Nepal Grassroots Relief Efforts: Day 1

Wednesday morning, four days after the Earthquake in Nepal, and I am sitting in Pokhara’s Himalayan Java coffeeshop. A Western Starbucks mock-up, it’s got the best internet in town (quite possibly the country) so I’m up to the usual digital activities: some client’s website, some footage sifting, some Facebook, some YouTube comment moderation. I get up to use the toilet, opting to walk through the coffeeshop instead of across the balcony (in order to catch the eye of the cute barista, of course). I notice an unprofessional looking flyer-letter sitting on the coffee condiments table as I pass. I catch a glimpse and the overall vibe of the text looks interesting—but really have to urinate, so I hustle down to the toilets.

I stop and grab a flyer on the way back to my seat: there’s this guy, Simon, from Nova Scotia who is enlisting people to come join him on a grassroots relief effort to bring supplies to some rural villages close to the earthquake epicenter. The coffee is kicking in so I’m feeling the excited encouragement to give him a call and see if I can join him to document some goings-on after this natural disaster.

Let’s keep in mind that at this point I’m just in it for the footage. Donation and volunteer signs were all over town and groups were popping up all over Facebook. If the world knew just how many hundreds of ex-pats, backpackers and vacationing tourists ended up being denied the opportunity to help out after that earthquake, it would get a sense of just how slow and inefficient a lot of the global relief efforts turned out to be. (to be written about in part 3: basically the Nepali government wouldn’t allow any official help in until the Prime Minister and cronies had filled their pockets as best he could). I’m in it for the footage because I know my dollars and my manpower aren’t unique in this situation: but my filmmaking is.

“Can you be ready to go in five minutes?” Simon asks me over the phone.
“Uh, I guess?”
“OK, give the phone to the driver as soon as you’re in a taxi.”

Next thing I know I’m meeting the gang—a bunch of regulars (other digital nomads) of Himalayan Java that I had never spoken with but always saw around—and learning the situation. The group of them had raised almost $8000USD in three nights, collaborated in renting three jeeps, and maxed out on tarps, tents, rice, dal, medicines, and anything else they could think of to bring to the rural villagers that had, as of this point, not received any relief of any sort in the last five days since the quake.

I would come to learn that because of a fear of aftershocks that no one had begun to venture into the affected territories to help out—insubstantial rumors were circulating and no one knew if another big one was going to hit. Pseudoscientists were suddenly everywhere.

Halfway there we stop in Chitwan, where locals ask us which organization we’re with.

“None,” we respond.
“Thank you for helping Nepal.”

Paved road ends soon after the city of Gorkha. The main center for nearby affected villages, the whole city doesn’t seem to be too active (this would change intensely in a few days). Three hours into the hills, there’s some drama with the drivers who didn’t think it would be an eight hour trip.

“Be the hero!” Baba Jay insists. “Help your brethren!”

Night has fallen by the time we’ve reached what appears to be our destination region. The first village we stop at is alive and bustling with people who’d caught wind we were on our way. We offer up our tarps and tents but save the food and water since they say they’re fine at that front. I make some friends with the kids as I film the whole scene.

The next village, however, is quiet. As the predom, the district leader, leads us to where the townsfolk are sleeping, he explains how 90% of Ghyampesol’s infrastructure has been destroyed. We shine our flashlights on the destruction as we approach the clearing where the villagers are outside, sleeping.

“They’re homes have been destroyed. This is the only place they are safe to sleep.”

Our tears aren’t held back as we see the mass amounts of people laid out amongst each other—almost on top of one another. A woman had just given birth and was cold. Many didn’t have blankets, even more didn’t have sleeping mattresses.