Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Distribution of Relief Aid


 After having just returned stateside, I wanted to keep everyone updated on my second trip to Nepal since the earthquakes of April 25th and May 12th.  Thanks to the generosity of soooo many people, I was able to return to the mountains at the end of July and personally distribute relief aid to families who have been living under tarps and tents set up in their potato fields during the monsoon season which is in full bloom now until the cold weather arrives in October/November.  Obviously, shelter is minimal and facilities of any kind are nonexistent.  Life is harsh and incomprehensible to those of us who enjoy  the daily “luxuries” of plumbing, electricity, running water and heat. 

 I spent 2 months “angsting” about how to get the relief money over to Nepal, given that Nepali newspapers were reporting that government officials were lining their pockets with 25% of the millions of dollars that were pouring into the country from all the international aid organizations. It’s also impossible to deny the intense frustration felt by millions at the collective failure of the political class.  Knowing all of this sickened me to the core and made me get very creative in how I continually transferred very small amounts of money to various bank accounts in Kathmandu over a 2 month period.  Because of  the incredible generosity of so many of you, The Himalayan Project was able to raise close to $150,000 from April 25th to July 15th!  In the dark of night on July 18th aboard Emirates Airlines, I circled the Kathmandu airport for 2 hours due to thunderstorms brought on by the monsoons, finally touching down after midnight in the pouring rain.  The city was black and silent and oozing sludge throughout the streets as I rumbled over potholed alleyways in a taxi bound for my “home away from home” in Kathmandu, the Norbu Linka Hotel.  I was exhausted and totally disheveled from my 25 hours of travel and full of anxiety over whether the flight to the mountains and the Lukla airstrip would even be a possibility the next morning.  No flights had been able to make their way to Lukla for the previous 10 days due to the rains and fog so I sank into a restless slumber for a couple of hours before I had to be at the domestic airport at 5:00 am.

 As the sun rose over the mountains the next morning and the clouds parted, I held my breath as my little 12 seater Cessna soared above the city, making it's way to Lukla while I mouthed a silent “thank you”.  A very frenetic day was spent calling together all the people who had been guarding their hoard of money that had been wired to them over the last 2 months and once everything had been gathered and accounted for, the whole village was assembled together as we distributed to each individual family.  When I had first visited and assessed the damage after the earthquake in April, I along with a village committee,  assigned each of the 60 households either a 1 for minimal damage, a 2 for moderate damage or a 3 for maximum damage and so there were 3 different tiers of giving that were established with the monetary value assigned to each tier to be determined by how much money THP was able to raise.  Every part of this process was laced with tradition and ritual, from touching the packet of money to one's forehead in a private moment of gratitude, to enacting the community tea ceremony, to placing a silk scarf around my neck as a blessing for all of your generosity.  I was clearly just the “front man” representing each and every one of YOU.  Rituals are simply a small nod to normalcy in what is otherwise a life of daily survival.  The patience and equanimity and COURAGE that this village has exhibited since tragedy hit them is a lesson certainly for me!  It is a quiet courage, a small voice at the end of each day saying “I will get up and do it again tomorrow.......and then the next day, and the next and the next.”

 The community distribution ended with Karsang Sherpa, my Nepali liaison with The Himalayan Project,  speaking to the village for 45 minutes about the fact that many people from many parts of the globe had come together to contribute to THP's relief efforts for THEM.  There was astonishment that their tragedy had even registered on anybody's radar screen;  joy and relief at the generosity that had been extended to them and many, many tears over the fact that SOMEONE cared.  The Nepali government's extent of caring had been in the distribution of a bag of rice and a container of cooking oil to each family and that was it!  Needless to say, men and women alike were awash in tears, hopefully tears of healing that were the best words that their hearts could speak......

In the twilight of the following morning I hiked back up to the mountain airstrip hoping the last vestiges of stars would begin to poke through the early fog and drizzle.  Would it be possible to have the weather cooperate in the same way that it had for our arrival?  Miraculously so, the clouds again parted around 8:00 am and I  arrived back in Kathmandu for a late breakfast.  For the next 10 days it wasn't possible for any other flights to get through to Lukla!  It just seemed incredible that 10 days before I needed to get to the mountains and for 10 days afterwards the flights had to be canceled and that just for the critical 2 days that I needed to get to and from Lukla, someone was looking out for me! 

So, how can I thank you all????  Your overwhelming kindness is a language that transcends all barriers and my heart is very filled with gratitude.  After completing our 1st phase of fund raising for the building of suitable shelters for the winter,  The Himalayan Project's next phase of fund raising will be devoted to the complete rebuilding of an earthquake proof school that was virtually destroyed in the second quake of May 12th.  A Japanese engineer has been “commandeered” to create a master plan for this project and THP will join forces with a Swiss organization and a Korean organization to try and raise $500,000.  The path seems steep but we cannot be daunted by that prospect and we will continue to reach out to all of you, also asking that you share this effort with colleagues and friends who may not be in our orbit. As you know in all grass roots efforts, spreading the word personally is very powerful!  The human tragedy that has resulted from this massive natural disaster will be years in the rebuilding process so PLEASE stay on board with us.  I am remembering something that someone once said to me which pretty much sums it all up....”the larger your heart is the smaller the world becomes.”

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