A woman in Kerauja sifting grains in traditional way. Photo by: Christophe Hodder/Oxfam
Resilience in Kerauja
Sitting on a broken chair next to a tin shed that read Fishtail Air, I was a bit apprehensive to fly to Gorkha, the district which was badly hit by the 2015 earthquake of 7.6 magnitude. I have traveled quite a lot in my 15 odd years in development/humanitarian settings and I’ve been in a few scraps too while negotiating access to cross active front lines with child soldiers in the Congo to driving across the desert to Timbuktu in Mali. I thought this trip too would be memorable.
In the helicopter to Kerauja we were a group of Oxfam and partner staff with some life saving medicines, bags of cement and some spare parts for water systems. Oxfam in Nepal has given me the amazing chance to be the Humanitarian Director for its Earthquake Response Programme. Visiting areas to see where we are working is imperative to really be able to manage and direct the programme.
We began seeing the urban sprawl of Kathmandu, then rose over the first hills of the valley near Kakani with the feeling of being able to touch the rim of the valley’s edge. Then, the ground disappeared below us and we were above Nuwakot. Standing tall now on the other side were the majestic Himalayas, full of snow, absolutely taking my breath away. Flying into the Tsum valley and into the Manaslu conservation area and seeing the dotted remote villages on the sides of these massive mountains gave me the first thought about resilience and how the people of Nepal get back on their feet so amazingly.
We landed briefly at Chhekampar, at an altitude of almost 3,000 meters where we were supporting a water system and commencing food security, shelter, Gender and DRR (disaster risk reduction) activities. After dropping off the medicines and our partner staff, I met my brothers in arms—Dinesh, Vijay, Bal Bahadur, Yogesh and Piyush with whom I would be spending the next couple of days. Together we flew round the corner to Kerauja.
We spentthe night tasting local rakshi (wine) and learning about Yarsa Gumba that is half plant, half insect and then sharing the tent (Oxfam’s emergency tent) with my colleagues in the cold night, at a height of 2800 meters. The wind kept on rattling the sides of the tent. My nose was almost solid in the morning. Rubbing my eyes, as I got out of the tent, giant high Himalayas greeted me, and as I looked down, a small valley was beneath us. Nepal truly is an awe inspiring country with breathtaking views and the warmth of friendly people who can get on with life without any complaints.
Kerauja was devastated by the earthquake last year with most or all of the population living in temporary shelters. The 200 or more households (almost 1,000 people) then had a massive landslide cut through their community that left death and destruction in its wake. The community wants to move to more secure ground but is waiting for geological surveys and land allocation to ensure they can have durable solutions for their homes. Oxfam is going to help and support this process. Besides, providing temporary shelters, fixing water system, and helping with local disaster management planning and preparedness, we are also supporting women and marginalized populations to get access to vital registration documents to access government entitlements.
We spent the next two days walking down the mountain. My band of brothers and I walked for 8 hours the first day and I got blisters and sores. We slept in slightly warmer accommodation along the tourist trail when we got to the bottom of the valley. It was rather bizarre to have hot showers and sit down toilets when everyone else lived in temporary accommodation.
On the way back, we went past Prince Harry’s hill and the local school he is supporting. We also travelled through amazing lush areas with paths carved precariously on the side of massive cliffs as well as swaying suspension bridges.
When we arrived at the road head, we found Oxfam’s store room for water supply systems. It had taken us two days to get there; with the mules, it would take 3- 4 days up to Kerauja. I was privileged to take the helicopter but most people have to trek and ride the mule train. The stretch of travel people need to make here where landslides happen all the time cutting off routes and paths constantly is simply mind boggling.
In difficult circumstances in the bitter cold, Oxfam and Goreto staffs continue to inspire me to do the best we can as humanitarian organisations. Yes we sometimes can be wrong and yes it is difficult and complex as the legend Dr. James Orbinski, president of the MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) said, but we can offer an “imperfect offering” and try to be the best we can be.
Back in the office now I miss the reality of life in Kerauja. The kids playing with cars in the dust even in freezing cold weather and fetching water; the women and men collecting millet in the fields; the sounds of the bells on the mules as they go past and the whistling of the mule train drivers; the sounds of the rushing river and the wind on the side of the emergency tents; the rakshi filled chats about disaster risk reduction on how we could reduce further hair loss on my head and the Yarshagumba. I miss mostly the people, the laughter and the passion to ensure things are being built back better for them as a community. I have taken it upon myself to advocate for a government plan for those who are internally displaced and I plan on following that through!
My journey was remarkable with these people: Vijay the PM with his knowledge and experience; Yogesh the deputy with his amazing laugh and similar hair disaster as mine; Dinesh with his youthful drive, technical knowledge and understanding of the context; Prakash and Bal Bahadur, the WASH team that are working in these remote areas day in day out. The logistics team and the rest of the Gorkha team are praiseworthy too for their hard work and vision to support the people of Gorkha get back on their feet. To Goreto and all Oxfam’s local partners—you are amazing and you continue to deliver programs to the most vulnerable populations in tough circumstances. Finally to the people and the resilience I have seen—you flamed up my passion for humanitarian works and I will do as much as I can.