UPDATE : Michelle’s Day in a Disaster Zone

Michelle : A Day in a Disaster Zone

It’s Tuesday, or at least I think it is, ten days since the devastating 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. The children’s school has just re-opened, so its business-as-usual for five of our eight resident children. However, Prakash, our oldest boy and a first year student in engineering college, is still here because his college is not yet open, and his end-of-year exams have been postponed until further notice. He came early to my room this morning to find out what today’s action plan was – to go with Soma, one of the organisers of our NGO (Non-Government Organisation), Sansar Nepal, and Rosalba, an archeologist from Mexico who is also staying with us for few days, to pack aid buckets again.

It will be the third day of buckets. During the last two days, all our kids were able to help, and on the first day, in four hours, we were able to prepare 150 of the 300 buckets, with the help of the Nepal Bharat (India) Friendship Association, and the Rotary Club based here in Pokhara, to be delivered to Takukot, a village in the Gorkha district. Pokhara is one of Nepal’s main tourist destinations, some 200km from Kathmandu and the starting point for treks in the Annapurna Range. Fortunately, Pokhara suffered comparatively little damage compared to other areas of Nepal. However, in the Gorkha district, which is midway between Pokhara and Kathmandu, and in Dading, Sindhupalchowk, in and around Kathmandu itself, and in the popular trekking areas of Langtang and Everest, there is great destruction and many lives have been lost. And the continuous hum of rescue helicopters taking off and landing at the airport close to our house serves as a constant reminder of the dramas taking place elsewhere in Nepal.

Yesterday we packed again, production-line-style: 1 bucket filled with 1 water jug, 1 shawl, 2 lungis (sarongs), 1 pack of dalmuth (Bombay mix), topped with a 5kg bag of beaten rice, which requires no cooking. All this wrapped in a warm blanket, protected by 2 plastic bags, then 2 blanket-clad bundles packed into a rice sack and tied with string ready to survive the bumpy journey up to the villages. Work ground to a halt when the blankets ran out: a government official needed them more, we were told. So back we went today to pack the remaining 70 buckets. Delivery is scheduled for tomorrow, but in this state of emergency there are many variables and we can’t count on it. Delievery may be by helicopter, but more likely by jeep. If so, Soma and I will go along to help.

I am taking a break today – a friend reminded me of the advice to put on one’s own oxygen mask first in an aeroplane, before attending to children or dependants. If we don’t look after ourselves, we won’t be in a position to help others, and I am exhausted.

Now Manju, our eldest girl who is also in her first year at a local college, appears in my room after the others have left (she was studying for her end-of-year exams late into the night) and reports for duty. I send her with her bus fare to join the bucket brigade in the town. (The packing takes place in a yard and outhouse behind a fabric shop owned by the Vice President of the Rotary club.)

A few minutes later Pastor John (from the church that some of our children attend) arrives, and returns to me the 30,000 rupees (USD 300) which we had lent him three days ago to finish off shopping for supplies for the relief mission that he and members of the church undertook. Sansar Nepal had already contributed 28,000 rupees-worth of relief supplies towards this joint effort, but he was unable to access money sent via Western Union from donors abroad, and so came to us for a loan.

Prakash alone has collected 25,000 rupees from his college mates, has donated his own savings of 700 rupees (saved at a rate of 5 rupees  day from his lunch allowance), and has played a key role in the organisation of the relief effort along with three of his young friends.

It runs in the family. Roshan, Prakash’s older brother, who is the manager of our house and chairman of the Sansar Nepal NGO, drove with Aaditya, another young Nepali who manages a children’s home close to ours, to deliver relief supplies donated by our NGO’s. This was shortly after the quake, and having delivered these supplies, Roshan then volunteered at the Israeli field hospital in Kathmandu as a porter and interpreter.

Back in Pokhara I take the 30,000 rupees, enquire about the next relief drive and promise our support, then manage to catch Manju before she leaves with instructions to pay this money into the bank account of the Helping Hands group based in Kathmandu, whose relief work Sansar Nepal is also supporting. This done, I return to the numerous emails and Facebook messages which are pouring in from around the world expressing sympathy and concern, many also offering cash donations, which at this time are essential for the local relief efforts which we are supporting, and begin to answer them. On Facebook sadly there are reports of international aid piling up at the airport and borders, which cannot be distributed to the desperate victims due to lack of organisation, and (unbelievably) custom duties and taxes being levied by government authorities from the aid suppliers!

We are also hearing reports of delivery trucks being hijacked as desperate villagers try to grab whatever they can before the supplies are delivered elsewhere. Likewise, there are stories of well-intentioned but haphazard relief drives where some villages receive aid from several sources, whilst others receive nothing, and a free-for-all ensues when a relief jeep unloads its supplies.

It’s a desperate situation, but planning, inside knowledge and contacts are essential. It’s hard to know what to do for the best, and whom to trust. We talk to many people, receive many requests for help and have to decide whom to support. In the end, we go with the people we know and trust, like Rishi Paudel, a long time friend and known humanitarian, the owner of Peace Eye Guest House, who was first on the scene in the Gorkha district two days after the earthquake, delivering supplies bought with his own money. Likewise Madan Sharma, owner of Vardan Resort, who has supported a rural village school for a number of years, who connected us with the Nepal Bharat Association, and who contributed his own money. We know we can trust them, not only their integrity but also their insider knowledge of what is happening in the badly-hit areas, and how to go about distributing the aid safely and fairly. We have been told that we cannot go to certain areas because our safety cannot be vouched for, such is the desperation.

Other trusted friends are Govinda, senior executive of Civil Bank (Kathmandu) and his wife Bimala who runs a school. Both are long-term friends and well-known humanitarians who have founded a relief group called Helping Hands, which we are supporting. We are also assisting a number of young Nepalis recommended to us, and who are launching private initiatives to help their villages. We want to encourage and empower the younger generation of Nepalis to become socially-active and break out of the passivity which has been one legacy of the centuries-long, absolute monarchy which ended in 2006 with the formation of the first democracy Nepal has ever known – a democracy in word only. In reality it is a disastrous mish-mash of 73 political parties with no experience of running a country. Under these circumstances it’s no surprise that the handling of this situation has been so poor and ineffectual.

The phone rings: its Siroj, the owner of a small restaurant in Lakeside. He is currently building a retreat centre and Ayurvedic farm just outside Pokhara, on a large piece of land he has inherited from his grandfather. He is typical of the new generation of young Nepalis who wish to improve life for their fellow countrymen as well as for themselves. At his centre he plans to offer yoga teacher training and courses on organic farming and Ayurveda free-of-charge to interested, young Nepali people. Right now, his building project is on hold as he plans to get a relief mission together to help a badly hit village in a remote part of Sindhupalchowk, one of the main districts affected. Can we help him? Yes, we will try. But we need details – which village, how many homes, how many people, how many homes gone, has anybody brought aid, what will he take, do they need tents (there are none left in Pokhara) how will he deliver, whose vehicle, who will drive, when, who will meet the jeep and be responsible for distribution, how much will it cost, how much has he collected already? Etc., etc. We arrange to meet later today.

I put down the phone and resolve to take a nap. Tomorrow will be a big day if we are driving to the villages to deliver the buckets. But it’s 4.15pm already. Our kids will be home from school in 15 minutes. There will be homework to advise on, more thank you cards to write, more messages coming in from all over the world to respond to – don’t get me wrong, they are wonderful, loving and supportive, and they truly kept me going during the 36 hours when I wasn’t sure if my daughter, caught in a bus mid-way between Pokhara and Kathmandu when the quake happened, was alive or dead (she is alive, thank God!) – but it doesn’t look like the nap will happen.

In eight days time, all being well, I will be back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the earth doesn’t tend to shake and houses rarely fall down. In a few weeks time, it will all seem like a dream. Sansar Nepal will continue to support relief efforts on the ground, with the help of Soma, bless him, who will stay on in Pokhara for a while longer, as his visa is still good. My heart will still be with the people of Nepal, and I shall continue to work with our family and friends here in Nepal as the relief effort continues and the rebuilding begins. Many schools (more than 600 I have heard) have been destroyed. Many children will have lost parents and the possibility of an education. As an educational NGO which supports children, I foresee that Sansar Nepal will play an important role in this area in the coming months and years.

As the Phoenix rises up out of the fire, so I believe Nepal will arise and recreate herself as a better Nepal, with the help of many friends and Nepalophiles around the world, but mainly through the drive and impetus of the new Nepalis who will hopefully take matters into their own hands, as they have done during the disaster. I believe that they will be angry, and rightly so. They will ensure that Nepal will be prepared should another such earthquake occur, as is likely in time, and they will use this tragedy as a spring board to create a better and fairer society where it will no longer be the poor who always suffer, whilst some of the rich and powerful continue to line their pockets.

I will be back to Pokhara in October and I know that, as always, I will be impressed by what has been accomplished and by the perennial beauty of both the country and its people, that no earthquake can destroy. I consider myself blessed to have been here during these dark days, because they say that it is always darkest before dawn, and I will also be here, God willing, to experience the dawn!

Michelle.

Photos to follow shortly.

UPDATE : Nepal Earthquake Relief Work

How your money is being spent

Due to your generosity we have so far raised £2500.  Your donations ARE getting to our team in Nepal and ARE being turned into items such as tents, rope, blankets and dried foods.

We are combining efforts with other LOCAL initiatives to distribute supplies as widely as we can. Whilst our teams have not experienced it first hand, there are reports of desperate people, hi-jacking and robbing food supplies.

Roshan, our Nepalese manager (known by his Sansarnepal “family” as Leela) delivered Sansarnepal supplies to Kathmandu airport for airdrop distribution. En route back to Pokhara he offered his services as a translator and labourer in a field hospital. He was able to support many casualties including a 15 year old boy called Pemba Lama who was rescued after five days trapped under the rubble, and a little girl called Pratiksha Gurung who has not spoken since the quake.

Prakash, one of our sponsored students, who lives at The Garden in Pokhara has donated 700 rupees (£4.50) of his own money, which he has saved, 5 rupees at a time, from his 40 rupee lunch allowance. His call for his classmates to do the same has raised additional funds which has already been turned into supplies.

Today the Sansarnepal children will be collating 300 parcels of supplies for 300 families in preparation for further distribution. Sansar Nepal has also donated 32 tents and another US$250 worth of dried foods.

Our friend Nisha Rai, a young teacher in Kathmandu, has purchased dried food with money from Sansar Nepal, found a minibus, driver and friend to help her, loaded up the van with food and extra clothing she had collected herself, and and has driven up to the village of Pachkal near Dhulikel where they distributed the goods to 25 families in need. In her early twenties, Nisha is another good example of the socially-engaged and proactive young Nepalis we are so impressed by.

Their efforts to help their fellow Nepalese is amazing.

Thank you for your donations to date. Please continue to raise funds and awareness!

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Leela at a field hospital in Kathmandu

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Translating for an aid doctor

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With Pratiksha Gurung

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…who has not spoken since the quake

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The quake has affected young and old

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Stockpiled supplies at The Garden awaiting distribution

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Prakash and college friends have purchased supplies

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…being delivered to Fugei in the Gorkha district today

UPDATE : Our Nepal Earthquake Relief Appeal

Nepal Earthquake Relief Appeal

Dear friends,

All at The Garden are safe and well, and their families in outlying villages are uninjured. Sadly, the home of Leela’s oldest sister has been completely destroyed along with another 180 homes in the same village in the Kathmandu Valley. We have had 3 days of shocks and tremors of different strengths, but it seems that the worst is thankfully over, and Sansar Nepal at the Garden is now collecting funds to begin our relief work, which is urgently needed at this time. Initially we are coordinating our efforts with the following local organisations and individuals based here in Pokhara:

  1. Nepalese Children’s Homes (SEOD Reg’d Charity) run by our friend Bill Owen (UK)
  2. Rishi Paudel, owner of Peace Eye Guest House
  3. Yam Thapa of enRoute Nepal

Thank you so much for the donations so far received – the response has been overwhelming. We are in the process of transferring funds to Nepal, to support our local relief efforts, which are now underway (see the photo’s below).

Michelle, Leela and The Garden team.

PS. Don’t forget to keep in touch, and keep up-to-date between newsletters by liking our Facebook page.

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Soma, Leela and Aditya planning relief efforts

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Purchasing material for shelters, Pokhara town

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Water and food on its way to Gorkha and Kavre

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Leela setting off to outlying villages

Sansar Nepal Newsletter #2

Number 2, December 2014

Dear friends and sponsors,

It is now just over 1 year since The Garden was created and I am happy and grateful to let you know that much has been achieved in this short time.

Firstly and most importantly, the children are all well, happy and studying hard (almost too hard), as they are so happy to have a room to study and time to devote to their school work, no longer being required to spend their “free” time cooking, farming, taking tourists out on horse back, and so on. It is a luxury that they have not yet got used to! They still help our housemother with cleaning and cooking and wash their own clothes, but this is minor compared with what they had to do before.

We had a health issue in September with Binod, who got an infected arm and needed hospitalisation and surgery, but he is now fully recovered thanks to the kind donations of friends around the world who responded to our plea for financial help with his medical costs.

Binod back in action!

Binod back in action!

Manju and Prakash are both enjoying their college courses, and still find time to assist Leela with the running of the house and looking after the younger kids.

Leela runs the house kindly and competently, getting things done in his diplomatic, firm yet gentle way. The children are in very good hands.

I was at the house for most of the months of October and November, and was able to finish furnishing the rest of the rooms and make improvements to the garden and grounds, thanks to the donation of 5,500 USD which was raised by Rem Bruin’s Full Circle online fundraiser. We are extremely grateful to him and his former teacher Bea Toews who inspired him to support us, and of course all those who donated, for this incredibly helpful contribution. We have only used half of the monies so far, and plan to improve and extend our wifi access throughout the house, improve the wiring, and purchase a TV to enable us to show educational videos to the children with the remainder.

Unfortunately the summer school we had planned for October did not materialise as Annette was not able to join us this time, but it will certainly be scheduled for next year.

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Sheldon’s hen house

We were lucky enough to have a volunteer from Wales, Sheldon, who stayed with us for over 5 weeks and built us a deluxe hen house as well as contributing in many other ways. He became a member of The Garden family, and we look forward to him coming back next year.

We also had a short visit from my daughter, Charlotte, and her 6 year old son, Leo, in October. Leo loved The Garden, and was seen sweeping floors with the kids, painting walls and eating dal bhat with his fingers! He announced that this was the “good life” – no TV, no computers, a huge garden and lots of playmates! His mum got a well earned rest…

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Charlotte taking a “rest”

Jordan, a friend of ours from Germany, is making a video of life at The Garden, which we will share on our website when it’s completed.

February will be a busy month; we are looking forward to a visit from Chonette, a multi talented lady originally from Mexico, who has offered to teach us organic gardening, baking, yoghurt, cheese and jam making. We also welcome back Mike from the UK, a semi-retired electrician and his builder friend Mickey, whose skills I’m sure can be put to very good use! It will be Mike’s third visit to The Garden. A keen rock climber, he plans to introduce our children to his passion at the new rock climbing wall in Lakeside.

In March, we have another 10 day tour being planned for International school teachers from Kuala Lumpur: the fourth group.

In April, we look forward to the visit of Sitha, Richard and Debby, co-founders of the KL-based My Shining Star Foundation, whose stated aim is to empower 1 million children worldwide in the next 5 years! They are seeking to change the “poverty mentality” of orphans and disadvantaged children, by nurturing their dreams, exposing them to new experiences, travel, and online learning. The Garden may well become a base for the work of the foundation in Nepal.

We are still looking for care sponsors for 2 of our children, but are very grateful that we have been able to find sponsors for both education and care for the others so far.

Our 3 guest rooms are bright and comfortable and we invite you to come and share your time and skills with our children or in local schools and institutions.

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New cold frames going up in the garden

The Garden is growing! We sincerely thank all of you who have made this possible, either though sponsorship, donations, visits or buying Karuna products. It is a team effort and it would not be possible without your support. Special thank you’s go to Soma Mahesan for keeping our books in good order and us on track, and to Dave Taylor for setting up and regularly updating our new website.

We have a fund raiser coming up after Christmas on Wednesday 28th January at The Backyard pub, Sri Hartmas, Kuala Lumpur. Jerry, the owner, has kindly agreed to sell beers and ladies’ drinks at happy hour prices from 5pm to 9pm, and to donate half the proceeds to Sansar Nepal. During “Nepal Night”, we will be serving specialities from Nepal, showing a video and holding a raffle. If you are based in KL, please mark your calendars and tell your friends.

We wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and the very best for the New Year.

Michelle, Leela and The Garden team.

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Leela and the team

PS. Don’t forget to keep in touch, and keep up-to-date between newsletters by liking our Facebook page

Sansar Nepal Newsletter #1

Number 1, September 2014

It’s been almost a year now since Sansar Nepal became a registered NGO (non-governmental organisation), and ten months since we moved into The Garden, so it’s high time to take a look at how far we’ve come – and how far we have to go!

Firstly, a very sincere thank you to everyone who has helped to make Sansar Nepal at The Garden a reality. It hasn’t been an easy road for anyone, neither for us, the fundraisers, nor our long suffering manager Leela, who has had to become a master juggler to pay bills, keep the house running and pay school fees, all of which he has somehow coped with admirably, and mostly with a smile! Hopefully the worst is now over as sponsorship money is starting to come in, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So let’s concentrate on all that has been achieved in our first year…

The children

Six of our eight resident children are attending school and doing well, whilst the two oldest, Prakash and Manju, started college courses a few weeks ago, after passing their School Leaver’s Certificate, both achieving Division One. Manju is studying Management at Sagarmatha College and Prakash passed the entrance exam with a high enough position to secure a place at the Pokhara College of Engineering for a three year civil engineering course!

We are very proud of both of them, and grateful to their loyIMG_8667al sponsors who have agreed to support them through higher education. In addition, we are also supporting the education of two other non-resident children, who also enjoy the extra care and opportunities offered by Sansar Nepal. (In the picture on the left you can see some of the children enjoying an excursion up into the hills above Pokhara, on their way to visit the famous Japanese peace pagoda.)

Thanks to the support of our friend Bea Toews, who visited the house in March of this year, we have been able to send all of our children for a dental check up and any necessary treatment. It’s hard enough studying, let alone when your teeth are hurting! Two youngsters who were complaining of headaches have been prescribed glasses which has also made studying much easier.

Generally, all eight resident children are over the moon with their new home. In their words, it’s a dream come true; they have comfortable clean beds, warm showers, three healthy meals a day, a place to study, and time to play when their work is done. Most importantly they are loved and respected, and encouraged to fulfil all their potential.

Our guests

First to arrive, back in February, was Clive Hocker from the UK, taIMG_8577king the opportunity between jobs to do something completely different. With his help over four weeks, the house gradually became functional, our Facebook page was updated, new documents drafted, and some of the kids learned to play chess – and were soon beating him!

Also in February we were joined by Laura Nolan from Scotland who gave freely her time and attention to our children, listened to their stories, their hopes and their dreams, and taught them some yoga. (Laura and Michelle, can be seen shopping for baskets in Pokhara, below.)

It was a full house when Ana and her four year old daughter, Akira, arrived and spent a week with us. Akira soon became great friends with Binisa, and Ana taught us how to make sauerkraut and a fermented tea drink, Kombucha.

Bea arrived from Thailand and spent the month of March with us. Her business and marketing skills were soon put to use as she got us organised with spread sheets, account books, lists and plans! Her leaving gift of a gleaming new treadle sewing machine for the house was much appreciated, and the children and our house mother, Dilmaya, are now learning to sew.

As Bea left, twelve teachers from Mont Kiara International School arrived in Kathmandu for a 10-day Nepal tour. Whilst in Pokhara they spent a lovely evening at the house, brought books, games and craft materials for our library, enjoyed a typical Nepalese meal and sang with us around our first campfire! The children were introduced to s’mores, which went down very well!

IMG_8767As they left, Mike, an electrician, arrived from the UK, on his second visit to Nepal. He had been before in April, the previous year, hoping to help us move into the new house, which didn’t happen until November(!!), so this time his skills were put to good use. During his month-long stay he helped us to install a solar-powered back-up electrical system, providing an emergency light for each room, enough to see us through the frequent power outages that are a signature of Nepal. This has been a huge help to the children who now can study by electric light, rather than by the flame of a candle. Many thanks to Victoria Parker (a friend of Remco Bruijn’s – see below) who raised the money for the installation of the solar lights.

Fortunately, before the back-up was installed, each of our guests arrived with a solar powered reading lamp, which also helped things along and these now supplement our one light per room. Mike, a keen rock climber, also took Binod, with whom he formed a strong bond, to Pokhara’s new climbing wall, which was a great experience for both of them.

When I left for Kuala Lumpur at the end of April, we had already planted vegetables, fruit trees and herbs in the garden in preparation for the approaching monsoon season in Nepal, when everything springs to life, and now these are providing food for the table.

In August, Leela and the children received another guest, Inga, a music teacher from Germany, who brought with her recorders, and taught the children to play. She also volunteered at Himanchal School and worked with the music teacher there.

Future plans

I will be returning to Nepal during October and November of this year. As the children have school holidays for much of October, we are planning to organise a summer school, with various activities on offer, for our children as well as some less privileged children from the neighbourhood. We will be assisted by a former MKIS teacher, Annette Hynes, who has just completed her yoga teacher training, so perhaps yoga will be one of our offerings!

We also have a collection of donated household items and materials for the resource centre waiting to be shipped to Nepal. Once we know how much the shipping costs will be, we will be sending out an appeal for small donations to get these important supplies over to where they are needed. Your help will be much appreciated on this.

We are fortunate that Bea, a dedicated teacher of many years, so inspired a former pupil, Remco Bruijn, that he has launched an online appeal, at her request, to raise money for Sansar Nepal, which will enable us to buy necessary equipment for the house, such as tables and chairs for outdoor teaching and activity areas, paint, fencing, plants and trees, etc. Please visit www.pozible.com to view and contribute to the appeal.

Thank you

IMG_8503Finally, and most importantly, we would like again to express our sincere thanks and gratitude to all who have contributed, in whatever way, to make reality the dream of an NGO and a beautiful home in Pokhara, one which hopefully will shelter and nurture many children over the years ahead. We have a long way to go and many plans, and with your continued help and support, we have no doubt that we will get there!

Namaste!
Michelle

PS. Don’t forget to keep in touch, and keep up to date between newsletters by liking our Facebook page – see you there…