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Nepal: delivering aid at the top of the world

The devastated village of Gatlang, Nepal
The devastated village of Gatlang, Nepal

Save the Children Nepal’s Media and Communications Officer Dave Hartman reports on the challenges faced by remote villages hit by the Nepal earthquake

Our helicopter circles 500 feet above the ground, the snowy peaks of the Himalayas off in the distance. We’re looking for my colleagues who have established a field office in Gatlang, a remote village of 1,600 that was devastated by the earthquake that struck Nepal in April.

From the air the impact is easy to absorb. The stone houses have either been completely flattened or look as if they’ll come crashing down in the next aftershock.

Families have moved up into their open farmlands, cramming six into a tent but sometimes as many as 20. They’re forced to live directly next to their livestock; cattle, chickens and goats.

The cramped quarters are coupled with lack of toilets – only one remains after the earthquake – presenting a host of health, hygiene and sanitation issues. Flies are becoming omnipresent.

Sickness danger

After landing, our team leader, Apple Chaimontree, elaborates on the challenges.

“Right now people need shelter kits,” she says. “Since the earthquake they’ve moved from the village which was destroyed, so now people are living high-up in farmlands. You may find two or three families living under one tarpaulin.”

With monsoon season fast approaching it’s scary to think of all these children and families living outside. Two months of constant rain and little to no sun. A perfect combination for children to get sick.

“We have no house, no food, no clothes – we have lost everything because it is buried underneath our house,” says Seema, an animated 17-year-old girl whom all of the younger children in the village see as an older sister.

The nearest village where supplies come in is a two and a half hour walk. To get sufficient supplies, every able-bodied villager must make the trek, hauling heavy sacks of rice back up the mountain.

A 17-year-old boy who goes by Tamang tells me the journey isn’t just difficult but dangerous. “The landslides are still active in many places, but to go around them can take hours so we risked crossing them. I’m glad we made it.”

The frame of the school buildings is intact but classrooms are littered with rubble as chunks of the walls and ceiling have collapsed.

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed hearing Apple explain the laundry list of issues. But she remains confident – this isn’t Save the Children’s first foray into delivering aid into hard to reach areas.

Respite for parents

A medical team is flying in weekly to treat those injured in the initial quake and those dealing with illnesses developed since.

There’s a bad cough going around: children, the elderly and even the fit adults have started to come down with it. Our doctors say it isn’t too serious and can be managed, but the monsoon is coming, followed by winter.

With the help of community volunteers, we’ve built a child friendly space, constructed of local materials and tarps we flew in. This provides children a safe place to play and engage in organised activities while they’re out of school.

Parents have been appreciative as it gives them time to fortify their shelters, tend to the crops and figure out what else they must do to prep for monsoon season.

Our education team will be working with the community to construct six temporary learning spaces to ensure children don’t miss out on their education.

Getting children back into school is essential to help them deal with the trauma of two major earthquakes and countless aftershocks.

One of our most well-received projects is the construction of new toilets for the village. It’s not just a comfort, but will also help cut down on transmission of diseases.

In the next week we’ll be using a helicopter capable of carrying large amounts of cargo to bring in shelter kits, hygiene kits and other essential items.

Reasons for optimism

When you look at Gatlang you see tremendous challenges that need to be overcome in a very short timeframe.

The bad news? Gatlang is just one of hundreds of villages in this position. As I write this, a colleague tells me of other villages she has visited where, “everything has been flattened. There’s nothing left.”

The good news? Save the Children already has in place an incredible Nepalese team and has brought in disaster response experts around the world to assist in this massive undertaking.

“I’m very proud of the Save the Children team that has come to help us. You know it’s dangerous in our village but you come here to work,” says Seema.

We’ve been in Nepal for nearly 40 years and will be here not just for the immediate response, but also to ensure that communities can build back to be safe places for Nepali children to thrive.

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