Shelter Relief Project In Shankosh , Dhading
The WONDERWorks team were off to an early start on Sunday as we headed out of Kathmandu city heading west. The roads were free of traffic, except for heavy goods vehicles, ferrying relief materials in both directions. Two hours into the journey we turned off the highway and began the meandering climb through the stunning countryside that defines the district of Dhading.
Upon reaching the town we were relieved to find that our order of zinc metal sheeting had arrived and was already being unloaded into the warehouse. At six sheets a time it was painstaking work. Marc and Madav tried to lend a hand but the boss soon put a stop to that. Health and safety, apparently! Instead we took a brief walk around the town only to find many of the older houses in ruins. Clearing work was going on everywhere but without large equipment to knock down condemned buildings, work was being done manually.
(Government surveyors have started inspecting buildings. A red sticker requires demolition, an orange sticker requires repair work and a green sticker means the building has been declared safe. Children started school for the first time since the earthquake that day, but even with a green sticker on the school wall, many people still decided to keep their children at home.)
Eager to get started with the distribution we headed back to the warehouse to wait for the villagers, who were asked to arrive by 8.30am.
(We’re told that when relief vehicles arrive in villages the most needy and most vulnerable people – usually those of lower caste – often miss out. Stronger people, or those with connections easily hijack the goods, making distribution unfair. To prevent hijacking and also because homes in Shankosh village are spread far across the countryside, we decided to distribute directly from the town warehouse.)
Working in consultation with Village Development Committee representatives, one hundred and ninety three families, from within each of the nine wards in Shankosh were targeted for the relief. We ensured that only those unable to afford the materials themselves and who haven’t received aid from anywhere else were put on the list. This was a huge job and WONDERWorks is very grateful for all the help received by Hari Ghimere, Shanker Ghimere and Raj Dhamala, who volunteered their time and knowledge to make sure the selection was fair. We would like to mention that although their own homes are cracked and unsafe to sleep in, they chose to exclude both themselves and their relatives from the project.
Anyone will tell you that time keeping isn’t a high priority in Nepal but disconcerting none the less, that nobody had turned up by late morning. To complicate matters, all the phone networks were down that day so we couldn’t call anyone to find out what was happening. Meanwhile, with temperatures soaring to 36 degrees celcius, we had to seek out shady spots to avoid the blazing sun. Then, from out of nowhere, villagers started to arrive and soon the roadside was heaving with people, some having walked five hours to get there! We were ready to get underway!
Nepalese are very patient people and nobody (except us) seemed to mind having to wait for another truck to finish unloading before we could start giving out the metal bundles. Then, when it was finally our turn, we had to round everyone up again! Having taken advantage of a rare day out in the ‘Big City’ they’d decided to make the most of it, wandering off for lunch or to shop at the market, whilst others were just keen to catch the end of the local TV drama they’d been watching at a nearby electrical shop.
We eventually managed to gather everyone together for photos with our banner, before calling out names one by one. Each family received exactly the same – one bundle of metal sheeting measuring 72 square metres in total. For transparency, one member of each family was to sign next to his or her name on the list before receiving their bundle. Arrangements for getting the bundles home had been left up to the villagers, who’d clubbed together with their nearest neighbours to hire the small vehicles now waiting to be loaded up.
Once we got started there was a flurry of activity! Names were called out, signatures were given, photos were taken and large sheets of metal passed too and fro – far too close to unsuspecting heads! Health and safety had gone completely out the window it would seem! Hari, Raj and Shanker handled the roll call, Marc monitored the loading out front and Bimala, Chulie and Madav dodged sharp edges and tried not to get in the way as they captured the chaos on camera. Finally, with the last two missing villagers located and retrieved from a nearby tea house, we were able to round things up by about 4pm.
By the end of the day 102 families from five wards had received metal sheeting. As we weren’t able to secure the amount of sheeting needed for all 193 families (due to the huge demand for shelter before the monsoon arrives in mid June) we have to wait until Friday for the second load to arrive in Dhading. We’ll then be repeating the process (no doubt with a few lessons learned) so that the remaining 91 families, from the other four wards, will receive their share.
It was such a relief to get into air-conditioning as we set off in the jeep for Syauli Bazar to survey the situation. The steep, narrow track leading to the village was in a bad way and there were concerns we’d break an axle because of the deep ruts. During the monsoon this track must surely be impassable! On the way it was saddening to see so many traditional family homes reduced to rubble. Even the local school, which Raj had attended as a boy, was completely gone. We arrived to find Syauli Bazar, the central hub of Shankosh, in terrible shape, with most residents (four to five hundred) now living in the safety of nearby tented camps. Even so, a cracked tea house that seemed to be clinging precariously to the hillside had a handful of die hard customers sitting out the front and we met a few villagers gathered together, some chatting, some retrieving reusable items for rebuilding and some moving rubble. The mood was somber but the people seemed far from beaten.
When the sky started to darken we decided to move on, keen to get back down the risky track before nightfall. On the way we visited Raj’s uncle, who offered us tea and then we called in at Hari’s place for a tasty treat of honey, straight from his own bee hives. Nepalese hospitality being what it is, it was getting late by the time we got going again. Once back on tarmac we hurtled down the winding road towards the highway at nauseating speed – to avoid the chance of landslides, so our driver told us!
After a brief roadside pit stop we continued on towards Kathmandu and were flagged down by the police on the outskirts of the city, who checked our vehicle for unaccompanied minors.
(To curb the increase in child trafficking since the earthquake, the government has imposed a temporary ban on children travelling without a family member).
With fewer people in Kathmandu since the earthquake the streets were dark and almost empty by the time we reached home. The trip had taken over sixteen hours from start to finish and though grubby, hot and tired, we were happy, knowing that a few more families would have a roof over their heads that night.
WONDERWorks would like to thank everyone who helped support this project, especially Hari Ghimere and Shanker Ghimire, from Shankosh VDC, our friends Raj Dhamala and Madvav Mishra, from Adventure Mission Nepal and the many generous donors for their contributions. We couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you so much!