April 25 last year was memorable for two reasons – the centenary of Anzac Day and the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years.
An 8.1 magnitude quake that killed 8,000 and injured more the 21,000.
Eighteen months later, Nepal is still coming to terms with the damage and struggling to make any substantial inroads in the rebuilding of their country.
Billions of dollars of aid poured in from around the world and the disaster dominated headlines – for a few days.
How quickly the world forgets.
Such is the nature of media these days that we are becoming increasingly inure and potentially desensitised to every catastrophic event.
The digital revolution has meant that we are subjected to and aware of every disaster befalling the world on a seemingly daily basis.
What most people would not be aware of is the human effort with volunteers pouring in from around the world to help with the humanitarian effort. What would surprise most Ballarat people is that one of the longest standing charity organisations helping Nepal is being operated out of a back room in Buninyong.
Graeme Kent has been going to the small land-locked country twice a year for the past 16 years. He formed Aussie Action Abroad (AAA) about six years ago, as a way of encouraging a broad spectrum of volunteers to provide support, training and advice to remote communities through country based partners.
More than 800 Australians have so far benefited from volunteering with AAA. All of them have been touched by the experience.
In June this year, I was fortunate enough to accompany a group of architects and teachers to Kathmandu, the Gorkha valley and the Lumjung district to document the work being done in small, regional communities. Not only were these people volunteers, they paid for the privilege that, for many, would be a once in a lifetime experience to work and directly benefit communities. Voluntourism at its best
A group of architecture students from Adelaide and Monash Universities were based in a tiny regional village and tasked with re-building a local school and rudimentary houses all of which had been badly affected by the earthquake.
Not many people realise that the epicentre of the quake was in the Gorkha Valley and these communities were some of the hardest hit.
Watching the looks of gratitude on the villager’s faces as their shelters were made habitable and strong was wonderful to see.
The sad part is that even if their houses didn’t fall after the earthquake, most were so severely damaged and cracked that they are completely unsafe and uninhabitable. Bamboo poles, corrugated iron and plastic sheeting are now the standard building materials- at least for the foreseeable future.
Sourcing the materials is not straightforward either as the local hardware “shop” was located half an hour’s walk up a steep ridge and all purchases had to be carried on the shoulders of students back down the hill. All of this in extreme humidity and temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius.
Accommodation for the group consisted of tents, a bucket of warm water for a shower and a long drop toilets.
The meals that the Nepali cooks created on a couple of gas cookers were remarkable. Sleeping in tents in the mountains of central Nepal may not appeal to everyone, but waking up to indescribably beautiful views every morning more than compensated for the lack of amenities.
Leaving Gorkha and getting to the the tea house in Bhulbhule in the Lumjung district was not as easy as it should’ve been as, due to the monsoonal weather causing the roads to become almost impassable.
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