What Did MEPO Do All Summer? Description of the work and the people…

Aug 2015 kathmandu (42) (Small)

Despite best intentions, I didn’t do a very good job of keeping up with the blog after a couple weeks in Nepal. But that was not because of lack of activity! As the summer passed, our work evolved in a fluid way. For example, the preschool project in Dothar did not materialize, so we had to then rethink our strategy and our efforts. 

Below please find a summary description of our work this summer, as well as a table listing everything chronologically. We are very grateful for the time we spent in Nepal and for all of the interactions we had with the people there. They are strong and resilient and resourceful. And we couldn’t have done any of the work without the support of caring people who donated. Thank you to you. 

To jump directly to the itemized table of details, Click on this link:
Summary of MEPO work in Nepal 2015 post -earthquake

Aug 2015 kathmandu (35) (Small)

MEPO’s Work In Nepal, Summer 2015 – Summary of the Work and the Philosophy

There was absolutely no plan to go to Nepal this summer, but the sudden earthquake in the country where we once lived and served made it imperative to go back and lend a hand. During the two months we spent in post-earthquake Nepal we tried to target the earthquake victims, but as time passed, the range of needy people extended beyond those affected by the earthquake.

Our program started with health camps in various earthquake-hit areas in collaboration with the Nepalese Society of Texas (NST), in which the team saw over 2500 patients in 5 camps. Mostafa himself saw about 500 patients during these camps.

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NST had collected extensive donations of supplies such as medical supplies (medications, medical equipment, blankets, soap, toothpaste and brushes,etc), blankets and granola bars. After their team left, we then received these materials and over the summer passed them on to individuals, hospitals and clinics, and at camps for those displaced by the earthquake in Langtang and Sherpa communities in Sindupalchowk regions.

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Early in the summer, one village in particular during a health camp caught our attention, Dothar in Sindhupalchowk. As described in earlier postings, we visited the village, 3 hours away, on 4 different occasions, hoping to be able to focus our energy on helping one extremely hard-hit village begin to recover. They had received aid, and were now in the mode of waiting to begin reconstructing their homes. We did not have the resources to help with home construction, but after having given them mosquito nets, flashlights, and other basic supplies, we began talking with them about establishing a preschool for the dozens of very young children in the village. On each visit, besides having discussions and making plans, we also followed up with patients and conducted mini-health camps.

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Unfortunately, even with all the discussions, the preschool did not materialize, for various reasons, and we had to let go of that plan. The village was just not ready.

Consequently, our attention turned to activities that would directly benefit individuals or families or groups struggling in various ways. Some of the types of support included:

  • cash support to the Langtang IDP (internally displaced people) camp. This camp of about 250 people had relocated from Langtang village due to the earthquake, and were living in tents on the grounds of a large monastery in Kathmandu. While visiting there we met several women who had lost their husbands in the earthquake, and had small children. The camp was neat and organized, and were saving money to be able to rebuild their village after the monsoon. They also said they needed money to buy vegetables for the camp’s meals
  • end of summer in Kath 2015 post earthquake (13) (Small)
  • financial support to an IDP camp of 260 Sherpa community people who also had to relocate after the earthquake, coming from remote Sindhupalchowk to a tiny camp on a hill on the outskirts of Kathmandu This group was also very organized, but was struggling to fit over 200 people in a very small space. They were uncertain about how they were going to feed everyone long-term until the time that they could return to the village, hopefully in 3-4 months after the monsoon.end of summer in Kath 2015 post earthquake (16) (Small)
  • toys for preschool children at the Sherpa camp
  • scholarships to lower caste girls to study computers in order to further their education and opportunities
  • donation for a toilet-building project
  • financial support to families that had lost everything in the earthquake
  • medical and financial help to those struggling with medical issues.
  • end of summer in Kath 2015 post earthquake (19) (Small)
  • end of summer in Kath 2015 post earthquake (36)

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(Details  about the assistance, the funds spent, and the number of people helped are in the table below.)

Along the way, our work was guided by some basic principles, within the physical constraints: since it was monsoon, travel was very difficult with landslides daily and bridges being washed away. We also did not have the extensive logistical support that large organizations have, and thus could not ourselves undertake large projects such as building shelters for people. Since it had been 2 months since the earthquake hit, it turned out that needs were not the critical survival needs, but instead were the needs that came with being displaced, traumatized, and having one’s life turned upside down.

Aug 2015 kathmandu (6) (Small)end of summer in Kath 2015 post earthquake (19) (Small)

Therefore, we knew that our strength lay in our ability to talk to people, visit their homes, hear their stories, and see with our own eyes exactly what they needed. We aimed most to help those who had perhaps fallen between the cracks, who had escaped notice. In times such as disasters, there is an enormous amount of corruption and hoarding of resources, and so we were very careful to check and see how much help (if any) someone or group had already received. We wanted to help those who had not received much, and who were honest about their needs. We also concentrated on those who were the most vulnerable, especially young children and very low income families.

Individual stories were compelling as we listened for those who had not been helped. For example, Chamar, the driver at the hotel where we stayed, is an older man who drives in thick traffic and pollution to the airport every day. He sleeps at the hotel, and is quiet and never complains. When the earthquake hit, his house was destroyed in the next district, yet he stayed at the hotel, one of only 3 staff who stayed to help the 150 guests who were staying at the hotel during the earthquake. He has few resources available, and so we decided to give him 5000 Rs ($50) to go towards his rebuilding  of his house. His is just an example of the kind of ‘under-the-radar’ person MEPO aimed to identify and help.

Aug 2015 kathmandu (3) (Small)

Thanks to the dozens of caring people who donated to MEPO for this work, we were able to be flexible and responsive in what we did. Over the summer, our work varied from helping one single individual in crisis, to donating to an NGO (Educate the Children) involved in reconstructing villages in Dolakha that had been almost completely destroyed in the earthquake. They are undertaking a project to build 600 toilets in the community as part of the rebuilding process, so we contributed to that process.

Nepal is slowly making its way back, with reconstruction plans underway and people regaining the patterns of their lives. But the trauma is deep-seated; some people have trouble talking about anything except for that day in April. The slightest aftershocks elicit screams in the streets as people seem to immediately relive the terror of those days, such as what happened the very morning of our departure.  After the rumbling stopped, the screams subsided, but those around us were trembling and wide-eyed and full of fear, craved reassurance with a hug or holding hands. So Nepal now needs time. Money won’t fix the issues of anxiety and fear, but hopefully with each bit of help that people receive, they can at least know that they are not alone in their lives.

Click on the link below to see the detailed table of itemized work and use of funds:
Summary of MEPO work in Nepal 2015 post -earthquake

  Aug 2015 kathmandu (15) (Small)  


This posting won’t have pictures – because it’s about an experience.

We’ve been here over a month now,  and when we arrived, we saw that people were still focused on aftershocks: they had all downloaded apps on their phones that reported every aftershock, its Richter rating and epicenter and time of day. People would sit around and focus on the list: “Did you feel that one last night at 3:30 am?” “There was one at 10 pm, a 4.2 out of Dhulikhel…” I wasn’t sure that was particularly healthy for them to do, to be so focused on the earth’s every move.

And I never felt a thing. Either I was not as sensitive to the movement, or was sleeping really well. There was only one time, around 6 pm when we were in our hotel, when suddenly there was a jolt; it felt as though the hotel had been struck once by a giant hammer. That was it. An odd sensation, but over so quickly that within moments it was forgotten.

Then two night ago, something entirely different occurred. It was about 10 pm and I was getting ready for bed. Suddenly heavy shaking began. In that instant, thoughts come simultaneously, and what I remember was thinking, “It’s happening, is this real? Door frame!”  [Over and over in our travels while seeing wrecked homes, we had been struck by how many doorframes were still standing, the only part left intact.)

But there was something else besides the shaking. There was a SOUND. There was an immense yawning roar that accompanied the shaking, and that, for some reason was more frightening than the shaking. It was like a monster emerging from the depths. It sounded dark and unfathomably enormous. At that instant, sound also erupted on the surface:  Dogs barked hysterically. Birds flapped and  shrieked. But the worst to hear were the terrified screams of children in every direction, screaming for their mothers.

It only lasted maybe 3 seconds, the shaking and the roaring. But it was enough to make my heart pound heavily. The children kept screaming though as their mothers comforted them, and the dogs kept barking for a while, and the hotel hallway filled with people emerging to see each other with wide-eyed looks of fear and shared and experience.

Afterwards, realizing how short it was, all I could imagine was that happening for one full minute, and the terror of what such an experience would bring. No wonder people slept in tents for a month. I see now too how uniquely traumatizing an earthquake is, because of its complete unpredictability. A hurricane, tornado, flood, even war – those things can be heard and felt before they arrive. Perhaps the only comparable event would be a bomb, and in fact, that was one of my other first thoughts when it happened. Because of the sound, I thought it was a massive bomb at first, until my mind made sense of what was happening.

We found out the next day, from someone’s phone app, that it was a 4.6 (only!) with its epicenter at Brikhuti Mandap here in Kathmandu, just about a 15 minute walk from where we are.

I have felt quakes and tremors before, both here in Nepal  (from the Gujarat quake) and in Kabul. But this was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Even though physical recovery is well underway here in many places, I don’t think anything except time will help the minds recover,Earth and slowly dilute the fear that is so close to the surface.

The Fourth Trip to Dothar – Making Plans (July 20)

We undertook our fourth trip to Dothar last week. Mostafa and I along with Bhola sir and Priyankar were joined by our friend Craig and his friend Bijay. We left Kathmandu early, around 7:30 am, thinking we’d be back by 3 pm since it was a special day called Sangri Sankraati, the first day of the month and a new moon. We thought the village might start celebrating by afternoon, so it would be good for us to leave by noon.

[We had met with Tara a week earlier. She had come in to Kathmandu to meet and discuss the project, and also to show her what a preschool looks like. We met at a large school where Bhola Sir has been training the preschool teachers in Montessori techniques. Tara was quite amazed at the preschool: she had never seen one before. It was really good for her to spend time talking to those teachers and see what the classroom looks like.]

The plan for the day was to meet with Tara and the newly formed Committee. She had been tasked with inviting 3-5 people in the community to join and make a small committee that could take the preschool project forward, including organizing the construction of the building, and coordinating the hiring of staff, primarily assistants.

Once again, around 10:30 we arrived at the village, another very hot and sunny day. Once again we gathered in the shade of the mango tree, the ad hoc, open-air ‘community hall’. Gradually people began drifting over and Bhola Sir began his excellent communicating, gathering people and beginning to ask about and establish the committee. (Tara was on her way.) Some personalities began to emerge in the conversations: Resham was a solid character, with good focus and insights. He was already a community leader, and a natural for the committee. Others also then were joined: Surya Bahadur, Gaure, Purna Bahadur. Tara, of course.

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The group was very conscious of making sure that people representing the mini-neighborhoods in the village were all represented, not just this central place where we were meeting. Craig made the excellent recommendation of also nominating a woman for the committee, besides just Tara. We settled on Sushila, a mother of 3 children who had a quiet yet confident presence, and in other visits we had noticed that she wasn’t afraid to speak up. But now she was self-conscious about being illiterate. We assured her it was her heart and mind that mattered. And Patali, the local healthworker and also a woman, was also nominated.


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The committee discussion then focused on first affirming the community’s interest in the project, then discussions ensued about where to make the school – near the existing primary school, or on a larger open land about 1 km away.

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And the final point was to ask those in the group who knew about construction to make a rough estimate for the building. This was after we had discussed the building design. The plan was for a 5m x 10 m building, with adjoining kitchen (the children would receive a full lunch daily) and toilet. It would be built of brick, with a tin roof and wood ceiling, metal framing, and 4 windows. With these details, we hoped the committee would be able to make a quick estimate. 

It was time for a break. We again made our way to the little shop for lunch, where it was incredibly hot and stifling but we enjoyed our delicious meal of rice and vegetables.  We returned to the mango tree to continue talking with the committee about details. Bhola continued to lead the discussion skillfully towards some plans and concrete details.

But as we sat there surrounded by more small dusty children and old women, I became aware of the intense intimacy of this village. Not so much, I’m afraid, in the sense of closeness, although they seemed to get along ok. But more in the sense that everyone can see inside of everyone’s homes/temporary shelters. Even though some have erected doors on the ends, it’s too hot to keep them closed and so life occurs out on the street, in the paths, in the doorways. There is very little privacy, if any, and it has the feel of a ghetto or slum but placed in a rural setting. Bijay, our Nepali friend coming for the first time, noted the sense of depression and disconnectedness he sensed among the people.

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He told us this a couple days later. My response was, who wouldn’t be depressed in that situation? Twenty-one people died less than 3 months earlier, no one had a normal home anymore. No wonder they were drinking, no wonder they were playing cards in their impromptu casino, or watching TV. The level of motivation and energy is very low. But we really hope that a new undertaking like this that would energize the children and give the mothers a few hours free every day will help them begin to find their energy again.

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Before we left,  Mostafa saw a number of patients who had complaints of headache, stomach, etc. Tara gave us a big bag of freshly picked mangos, a treat like gold! And on the way back we stopped at a wonderful rest area with an incredible view where we enjoyed cold banana spice lassis,  very refreshing after the hot road.

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So after this trip, we are still waiting to see if the community really can find the focus and energy to make this preschool happen. It may be that the work of building a building may be too much, and we may suggest that they start with using a very nice large tent that we would provide for them. We’ll see. We’ll be meeting with them later this week here in Kathmandu.

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Back to Dhotar, Third Trip

(More pictures are at the end again!)

This week Mostafa, Bhola, Priyankar and I returned to Dhotar, but not for a specific purpose or activity, no health camp this time although we had medicines with us just in case. This time we had the goal of just getting to know the village, to see if our idea of focusing our efforts on helping this one village recover from the earthquake would be feasible, and more effective than quick trips to various villages. Aid is pouring into the country, and it’s becoming more and more important to be focused and careful in how to proceed.

The 3 hour drive to Dhotar went quickly, and this time along the way we began to notice that some of the crumbled buildings were being rebuilt. Reconstruction is indeed underway.

It was intensely sunny when we arrived at Dhotar. Being unannounced gave us a chance to look at the village more closely,with its temporary homes and new toilets amid the remains of homes, as we ambled our way to the village center. A handful of people were sitting under the generous shade of a mango tree there, and upon seeing us they greeted us and offered some broken chairs. The group was comprised of a few middle-aged women and more elderly women, lots of preschool-age children, one drunk man, and a couple of young-ish men. We began chatting with them, and asked a lot of questions about the village: how many houses? (about 135. 15 Brahmin and 120 Majhi). How many people total? (about 800) How many people have studied up through high school? (about 7) How many have gone to college? (about 5, and they’re all in Kathmandu now) How many people are working overseas? (3) How many water taps are there? (13) How many toilets? (all families have one) Does everyone have electricity? (yes, with ‘loose wire’ connections)

Bhola (who was leading the discussion) asked about literacy, who in the group could read. Not a single woman could. He asked how far they had studied and they responded 2nd grade or 3rd grade. One woman’s poignant answer to the question, “Are you able to read?” was the snorted retort, “Like a buffalo.”

At this point, someone went to fetch Tara Majhi from the corn field where she was working. She was a teacher in the school, one of the few who had gone to high school, and was local. (other teachers were posted to the village from outside the area).We had met her at the earlier health camp where she helped organize things, and Bhola had been impressed by her. Sure enough, when she arrived there was a sudden lift in the energy of the group. Others had seemed dusty, worn down, listless. But immediately it was clear that Tara was strong, outspoken, and very knowledgeable. Even though only in her 20’s she was already a leader in the village. She teaches at the school for 4000 Rupees a month ($40).

We spent the next couple of hours talking with her and the villagers about their needs, wishes, plans, hopes, etc. As we talked, ragged smiling children played around us, tractors chugged by with mangled chunks of metal from the ruined school building in the next village, and an older woman seemed to be babysitting all the toddlers, giving them rides in a little sled she made from the bottom of a plastic water jug pulled by a long scrap of fabric.

We could see now inside some of the temporary ‘tin can’ homes, and saw that they had been made as comfortable as possible with their beds, mats, even drawers and cabinets. We saw large bags of rice piled in as well; food was not an issue here. But they also had made a small lip of dirt across the front of the ‘tin can’ opening, because when it rained, the water came in easily, and one woman said that the other day when she made rice, a toad jumped into the bowl! They were sick of living in these things. When we asked what they needed, they said nothing else mattered until they had a home. Good point. But that was not going to happen very quickly, and they knew this. So in the meantime…

We suggested the idea of a community building, a place where they could gather as a group, and all kinds of programs could be organized and conducted: health education, literacy, even movies. They really liked the idea, and we went off to lunch, all thinking about it. Lunch was in a local tea shop/restaurant, a hot, low-ceilinged tin structure, bu the food was good, rice and dal and two good vegetable curries, cooked over a wood fire. This led to another discovery : every household was outfitted with a biogas set-up that had been established through Forestry Department loans in order  to provide a source of cooking gas for families so they wouldn’t take wood from the nearby forests anymore.  It seemed like a wonderful solution, making people’s lives easier and also preserving the forest. But the earthquake had damaged all the biogas systems, perhaps cracking them, and so people were back to cooking with wood again.  Something else to be fixed.

As our visit wrapped up, we returned to the mango tree. Bhola talked more with the villagers in very encouraging terms, letting them know that we were ready to work with them, if they were interested. As he talked, I watched the faces in the group and the whole setting. The feeling was one of malaise; not quite despair, but I was struck by the fact that no one was doing anything. Just sitting. Barely even chatting, let alone doing any of the usual village activities like making acchar or weaving mats, etc. There was one man fixing a fishing net, and that was the only productive activity. The small children were completely bored; they didn’t have a single plaything and also had not invented any playthings either, as they usually do. The overall feeling of the group was one of listlessness, waiting, loss, lack of direction.

We asked Tara to talk to the village further about the idea of building a structure for the community : make a small committee and talk to them about where, and who could build it if we provided the materials, etc etc. Later, after returning to Kathmandu we began to reflect more on the education situation and the complete inattention to the younger children, and it seemed that a preschool was more needed and would be more beneficial for the community overall. Besides the obvious benefits to the children, it also helps the mothers with childcare, and as reconstruction begins in the village, it will be safer for the small children. Eventually the building could still be used for meetings, mothers’s groups, perhaps even literacy classes if they wished.

So this is where our thoughts are heading now, and in the next few days we’ll be meeting again with Tara and a small group to see if the community is interested in doing this. Bhola, as a very experienced and progressive educator, will be able to steward the project forward with the community, working with Tara and the others after we have to leave next month.

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Reconstruction Plans

A few days ago we rode out to Nuwakot, about 10 km before Kakani. We hiked up to a small Tamang village, a scattering of houses on a steep hillside. Along the way, both driving and walking, nearly every stone house was partially crumbled, with roofs lying on top of piles of rocks. Sometimes it actually does feel as if one is visiting a place of ancient ruins, where the outlines of homes remain from centuries ago.  And over and over, one is reminded that one of the greatest blessings was the timing and day of the earthquake: a Saturday afternoon at noon. Everyone we’ve talked to was outside working when it hit, and they watched their homes collapse, but from the outside.

At the village we visited, after the earthquake the extended family first stayed in their large homemade greenhouse (plastic sheets stretched over a bamboo frame) for a few days, and then in 3 days they used recycled sheets of tin and plywood to make a ‘new’ 3-room dwelling for the family to share. This was where we had lunch; it was cozy and neat, covered with a tarp to make it waterproof. The family was living immediately next to the piles of rocks that had been their home. Asked if they had received any help, they said that there were people who brought tents and food after the earthquake several times. The stories of assistance have been quite inspiring, how so many Nepalis, especially in Kathmandu, put together their own personal deliveries of aid to villages.

In the meantime, the national news is full of reconstruction plans, whether for temples, roads or homes. Families with destroyed houses had first received 7000 rupees from the government ($70). Then the next news was that they would now receive an additional 15,000 ($150), which is being delivered this week. But a recent donor conference resulted in over 4 billion dollars being committed by various countries, and some of that money is going to be allocated so that each family with a destroyed house will receive 15,000,000 rupees. This $15,000 is quite an impressive commitment from the government, and it’s being done in a smart way. It will be doled out in stages and as loans, but the loans will be forgiven as long as people really use the money to build a house AND they build a house according to the specific building standards for earthquake resistance.

Such a process of rebuilding half a million homes will obviously take a long time, but it gives a great sense of hope and progress. They say the money will start being disbursed at the start of the next fiscal year, in the next month and a half.

The First Couple Weeks of Being Here- End of June

July 3, 2015

It has been a mistake to not write sooner! Now that I’ve been here over a week, and Mostafa has been here over two, there’s so much to share that this first posting is very long. After this, I’ll keep up better and the posts won’t be so long. A few pictures are at the very end of this posting, so skip ahead if you want to see a few pictures.

Please note that for those who know Nepal, I have included a lot of place names in Nepal.  If you do not know Nepal, these will not be very meaningful and I apologize for that.


It’s been just over 2 months since the first earthquake hit parts of Nepal. I got here a week ago, and Mostafa two weeks ago. We came with the intention of helping the recovery effort however we could. Unsure of what that would entail, we were ready to conduct health camps like what we did from 1999 to 2002, or help families get back on their feet, or help schools  – whatever was needed that we could do. We came with nearly $6000 of donations from friends in the US and Europe.

For Mostafa’s first week, he connected with a group of Nepali doctors from Texas and participated in 4 health camps in earthquake-hit areas: Gorkha (Borlan VDC), Bhaktapur, Bagmati VDC , Nuwakot (Kakani). The day after I arrived, I also joined the group for a camp in Sindhupalchowk (Bhimthar VDC). Altogether, their team saw over 2400 patients in the 5 health camps, and did much good service providing medical and dental care.

Each place that they went, Mostafa said, was stricken hard by the earthquake, with damaged buildings all around. Sometimes they even had to conduct the camps in red-labeled buildings, meaning they were condemned, but such buildings were the only structures left standing.

So what is it like here, 2 months after the earthquake? I had no idea what to expect. The media had long ago stopped reporting on the situation. Our friends had told us that aftershocks were continuing and many were still sleeping in tents due to fears of sleeping in buildings, but otherwise, we had little sense of what it would feel like or look like.

On the surface, arriving at the airport and driving to the hotel, not much seemed different. We had last been here 2 years ago, and at first it seemed like little had changed in those 2 years. But on the way through town, while the vast majority of buildings were intact, occasionally there was a crumbled pile of a former building. Parts of the brick wall around the palace were fallen, as if a giant had taken a bite out of the wall. Corners of buildings were often missing and bricks exposed. But enough time had passed that ruins are tidied up, and people carefully yet nonchalantly pick their way around the wrecks.

The streets of Thamel also seemed normal at first – until we noticed the nearly total lack of tourists. Streets that are normally obnoxious and raucous were quiet, empty. Near Chhetrapati in Thamel, one 6 story building was leaning against its neighbor, and was being held up by a giant cable tied the building to a post implanted in the middle of the road. Every day, workers, young men in T-shirts and flipflops, enter the building with sledgehammers and pound away at the concrete, slowly revealing the rebar skeleton of the building. Others shovel the concrete and debris into a dumptruck. This is happening all over the city: ruined buildings are being demolished by hand with hammers and pick-axes, dismantled one brick at a time and trucked away. It’s as though the open wounds of the earthquake are becoming scars. In the old part of town (Asan, Indrachowk, etc) large timbers have been jammed in the ground at an angle against the sides of the buildings to brace the walls. The worst places are where entire buildings have collapsed into dense piles of rubble, and one can’t help think of the people who were inside at the time of the quake.

Yet despite the temptation to use dramatic and emotional language to describe the situation, there is a sense of the matter-of-fact business of moving forward.  People are calm and quiet, and sometimes even laughing in the way that Nepalis do even when they are upset.

We walked through Durbar Square, which had always been one of my favorite places because of the massive temple complex. The largest of them was simply gone,only the giant lower platform remained. Piles of bricks were everywhere. The huge white building in the complex (I can’t remember the name of it now) had partially crumbled, and it was as if we were looking at ancient ruins. Mostafa said that the world is full of ruins, whether Roman ruins, or Egyptian, or whatever. True enough, but the difference is that to see the ruins created, to have seen the structure before, whole, and then to witness its destruction, evokes an entirely different feeling.


But as we all know, buildings are just buildings. What matter is people. And so our excursion to a village called Dodhar in Sindhupalchowk the day after I got here was an opportunity to see how people were faring, and get a sense of what was needed. This outing was the final health camp with the group from Texas, offering free health care to people in the village.

We left Kathmandu around 6 am and headed towards Bhaktapur. Just outside of Kathmandu (past Koteswor) we had to slow down for some huge crinkles in the road where the earthquake had shifted the road several feet. But for the next 3 hours or so as we traveled through Banepa and then Dhulikhel, things looked intact, and busy and crowded as always. We took the turn-off for Panchkal and entered Sindhupalchowk,  and gradually there was more green than cement. Entering the beautiful expanse of the Indrawadi River valley, a very lush and rich agricultural area, we began to see house ruins every now and then, but very sporadically.

Finally we crossed the river and made our way about 1 km up on a very rough road to our destination village. Suddenly we were met with a scene of complete destruction. The village had had about 120 households, but the brick homes were simply crumbled. Most of them were just half walls remaining. On the hill above were 2 or 3 larger homes still standing, but otherwise there were no intact homes. In their place now were small structures that looked like miniature airplane hangars: arcs of corrugated tin, some open-ended, some with the ends bricked in, or covered with tarps. This was the temporary housing provided to families. (You can see these in the background of the picture at the top of this blog.)

We set up for the health camp in the one school building that remained, just two rooms. Men were already working on rebuilding the other building for the school, pouring edges of the walls where only the foundation remained. We began the health camp as villagers began arriving and lining up. The children were lined up in order to be seen; there were perhaps 75 children of all ages. They were very well-behaved, strikingly quiet, and in tough shape, with very poor clothing. The adults were also in extremely modest clothes, not with the fancy clothes that people often wear to the event of a health camp. This was a very humble village, and we encountered no thulo manche behavior of anyone trying to get special treatment or push his/her way to the front of the line due to privileged social status. We learned it was a Majhi village, an ethnic group that was new to us. We learned that 21 people had died in this village in the quake.

The day was very hot with intense sun, and as we were escorted through the village to where they had made lunch for us, it was immediately obvious how uncomfortable the tin can homes must be. In the sun, they became ovens. We wound our way through the narrow lanes of the village passing through corridors between broken homes where it looked as though clean-up had hardly begun.  Standing and waiting for lunch, being surrounded by the ruins was a very powerful experience. It only required a very slight shift of awareness to imagine being there when the quake hit, imagine the sounds of walls cracking and bricks falling and dust billowing, and the sounds of people within and without. One could so easily sense the feelings of complete fear and confusion that would have swirled in the immediate aftermath. The people around us had gone through that, had pulled their neighbors from the rubble – or had been pulled out themselves. No wonder the children were quiet.

The health camp was very effective; the doctors saw about 250 patients. Most complaints were not necessarily earthquake related, but there were those who came with injuries that were healing – ribs, wrist, head. One of the last patients was a young boy named Milan. He was about 7, and was so weak that his mother was carrying him. He had been unable to keep food or water down for 5 days and had had a fever. The local health post had given the mother many bags of various medicines, which he had taken and which had overloaded his system, especially his liver, and along with being completely dehydrated he was in very bad shape. We gave them a ride to the hospital in Dhulikhel along with 3000 rupees ($30) to help cover their expenses. Over the next 4 days we followed up, and finally learned that he had recovered and was headed home. (He is at the bottom of the header picture of this blog, starting to blow up a pink balloon.)

We had already been making plans to return to that village, and so the day after Milan got home, we went back to his village as well as a village 5 km above.

How To Help?

Two months have passed since the earthquake. The newspaper said that over 597,000 homes had been completely destroyed, and 230,000 damaged. But acute injuries have been treated, temporary housing is up, and basic needs are being met due to deliveries of food, water, etc by many organizations and countries. Someone told us that China had delivered 100,000 boxes of basic supplies for families such as soap, towels, combs, and much more. People had been given tents, and rice and lentils.

So what was needed? How could we help?  When one’s house is destroyed and all belongings buried, what do you need to try to regain a semblance of ‘home’ again? We began to think of those little things that might help in that regard, as well as critical things:  mosquito nets, soap and shampoo were of primary need. Then towels, a mirror, a flashlight. Before going back to Sindhupalchowk we went shopping and bought 50-60 of each thing, with plans to distribute to those families who needed them in Dodhar or in the upper village, called Tinghare.

This time it was a MEPO excursion. We were using the donations from many friends to buy the supplies for this trip, and to arrange transportation as well. We had to rent two 4×4 vehicles to take us there and back, and we got an excellent price of about $90 complete, which entailed leaving Kathmandu at 5:30 am, driving about 3 hours, including 30 minutes uphill on a very very rough road, and then returning around 9:30 pm.

On this second trip, we went with two young doctors as well as Mostafa, a Nepali friend Bhola and his nephew Santosh, an old American friend named Craig, and a young Nepali man studying public health at Yale named Priyankar. Our first stop was to go past Dodhar to a village called Tinghare. We arrived at the village and set up at the local school. Since the buildings had been damaged, they were holding classes in large tents donated by UNICEF. This village also had suffered extensive destruction of homes, and had had 8 deaths, but we realized that it was not as overtly poor as Dodhar. Although it was more remote, the families were better off, and many of them had second homes in Kathmandu and thus had not qualified for temporary housing. Consequently they had rigged their housing in large chicken coops, or barns, structures that had withstood the earthquake, not being made of brick.

We held a smaller health camp, and conducted some health education about using soap and shampoo regularly to avoid skin problems. We gave away soap and shampoo to those who really seemed to need it; there were a handful that seemed to be in quite rough shape. But we quickly realized that to distribute mosquito nets, etc to some people but not others would be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, the people had already gotten used to being given things, and had a bit of a sense of entitlement. They didn’t seem to have the needs of the people of Dodhar, so after seeing patients, we drove back down the hill to Dodhar.

Milan, the boy who had gone to the hospital, was waiting for us – smiling broadly and looking strong and healthy! It was wonderful to see him, and he was full of hugs and affection.

Mostafa and the doctors followed with some patients and dressed some wounds while Craig and Bhola and I met with the headsir of the school in order to discuss how to effectively distribute the mosquito nets, etc.  We brainstormed various ideas: only give to those who lost a family member? Only give to those with lots of children? Ask the headsir who was the most needy? It was a touchy situation, how to avoid a mob scene when we didn’t have enough of everything for everyone. We wanted it to be as equitable as possible, and avoid any hoarding  and minimize greed. Finally we decided on an experiment: Bhola would talk to the crowd and explain that there would be two ‘packages’ available: a mosquito net with a bar of soap, OR a flashlight with a large bottle of shampoo. He asked them to please choose one, based on what they really needed, and not take what they didn’t need or already had, but instead leave it so that someone who needed it might get it. And it worked! People lined up and Bhola went down the line and asked each person (only one per family) what they needed. They then came and got whichever one they had requested. We also then gave mirrors and towels.  The people were grateful and calm and helpful.

So, as a result, here is a summary of what was given so far:

Mosquito nets: 60 families

Rechargeable flashlights: 60 families

Soap: 60 people

Shampoo: 60 people

Mirrors: 30 people

Towels: 60 families

Notebooks, pencils, sharpeners and erasers: 300 children (grades 1-10)

Now that we’re getting more of a feel for what is needed, we’re beginning to see that people need cash more than things, so that families can either buy what they need, or can put it towards rebuilding their home. But the process of giving cash is going to be very tricky, so we are still working on how to do that.

Another big area of need is the schools. Dodhar, for example, is rebuilding its school, butall of its supplies have been lost: maps, books, benches, boards, etc.

We are contemplating focusing our efforts on helping this one village of Dodhar get back on its feet by helping re-equip its school  and assisting the village to rebuild (for example, their water supply was disrupted by the earthquake and so we may be able to help them repair it). If these things look viable, we may do that rather than jump around from one village to another, offering only spotty help. By getting to know this village more deeply, we can better focus our efforts and assistance.


Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (1) (Small)

A building ruin in Thamel being demolished by hand and trucked away.


Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (10) (Small)Bags of medicines and supplies to take to Tinghare and Dodhar in Sindhupalchowk.

Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (12) (Small)


Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (52) (Small)


Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (21) (Small)

In Tinghare village

Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (16) (Small)

Some basic hygiene education and playing a game at Tinghare school before the health camp.


Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (23) (Small)

Eye infection of 4 day old baby being treated at Tinghare health camp.


Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (43) (Small)

Driver Vishnu helping give away mosquito nets to villagers in Dodhar.

Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (32) (Small)

The children of Dodhar.

Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (50) (Small) Nepal summer 2015 Dodhar and Tinghare (35) (Small)