News 2016

Title:  INET Trip to Nepal to Assess Earthquake Damage
Date:  28/04/2016

INET Trip to Nepal to Assess Earthquake Damage report by Chris Avison

On Saturday April 25th, 2015, my wife, Mary Solan, and I were hiking with the Wayfarers on their Pre-Blackstairs Walk along the Carlow/Wexford border in the lashing rain. On our way home, we heard the news that a terrible earthquake had just hit central Nepal. This also caused the very well publicised devastation at Everest Base Camp necessitating the high profile rescues there.

 

Mary and I were due to fly out to Nepal on May 4th to visit our friend Dhana Bahadur Rai and his family for a trek up to villages in the Solukhumbu. I volunteer with Irish Nepalese Educational Trust (INET), an Irish charity which helps to fund school building and other education projects in this district. We were going there to open another school funded for INET by the Combined Services Third World Fund (CSTWF), which Mary is Honorary Treasurer for.

 

In October 2014, Dhana took a group of scouts from Northern Ireland trekking in this region. When they got home, the scouts gave a generous donation of money to INET. They also purchased about forty kilos of stationery for use in the schools. This was delivered to Dawson Stelfox, INET”s Patron. He arranged for friends, who went to Nepal before the earthquake, to take half with them. Mary and I met Dawson to collect the balance to bring out with us. We were already dithering whether to delay our departure due to the awful conditions in Nepal. No news had yet reached us from the Solukhumbu but we thought it wrong to expect hospitality from anyone suffering the consequences of an earthquake.

 

By the time we decided to postpone our trip, a major aftershock had struck up in the mountains on May 12th. News filtered through that some of INET’s funded schools had been damaged along with many other community buildings and houses. The resulting conditions in many rural villages along the Himalayan chain in Nepal still left many people homeless and living in temporary shelters, facing into winter, at altitude. The Nepal Government was doing little to help them and there seemed to be scarce evidence of much more being done up there by the well-known relief agencies.

 

We finally went to Nepal in November to trek up to the villages in the Solukhumbu with Dawson and his wife, Margaret Magennis. We wanted to get a clearer picture of the damage caused to the INET schools. When we arrived in Kathmandu, it was the Diwali holiday. We partied at Dhana’s house and met many neighbours. The whole city was lit up with traditional festival lights. Despite the many hardships from the earthquakes, people had made huge efforts to decorate their buildings and have a good time.

 

The fuel crisis caused by the Indian blockade at their border made the regular plane flights to Phaplu in the Solukhumbu unpredictable. Dhana arranged to squeeze us into a six seater helicopter. The pilot appointed me with the unenviable task of handling all the emergency procedures in the event of his crashing. I spent the whole of an otherwise splendid flight concentrating on which lever was which, missing some of the fantastic views. If I had kept my eyes on the windows, I would have seen the youngest and highest mountains in the world, a fabulous wall formed by the Himalaya with the eight of the world’s fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres which are in Nepal.

 

It was a two-day trek on old and little used trails to the village where we were opening the new school before going on to visit the other villages in what was a ten-day trek in all. Some days of the trip were long and quite tough with lots of ups and downs. We arrived in the dark a couple of times without falling off any edges and we camped everywhere. There were hardly any other tourists to be seen but, in one damaged village, we met a group of very hard working Norwegians, giving some time from their trekking holiday to help repair a school. The hospitality and friendliness of the villagers is always overwhelming. It was especially moving this time because of the awful conditions being endured by these lovely people following the terrible earthquakes. Needless to say, the Indian blockade causes not only acute shortages but also hyper-inflation to the cost of necessities including building materials badly needed for repairs and rebuilding.        

 

During our ten-day trek, it was very noticeable that no serious reconstruction work has yet started. In the affected schools, most pupils were being taught in temporary classrooms, usually bamboo huts or tents, or in the damaged ruins of their schools. The weather at altitude at this time of the year makes it very difficult for the children and their teachers. Dawson Stelfox has prepared a report for INET and, just as soon as all the necessary finance for repairs and rebuilding becomes available, the reconstruction work will start when the prices start to return to normal.

 

The income from mountain tourism is expected to help Nepal recover after the devastating earthquakes. However, according to the Nepal Mountaineering Association, a combination of unexpected Government policy decisions, corruption and the damaging Indian blockade has battered confidence and is limiting the numbers of tourists visiting the country and especially the number going trekking. Nepal is a beautiful country and there is far more to a visit to Nepal than climbing great mountains. Meeting and living with the people whose lives make our climbing trips possible is just as rewarding as climbing the mountains themselves. On this type of trek, the opportunities for making friends along the way are endless.

 

Chris Avison

INET - www.inetireland.ie

CSTWF - www.cstwf.ie

 

Chris Avison is a former editor of Irish Mountain Log and a volunteer director with the Irish Nepalese Educational Trust. INET is a small ‘hands on’ voluntary Irish registered charity. All expenses are met from the volunteers’ own pockets except for the mandatory annual audit fee. Apart from that, every cent raised goes to their education projects in Nepal. For further information or to make a donation, please visit www.inetireland.ie.

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