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Journey to the Centre of the Nepal EarthquakeBy ARCHNA Menon
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Sean Patrick McAuliffe explains his journey to the Epicenter of the recent Nepal Earthquake and his effort to help restore their loss.
Sean Patrick McAuliffe and Emiliano Hinojosa, two photographers and filmmakers, are on journey to help the people of Nepal recover from the earthquake. They are collaborating with India’s Musi-Care Cultural and Charitable Trust for this mission. Rohit Abraham, a member of the MCCT, was in Kathmandu with his friends Sriram and Adithya when the quake struck. Rohit and his friends, after heading back, decided to raise the funds for relief but lacked experience of working with the people. This is where Sean and Emiliano decided to help out.
Sean has done something similar before. He has worked with “It Ain’t Nothing”, a non-profit organisation working to build 50 homes for those who lost their homes in the typhoon Haiyan/ Yolando that hit Philippines. The plan was to do something similar for people here in Nepal as well.
Kathmandu wasn’t their intended target of help. It had already received considerable help from various NGOs. However, smaller villages, due to their inaccessibility, received only a fraction of the help Kathmandu did. So the two friends decided to travel to Takukot _2 bhaledhunga, one of the villages closest to the epicentre, in the Gorkha district. This remote village took an 8 hour bus ride and a 3 hour hike to get to. Things took a surprising turn once they got there.
Nestled in the hills, far from the bustling city, lay a model society for self-sustenance. Everything that the villagers needed was provided in the village itself, be it food, clothes, shelter, everything. So much so, the villagers didn’t dependant on money, as the rest of us. Only entertainment, Sean tells us, came from the city. The little money that they did have was sent to them from relatives, either working in Kathmandu or hired by the army. But that amount however was of no concern to them because they were never dependant on it; until after the earthquake.
Now that the earthquake had struck and razed many homes to the ground, people had no other option but to depend on the government for help. The government had offered around 2500 NPR for reconstruction purposes, Sean tells us, but no one knew when they were to receive it.
“If they require more than that, they will be forced to take a loan from the government at 6 percent APR. This is a horrible reality to be thrown into when your way of life has never required income or credit/debt or any relationship with a bank.”
When Sean and Emiliano reached the village, people had already built temporary shelters using bamboo. Their houses, previously built by their great grandfathers, were horribly damaged. They had tried to rebuild houses since the earthquake, but it kept crumbling due to the aftershocks. The people, despite being in a disaster prone zone, had never experienced an earthquake so devastating. Thus nothing their forefathers told them stood a chance against one of this magnitude.
The houses also needed to be more substantial in nature than the ones Sean had earlier built in the Philippines. An average household has 4-10 members and depended entirely on what the village farms produced. Hence each house would also need an additional second floor for storage when rebuilt.
The roads leading up to the village were severely damaged and the government hasn’t been able to relay them because of ongoing rains. This would make transporting the heavy material, required for construction, difficult. The government, Sean tells us, has only visited the village once so far, in helicopters to stick red tapes on unstable structures. They haven’t come back since.
Thus after a lot of talks with the villagers, they decided that the first step would be to hire excavators to repair roads and excavate sites for at least 4-6 homes. For easy planning, the villagers have agreed to build homes closer than they were previously used to. After the sites are excavated, the plan is to build suitable earthquake resistant foundations for each of them. Funds will be raised to source steel and brick after phase one. The villagers were confident that they will be able to manage the rest of the house.
When asked if they’ll the need volunteers for help, Sean gives an interesting insight into relief work:
“It is better to use the money to hire locals at standard rates in order to stimulate the local economy. Bringing in foreigners to do work that locals can do is more expensive due to the food, care and accommodation for the volunteers and is only taking away work from the locals.”
This is very insightful considering all of us want to help, but not all of us know how or in what way to do it best. Prioritise locals, their need and their concerns over everything else. The key would be to help them in a way that would empower them to pick up where they left off and not leave them out of the process or make them completely dependent, even after the works done.
Sean is an independent filmmaker from the United States, who paid for his education by joining the Marine Corps as a Reconnaissance Marine in Iraq. After his service he moved to Australia to finish his education and start a non-profit production company,”Time.Is.Happenin”. You can check out his work on their website www.timeishappenin.com.
This Article is part of Agam Sei Volume: 01 Issue: 12.
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