Words By: Courteney Lomas
Pictures by: Dylan MacLeod
When there is a huge natural disaster you have an instinctive urge to help, be it as a volunteer on the ground, or donating supplies or funds. Never did I expect to feel the frustration and futility of being here, in Nepal, and not able to do anything.
We (I am travelling with a German guy and a French girl who I met on a tea plantation in Ilam) have been in Pokhara for three days now and are struggling to make a decision on what to do.
Other organisations have got on board with KarmaFlights, yet they are only taking qualified doctors up to Gorkha now. I can understand this decision as there is a food and water shortage in the villages so all provisions must be brought in via jeep. The amount of supplies needed leaves restricted room for volunteers – and there is already limited access to jeeps and other transportation.
We met some British med students who are also trying to get to Gorkha. Even they cannot go since they are not technically qualified. So going to Gorkha for us is an unlikely reality.
We look for alternative things to do in Pokhara. Adventure shops are compiling gear to send up to the villages, they already have enough volunteers helping them.
We add our names to a list “just-in-case”.
We scroll through pages and pages online trying to find somewhere to sign up as a volunteer, to no avail.
Frustration brews as we stumble around Pokhara, going for futile paddleboat rides on the lake, gorgeous view but our heart is not quite in it. We contribute to the local economy one beer at a time. Momo anyone?
KarmaFlights posts on Facebook that a man named Nirvan who runs Sampadalun Hotel needs six volunteers to cook and clean a ‘camp’. I quickly rush over to sign up only to find out he already has the six needed. I add my name to a list “just-in-case”
We ask ourselves why do we not go to Kathmandu.
On the news all we can see is chaos. We can find no organisation to join with, it would be unproductive to try and go alone. Rumours of a food and water shortage are considered, as are reports of riots breaking out as locals become unsatisfied with their government and the lack of help reaching them.
Our friend Jeremy Settle is currently in Kathmandu, he is taking refuge at the Australian embassy. He spent the first day clearing rubble from Durbar Square and then the second earthquake hit. The following days he helps clear rubble in other areas, the more and more people that arrive to help, the less efficient it becomes.
“They have the man power in Kathmandu, they just lack the resources and authority giving directions.” Jeremy Settle
Settle went to camp at a local park but the situation was becoming increasingly tense so he remained at the embassy.
We knew we did not want to rush to Kathmandu with no supplies or qualifications, camp at our respective embassies and wander the chaotic streets finding some rubble to clear.
We continued to search for options of a more organised approach.
Communication on all level appears to be in disarray. “Un-organised” is an adjective that continually springs to mind. Nepal is a developing country so is chaotic at the best of times, in a disaster of this magnitude it is overwhelming.
Never before had I considered that one day I would be here, where there is so much need and desperation, yet feel so inadequate.
Having a large heart and desire to help does not save lives in a situation like this. I need to be organised. I need to have more money to buy supplies. I need to have experience, skills, language. We cannot complain, we are alive. Yet this helplessness is driving us insane.
Finally we have some solid information.
The French girl I am with, Clair Hamelin, has a cousin who has just arrived in Kathmandu.
Backpackers are joining together at Alobar1000 hostel and are working in various teams around the city. The larger NGO’s have caught on that there is a large source of manpower here, wanting to follow instructions and get their hands dirty. People are sleeping inside again. There is plenty of food and water available.
Thamel makes a safe base to then join with different groups and work around the city. We hear they are going to some villages to register poeple. They are clearing rubble in major areas. They are packing supplies that will get transported to Gorkha, Lamjung and Bhaktapur. The work seems unlimited.
We get on a bus to Kathmandu the next morning.