conveying respect and honour. It reminds me to pause and take time to look deeper to see and acknowledge the unique and beautiful essence of everyone I meet.
Don’t look for a hero. Be one.
What makes a hero? The dictionary defines a hero as a person who courageously contributes even under the most trying circumstances; a hero is an individual who acts unselfishly and who demands more from himself or herself than others would expect; a hero is someone who defies adversity by doing what he or she believes is right in spite of fear.
A hero is not someone who is perfect. We all make mistakes but that doesn’t invalidate the contributions we make in the course of our lives. Perfection is not heroism; humanity is.
If you get the chance to be a hero grasp it. Do something this week to demonstrate that your actions make a difference. Offer to babysit for a single parent, spend an extra 30 minutes listening to a friend who has a problem and a desperate need to share it, buy a stranger a cup of coffee, volunteer at a local hospital. The opportunities to be a hero are endless. Don’t look for a hero. Be one.
Love from the frontline