A delayed start saw us on the road by 10am, heading back out on the road towards Sindhupalchok. The journey provided another glimpse at the widespread damage and destruction, still evident weeks after the initial quakes; from cracked restaurant floors where we took breakfast to the crushed remains of cars caught in a landslide. I cannot count how many photographs I missed of houses apparently unscathed, only to see as we drove past that the reverse half had completely fallen away. A morbid photographic examination of the Newar tradition of building houses into the hill side highlighted an added vulnerability that most homes could just not handle. By the time we arrived at Chautara, the Administration Centre of Sindhupalchok I think I'd already had had enough of photographing the loss and ruin but under the circumstances, you just carry on, point and click, “What's your name? “What happened to you? What needs to done to help?”. You have to remember it's not about you, it's not even about them, it's about us. All playing a part in the recovery cycle, and our part, where we can be the most help, is where we can access arenas and forums that rural Nepalis can't. Not rushing over for two weeks to volunteer or donating £5 and forgetting about it. It would be wrong to criticise a single person who's responded in any positive way to the earthquake but to maximise our inputs holistically we need to keep the story alive, keep the situation on the ground updated and relevant, keep the funding for grass-roots recovery, develop the long-term linkages and build the recovery with the local actors. Though, to be fair, we did end up painting a Health Post with white cement on one of our earliest relief visits (no paint, mate) .
Several hours passed and we finally arrived at Chautara - Sindhupalchok administrative HQ. After seeing so many damaged buildings with no chance to interact with anyone, document their stories or just take a quick photograph I was desperate to get out. When we parked up next to a raised area next to row after row of tents I realised that no matter how much I wanted to, I probably still wasn't ready to see these peoples lives up close and on the ground.
Niklas and I had been pretty lucky with our company so far; Churna the BASE Executive Director and Rakesh the BBA Program Director, plus Suresh and Hiralal, two journalists very interested in grass-roots social change, were accompanying us today. We'd spoken and learnt a lot over the previous days and attended meetings at the Ministry of Education, The Reporters Club and spent time with Nobel Laureate Kailesh Satyarti, alongside MPs and other Senior Development Staff. Now we were out on our own and keen to get to see things on the ground without the press, police or jeep convoy...
However, we were a bit premature. To my surprise the 'Camp' was the hub for Government and NGO coordination, with a communications tents, seismic analysis tents, logistics and NGO Field Offices being dug in and prepared for the monsoon with ditches, fences and pipelines being laid. Just seeing this made me realise the long haul they were preparing for, in difficult conditions. A couple of well dressed Nepali gentlemen came out to greet us and as we walked the others through the camp, I nipped off and grabbed an interview with two lads (brothers) who I found digging ditches. Prakash BK (27) and Pralhad BK (19) father's father's father's father had lived in Chautara. They'd both lost their homes and had no income, so now they were working to improve the NGO camp.
Bendavi Secondary School
We walked down a slope towards a school that from the road looked undamaged, with a small L-shaped shelter, tin and tarpaulin on bamboo shoots, open to the weather on all sides. Three young boys were sitting on a table and an old man sat on the floor some way behind them. We spoke to them, asked their names, and Himlal & Suresh, (the journalists) delved into why they weren't at school, why the school wasn't open and what their lives were like.
The school had no space to teach all the students, so the day was broken up into sessions lasting 4 hours. The building I had thought looked fine was being investigated by Rakesh and Niklas who'd soon discovered that the class-rooms had not even been emptied, the building was red tagged and I think people where just too scared to go back inside and collect what was left. Every class-room on the bottom floor showed severe damage, the whole building would have to be torn down. At the same time one couldn't help get the feeling that with a little shake (perhaps a 6.5 or a 7) the large looming grey-veined blue and white beast would easily shake free of it's confines, and tumble down the hill side.
With nothing to do except listen to our questions, the three lads began listlessly wandering around, playing with sticks, stones and generally looking bored. As I rule I'm against hand outs, I believe it encourages cycles of dependency, devalues the person receiving it and inherently promotes inequality both in mindset and actions. "Give a man a fish etc" , (which itself is rather gender-centric but let's not get into that...).
I do believe however, that if you take somebody's picture and get an interview from them, before you fly off in your air conditioned jeep, if they ask, you should re compensate them. So I sneaked off and bought the boys some cool drinks while nobody was looking.