I was with All Hands Volunteers for six and a half weeks and in that time I worked on sites for 36 days. That’s 284 hours of rubbling, which in terms of rocks – a key component in clearing the remains of houses – is equivalent to removing approximately 170,400 rocks from sites. That’s more than a small amount of rocks. It’s made a big difference.
I was based at the Melamchi project in Sindhupalchok and also had the opportunity to spend a week at the Chautara base helping to build a step-down clinic for amputee victims of the earthquakes. For me, it’s been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The way All Hands is set up gives volunteers the chance to work hard, make a huge difference to people on an individual level and still find time to enjoy themselves while doing it.
The middle of Melamchi town, 6 months post-earthquake
The atmosphere is one of an extended family from Day 1 and that really does make all the difference. You arrive to find a wonderfully diverse group of like-minded people who immediately make you feel welcome, happy, and most importantly, useful.
When you combine the relaxing, idyllic scenery surrounding the town with a set of people of such incredible charisma, energy and happiness it makes for a situation where when you’re not actively working – and even when you are – you can’t help but be as social as possible. My original plan to spend my time simply sitting reading or writing of an evening was not one I was able to follow through.
I absolutely loved it.
Within the first week I’d already decided I’d extend my month of volunteering and skip out on trekking Nepal this time around. I don’t regret that decision one bit.
Walking to site during the Fuel Crisis in Nepal
While in Melamchi I was part of the Rubble Team, going to prioritized homes that have been severely damaged and whose owners aren’t able to clear and rebuild them by themselves. By removing and stacking the stone, wood and metal from the plots, it meant that they can start afresh once the monsoon season is over and hopefully attempt to improve on what they had before the disaster. Even in my short time here I’ve seen houses begun to be rebuilt and more than a few families find their hope of leaving temporary tin shelters finally given life.
For those that don’t already know, there are many reasons why families can’t simply rebuild their houses by themselves. Foremost is that some people just don’t have the capacity to undertake such a huge task. With the trauma of loss and devastation that surrounds old family homes, it isn’t a black and white case of mucking in and beginning the rebuilding process; even families who do have the man-power often can’t use it due to the psychological distress still inflicted by the April and May earthquakes and their fear of another tragedy.
Broken buildings and farmland: Early morning in the mountains
With over 800,00 homes destroyed the government doesn’t have the ability to help everyone and so it’s up to the people themselves and NGOs like All Hands to somehow sift through the damage and start again.
Families were ripped apart by the earthquakes and often those who need help the most are far from easily accessible due to the state of the roads and distance from towns. To make matters worse, throughout the monsoon season landslides have been prevalent which cut people off even more from the help they need. Those first few days in rural Nepal, driving up the mountainous terrain through newly cleared landslides constantly left and right of the vehicle, were not a calming experience. The beautiful surroundings did little to ease my mind as I watched out for the road suddenly collapsing in front of us or huge boulders hurtling down the mountain towards our vehicles.
Stuck in the mud on the way to a School in Sindhupalchok
Despite this, we travelled to sites, de-rubbled what we could and tried to make amends for months of hardship inflicted on these hardy people. One village that we worked on particularly stands out to me. It’s hard to imagine how you’d react if your home was suddenly in ruins and months later some very foreign people arrive with spades, pickaxes and the like, explaining that they’re here to help. They were understandably wary and somewhat bemused by our appearance at the start, the children kept well-away and only the oldest of the locals on that first site helped us.
A month and many cleared homes later and the scene was very different. The locals beamed at us when we arrived each day, frequently offered us snacks and drinks and many of them helped during the day. We knew the children by name and they loved to use their embarrassingly better linguistic skills to show us just how bad our Nepalese was. The international community coming together to help these families was a sight that everyone involved and nearby obviously cherished. Joyfully vivid scenes like this occurred repeatedly and made volunteering such a special few weeks to me. The fact that my time not working was such an enjoyable experience too was an added bonus.
Games with the kids at a local school on our day off
The work that we contributed to in Nepal is invaluable and it’s easy to see exactly what it means to the beneficiaries of our voluntary work when you’re right there with them. These kind-hearted, stoic people glow with happiness. I cannot emphasize enough how great a project this is to get involved with. Without the generosity of the volunteers and people who have donated, All Hands could not have done what they have so far. With so much more left needing to be done they really do need your support. New building projects such as ’50 Homes’ – already successful in Kathmandu – are beginning to be put into action in Sindhupalchok and they need every penny and working hour they can get.