All Hands provided all the hands – Yes, I only just realised that naming fully – for a project in Chautara, Sindhupalchok. The aim was to build a step-down hospital for the rehabilitation of amputees from Kathmandu who suffered their injuries during the earthquakes. The multi-million pound NGO International Organisation for Migration (IOM) managed the site and we were to be the enthusiastic and freely available muscle.
Having done five days of rubbling I put my name forward to join this program for a week with a 50% chance of being selected this time around. As enjoyable as rubbling is, and that’s not actually sarcastic, I figured that varying the jobs in my time here was probably for the best. Throwing rocks around will get old, no matter how many times you say it’s just abstract basketball training. Luckily for me, I made the random cut to be the Chautara muscle. Although with our current high energy, low protein diet and a fairly* thin starting point, maybe they’d have to settle for just enthusiasm. *Fairly more than fairly
Chautara is the capital of the Sindhupalchok district and is picturesquely set in the mountains with a view of the Himalayas on a clear day, although sadly that’s not likely in monsoon season. The town has clearly been devastated by the earthquakes but the locals live on, slowly dismantling the old, unstable structures and rebuilding their homes and livelihoods on their way back to normality. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful place to visit.
The All Hands project had been running for a week by the time we arrived but had been delayed by late deliveries and the volatile monsoon weather. When we arrived the site looked bare apart from a single guard’s tent but had obviously had a lot of time put into leveling, raising and de-rockifying (clearly a word) the land of some of normal rubble’s bigger boulder brethren. We were staying in an IDP (International Displaced Persons) camp in the town along with the United Nations and several other NGOs. It was less camping in Wales, and more glamping in Glastonbury. Think mattresses, showers, hot water dispensers and security guards. If there wasn’t an army of dogs outside determined to anticipate your descent into sleep and bark until that wasn’t an option, it would have been perfect. Not that I’m complaining too much, it was the next event that kept me awake.
After nearly a month in India and 11 days in Nepal, my body decided it had been stoic enough. Isn’t everyone meant to get some kind of stomach bug? Delhi belly or something equally horrible? Is my immune system somehow highly superior to all the other amateurs out there? No, you arrogant sod, it isn’t. To be fair to me, I haven’t met a soul out here who hasn’t either had a belly bout or thinks they are god’s gift to digestive systems. From what I hear, no-one escapes untouched from Nepal if you’re there for any decent length of time. Those would-be immuno-invincibles will also fall in time.
Suffice to say, I found a new home in the tent toilet cubicle and made the security guards giggle with my constant hurried marches to the lavatory. The first night was the worst: slight fever, massive headache and the obvious downstairs troubles. Two days and a 550 page book later and I was down to just stomach cramps and I could fart without fear of awkward repercussions.
This episode was slap bang in the middle of the 6 days I was meant to be working on the site and so for a day and a half I timidly slept and read while everyone else toiled and then for a further day’s worth of labour I was on lighter duty tasks. Luckily by this time we were onto bamboo fencing (among other things), so I was able to play a pretty low key role and still feel useful.
In the time the 19 of us had been there – 5 from Malamchi where I’m based, 7 from the Kathmandu base and 7 permanent volunteers – we’d laid the foundations for several buildings, raised two huge tents and a small one – my personal favourite, the toilet; we’d put up meters and meters of bamboo fencing, made a stone ramp to one of the higher levels and started on the brick latrine system. Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.
It looks like next week’s set of volunteers will be doing more of the same and will probably be adding bamboo architects to their CV. I can’t tell you enough how useful this wood is, it’s the George Foreman of the wood world.
When it’s completed the step-down hospital will house 20 amputees and 20 carers and there will be physiotherapists, psychologists and easy access to doctors. It’s set to be the pilot site for other districts in Nepal, so hopefully it’ll be a huge success and other facilities will soon follow elsewhere. Even when seemingly permanently attached to the toilet seat it was a pleasure to be around the group working there, well maybe that was a slight over-exaggeration but it was a brilliant experience nonetheless. An incredibly worthwhile cause and another top bunch of volunteers, good luck to the next group.
Now back to the rubbling, bring it on.