Nepal’s Hidden Wonder

When people talk about Nepal, the stunning landscapes are always first to be emphasised; the mountains of the Everest Himalayas that tower up to the skies, the panoramic snow-capped peaks of Annapurna sitting in the background of streams that pierce through amazing trails and jungles. The 1000 year old temples of the cities, and the small villages that dot the vast lands are always discussed with wonder, photographed constantly, and uploaded to social media on a daily basis. It’s usually worth a like.

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Beautiful Nepali architecture before the disaster

What isn’t usually depicted (or posted) are the amazing people who inhabit this country. Having spent the last three weeks in Nepal I have seen the country in peace, and in turmoil. As I write this sentence, the death toll of the earthquake that hit the country on Anzac Day one week ago has reached 6,621 people, with tens of thousands injured and hundreds of thousands left with their homes reduced to rubble. Yet, in the days following the earthquake, myself and other foreigners witnessed the innate compassion and utter selflessness of the Nepalese people; standing tall together even as their country fell to its knees.

After the first quake hit, people fled their homes for the safety of open spaces. Aftershocks could always be heard-people screamed as everything started to shake again, and again and again. They continued throughout the night. People huddled together under tarps in backyards, parks, any open spaces they could find. Even monuments built on roundabouts that had toppled into debris were used as makeshift shelters. Areas of the city were decimated.

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The same Nepali architecture destroyed after the disaster

The morning after, we decided to finally leave the sanctuary of the backyard we were camped in and have a look around. Sanepa, the area we found ourselves in, was not too badly affected: many walls had fallen, some power lines were leaning over precariously, but most houses stood intact. People had flocked outdoors. There was only a handful of shops open- people could still buy food and small supplies if they needed them.

A white woman walked out of a small busy store with armfuls of food. Her wallet fell out of her back pocket unbeknownst to her and she began to walk away. Immediately, the Nepali shopkeeper bent down, picked up her wallet and walked after her. Another Nepali man in the shop bent down and picked up every single coin that had fallen out, and insisted that the woman take all of them back despite her gestures of charity. I couldn’t help but think that in most places in Asia, the world in general, the day after a tragic natural disaster; this would be a very rare event. The woman left smiling as did the Nepalese in the store.

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Kathmandu Durba square in ruins

As most foreigners began to congregate at embassies and started to book flights out of the country, more amazing stories emerged about the locals. An Australian friend of mine was wandering through the badly affected city streets with three others looking for food on the night of the quake, when they were taken in by a large group of Nepalese camping under a tarp cooking rice and curry. They insisted on feeding them for free and asked if they wanted more- even with their own group still to feed. Elsewhere, shopkeepers distributed crates of water and bags full of samosas to people stranded on the road after the quake, and the owners of hostels such as the Kathmandu guest house and 5 star hotels such as the Hyatt Regency took people in under their personal care; comforting them, providing food to the hungry, and giving people area to shelter from the heavy rains that followed in the nights to come. “Their kindness and smiles and their concern for us left me feeling hopeful again”- The efforts of the Nepalese will never be forgotten by any of us who were there.

Even the local hospital was full of Nepalese volunteers who wanted to help their countrymen. The hospital blood bank had a swathe of Nepali people coming through each day, while others handed out food and water, cleaned up any medical waste around the wards, and helped with first aid whenever they could. The volunteer sign up desk was overrun as hundreds of young Nepalese signed up to help- they were happy to do any task that was assigned to them. Their efforts were phenomenal.

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A street in Thamel left destroyed

As embassies began to fill up with their nationals, people started to be turned away if they could find somewhere safe to spend the night. A Nepali embassy staff member witnessed this happening to a foreign couple. He took them into his own house, gave them mattresses and food and shelter for the night saying; “We all must look out for each other.” As a community during these ongoing times of hardship, the Nepalese placed the needs of others above their own, and even disregarded the traditional caste system that dictates privilege. There were countless occasions; these mentioned here are only a few.

He took them into his own house, gave them mattresses and food and shelter for the night saying; “We all must look out for each other.”

This is the reason it was so hard to leave. After witnessing their compassion and unwavering selflessness first hand, it is terrible to think that so many Nepalese lives are still in danger halfway across the world from us now. Feelings of helplessness and guilt have weighed on all of us who’ve left. Why was it that we lost nothing? Why are we able to flee home to our warm beds while others still shiver under tarps? Why can we return to normal life when so many people will never be able to? As much as most of us wanted to stay on and help, we were told by the powers that be that the unnecessary strain we would place on the already depleted resources would be doing much more harm than good. With so many people congregated under makeshift shelters around the country without proper sanitation and with limited safe food and water supplies, in the weeks to come the spread of diseases such as cholera will become a major public health issue.

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Wreckage in Nepal

Yet we can still help from here. For anyone that wants to, donating to NGOs is the best way to go about it. More than numbers on the ground, it is supplies such as tents and tarps, clean food and water that are most desperately needed- a few dollars can go far. Organisations such as Red Cross, UNICEF, UNHCR and Oxfam know the best ways to get the most out of their allocated resources, and funds will be desperately needed to reach the devastated rural areas of Nepal that right now need help the most.

The generosity of the country’s people will be vital as aid efforts continue in the months to come; people will huddle together through the monsoons, neighbours will help neighbours reassemble their walls brick by brick, and friends that have been made in this tragedy, will comfort one another through the aftermath. As the stories above have shown; the Nepalese people look out for each other- they will not be idle in helping through any way they can.

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Victims of the disaster seeking refuge

I, along with many, many, others, will never forget the unbelievable kindness of the Nepali people during their darkest hour. If you want to help then please donate whatever you can, I’ll tell you right now that the people of Nepal are right now giving all they have to give.

A special thanks to Sabrina Agius and Abi Callaghan for their contributions, and to all the friends that were made during my time in Nepal – you guys are awesome.

Some more recommended charities doing relief work in Nepal:

http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-04-25/how-help-nepal-7-vetted-charities-doing-relief-work-following-earthquake

All images taken by Akash Patel

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