On Saturday, 16th May we visited two campsites in Nuwakot, where more than 200 families from Haku VDC, Rasuwa have been camping since the quake devastated their homes and villages. Mohan Acharya, a local from Rasuwa, provided our team complimentary jeep service as part of his contribution to our initiative. We distributed pots and pans and buckets to 210 households in the two camps, as well as some sports supplies for children (these were donated by Itisha Lohia and will be maintained by the camp committee). The total cost of the supplies including transport was NPR 241,699.80 or USD 2,417.97.
Since the campsites are right off the main road, they seem to have received relatively more attention from relief groups and organizations. We were told a number of monasteries and the Red Cross have provided them basic rations, which will probably last them a month or two. A few temporary toilets have been built by USAID. UNICEF has provided some sports supplies for children in the camps. During the first two weeks Patanjali (Hindu guru Ramdev’s organization) provided them cooked vegetarian meals. But no one had provided them pots and pans, according to our local contacts, and many families, especially those who came with nothing but the clothes on their backs, were having a hard time cooking their meals despite having rations.
The distribution was smooth and equitable thanks to the amazing group of locals (led by Prem Tamang and Surya Tamang) who have been working day and night to help the quake-affected people in their home district. By the time we arrived, they had already prepared a list with the number and size of households in each camp. Each household received a dekchi (cooking pot with a flat base), a karai (cooking pot with a rounded base), a ladle, a spatula, a plate, a bucket and a mug. In recent weeks we have distributed rations and tarps in several villages but nowhere did people look so happy to receive relief supplies. We guessed maybe those pots and pans felt like a kind of long-term asset, a small step towards rebuilding their homes. Many people including some policemen stationed near the camps came up to us and said, “You did a really wise thing. People here desperately needed pots and pans.”
We met many people who have lost one or several members of their family in the quake. Women with babies whose husbands were buried in landslides; children who have been orphaned; frail elderly people who are taking care of their grandchildren; a man who has lost his wife and both his children; an extended family from the same household in which nine members were killed at once. With the help of our local contacts, we identified five women who seemed to be in a particularly vulnerable situation: Maji Tamang, who had just had a baby (she gave birth inside the tent three days ago) and has three more children; Norchi Tamang who lost her daughter and two daughters-in-law and is now looking after her orphaned grandchildren; Sarita Ghale, who lost her husband and is now trying to support her three little children; Kumari Ghale, a twenty-year-old single mother who is on her own. Thanks to our friend Numa Fudong who has created a fund for needy mothers (Nehi Fund), we were able to provide a little support to these women. Maji received a bag of sutkeri (new mom) supplies worth NPR 3000; Norchi received a bag of supplies and a cash gift of NPR 7000 (she received a cash gift of NPR 10,000 during our previous visit, but given her large family size and her critical need, we thought a second installment might be necessary); Sarita received a bag of supplies and a cash gift of NPR 7000; and Kumari received a cash gift of NPR 10,000.
The local residents, most of whom are clearly better off than the displaced people from Haku, seem resentful towards the families camping in the area. As far as I understand, this is not uncommon in places where displaced people/refugees take shelter. As soon as we arrived in the camp, a relatively prosperous looking man rushed towards us and said, “These people, they only look poor. Some of them are very wealthy. They have been receiving too much help. They will get spoilt if they keep receiving handouts in this manner.” This is a common refrain even among some people in Kathmandu. In my humble opinion, this notion of “creating dependency” needs to examined with a bit of self-awareness (self-irony?) but that’s a different topic. Another local complained that his house, too, was damaged but he had received no relief: “Everything just goes to these camp people.” While our coordinator was announcing names for distribution, a drunk man who lived nearby kept coming forward, “Give me at least a few pots, I need them too. I too am living in a tent over there.” It is understandable why these locals would feel neglected, and there is no doubt their houses too must have suffered damage in the quake. But there was no way we could give them the pots without providing for the entire village (that would have sparked a more serious conflict), and we had just enough for the two camps. Our local contacts had an extremely tough time explaining how and why the displaced persons in the camp were far needier than the locals residing in the bazaar area.
Again, as we were handing over sports supplies in the second camp, a group of children came and asked us to give them a few balls: “No one ever brings us anything. The kids in the camp get everything.” They looked well-kempt and healthy, at least compared to the kids in the camp, but they sounded genuinely hurt. I did not know what to say except repeat that the camp kids were in a much worse situation and that they should make friends with them and maybe join them in their games. Most places outside Kathmandu have so little even the relatively wealthy are needy in many ways. All this time two local women had been following my mother around the camp saying, “Nothing for us? We too lost everything.” As we were about to leave the camp, one of them came up to us and wept. It turned out these were single mothers from the Dalit caste group: Kamala Sunar and Kanchimaya Nepali. For reasons that go much deeper than the current disaster, they are severely disadvantaged and are destitute despite living near the bazaar. Their houses were completely destroyed and they are living in a tent in public land. Since it was not possible to give them the pots in the presence of other locals, we gave them 1000 rupees each (through Nehi Fund) to buy some essential supplies from the nearby shops. The women looked delighted and sounded very grateful despite the small amount.
At the request of our local contacts, we had spent a week collecting used clothes for people in Thulo Haku, Raswua. Collecting used clothes is always a bit tricky as some people are inclined to donate clothes that they would otherwise trash (despite our request not to do so). We spent two days collecting and sorting the clothes, dumped loads of them (at least three sacks) and took around five sacks of relatively nice clothes. As we had to return to Kathmandu, we sent the clothes with our local contacts, along with food supplies and tents that will be distributed to people in Thuman VDC, Ward No. 8, Rasuwa (I will send you a separate report on this). We are very grateful to our friends and family whose generous contributions enabled us to reach some of the communities in Rasuwa.
Our deepest appreciation also goes to Prem Tamang and team whose commitment and love for the people of Rasuwa continues to inspire us. If there are heroes working in Nepal’s villages at the moment, it is local men and women like them. Their work is not easy by any measure, at times it is even physically risky. Most of them lack the means and security that people like us in Kathmandu have. Few of them have access to social media where they might publicise their work and seek validation. And yet they press on.