In February 2014 I journeyed out to Nepal to photograph the long running Rotary project ‘Changing Young Lives in Nepal’, with a view to raising its profile back in the UK.
This IT, Literacy and Economic Regeneration project was initiated by Harrogate Brigantes Rotary Club in 2010 and aims to change lives at a grass roots level in the remote upland Panchamul Valley in Nepal. So far the project has helped ten schools and hundreds of families and children through the provision of solar power, IT equipment & training, literacy & numeracy initiatives and micro loans. Indeed it has been so successful that the project team are currently looking to replicate their model in other remote valleys in the country. As 70% of the Nepalese population live in rural areas, there is much scope for expansion.
Teams of Rotarians from Yorkshire with specialist knowledge in IT, business and education make regular visits to the Panchamul Valley to volunteer their time and expertise and audit the progress of the project. Whilst this was my first visit to the country, many other members of my project team had visited 5 or 6 times and had developed strong ties with both the local villagers and also Rotarians such as Major Lil Gurung at our partner club, the Himalayan Gurkhas in Kathmandu. Indeed with their infectious smiles and sense of resilience, it is easy to see why the Nepalese people have found a special place in the hearts of so many of our team.
My lasting memories of Nepal were ones of song, dance, colour, smiles, stunning landscapes and a rich cultural and spiritual heritage (and of course bumpy roads!).
Conditions were basic. Electricity was limited, food was prepared on an open fire in the kitchen and many of the villagers were subsistence farmers, enduring harsh living conditions and almost entirely cut off from the outside world, especially during the Monsoon rains (June – September).
However, they were some of the most welcoming and friendly people I could hope to meet and I was overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude for the work that we were doing to help the people of their Valley. I have put together a short video which hopefully gives a better insight into the people and culture of this beautiful country:
Nepal Earthquake Disaster 2015
It therefore fills me with great sadness to think that this beautiful but already impoverished nation has had to endure further suffering in the wake of this devastating earthquake. Reports on the news and also from our own sources in Nepal paint a grim picture. Many lives have been lost, along with parts of the country’s rich cultural heritage. Whole villages close to the epicentre of the earthquake have been completely decimated and their residents left without shelter and in many cases, food.
Many of these settlements are very remote and a lack of infrastructure, coupled with landslides, are making them hard to access. Like the villagers in the Panchamul Valley, many are subsistence farmers and a failure of crops and loss of livestock and seeds for new season planting can be catastrophic, especially with the Monsoon season approaching imminently. Many villagers also have no access to heavy lifting machinery for rescue operations and there are reports of survivors digging at the rubble with their bare hands.
The immediate need for assistance is obviously very real as Nepal struggles to cope with the sheer scale of this disaster, which is estimated to have affected 8 million people and killed and injured many 1000s. However, there will also be a need for support and reconstruction in the longer term.
If you would like to support the Rotary ‘Changing Young Lives’ project in the Panchamul Valley, you can find out more information here:
Fortunately initial reports from the Panchamul Valley indicate that casualties have been minimal compared to some other parts of the country. Some houses are reported to have collapsed in the village of Sirubari and surrounding area and others have structural damage which is likely to be compounded by the oncoming Monsoon, but the schools we support seem to be still largely intact. Thankfully the fact that the earthquake happened on a Saturday meant that the children weren’t in school, thereby minimising casualties. We should have further details regarding damage to the project’s IT infrastructure once it has been assessed by a technician, but initial reports suggest that there has been repairs will definitely be necessary.
4 June 2015 – Nepal Earthquake Update from Major Lil Gurung MBE (Rotary Club of the Himalayan Gurkhas, Kathmandu) and Barry Pollard (Changing Young Lives in Nepal Project Team Leader, Harrogate)
The population in Nepal are still in a state of significant shock, particularly in a 100 mile radius from the epicentre region of Gorkha. Aftershocks occur daily, anything up to 5.5 on the Richter scale. In Kathmandu there is no drinking water as all the supply pipes are broken or distorted. Over 1 million people have fled the city, afraid to live in their damaged houses. Of those buildings which did not come down, many are damaged with severe cracking including schools, hospitals and homes. Many people are living outside in tents; lessons are being taught this way as are patients being treated in hospitals. There is a need for trauma counselling for many patients. 30% of the shops are still closed and there are major food and goods shortages.
Some 70% (20 million) of the population of Nepal live in rural areas, mainly in the 1000’s of foothill valleys. Only the extreme west and southern plain escaped the earthquake. For those in the epicentre radius, there has been major property damage, some villages have lost 90% of their homes as well as access to the road infrastructure, which is itself damaged.
Food reserves to tide the people through the oncoming monsoon season, normally stored in the lofts of houses, have been lost as houses have collapsed.
The Oncoming Monsoon
This poses a number of challenges … firstly the need to ensure that the population in remote areas have food and protection to see them through this period up to the middle or end of September. Secondly the force of the rain will almost certainly bring down many more buildings and houses already significantly damaged by the earthquake. The monsoon last year was very severe with many of the aid agencies, for example Shelter Box, deploying emergency aid. People and animals were swept away by surging river foods and major landslides. The Panchamul Valley was cut off to the outside world for just over a week as the ‘road’ access was blocked.
Fundraising Update (Harrogate Brigantes and Rotary District 1040 Appeal) and Distribution of Funds via Himalayan Gurkhas Rotary Club, Kathmandu
To date Harrogate Brigantes Rotary Club have raised nearly £4000 through various bucket collections. Money has already been sent out to Nepal via the central Yorkshire District 1040 appeal; providing food, CGI sheeting and Anderson Shelters. As a result nearly a 1000 households and over 2000 families have been helped directly so far. The emphasis has been to help people survive the monsoon, after which more money will be needed in order to get the people back to some level of normality.
Our partners in the Himalayan Gurkhas Rotary Club in Kathmandu, are probably uniquely placed to direct aid to the villages which need our support. Most of the Club’s Rotarians are ex Gurkhas and were recruited from villages in remote areas. They continue to keep in touch with their place of birth. For example, Major Lil Gurung, our main project co-ordinator in Nepal, was born in the Panchamul Valley and was educated at the school where we fitted our first IT suite. The same applies to the other villages where the Rotary District 1040 appeal has directed aid, this being two villages in the Gorkha region, a village to the east of Kathmandu and seven villages in the Panchamul valley.
Nepalese Rotarians have visited each of the supported villages to distribute the aid and will identify any further needs subsequent to their visits, particularly those relating to monsoon survival.
There is also a further formal request likely to come in this week for another village in the Gorkha region which has lost most of its houses.
Once the monsoon season is fully under way, it will be difficult to achieve much more until it passes. The next challenge will be to assess the scale of infrastructure damage to buildings e.g. schools and houses and evaluate where further funds should be directed in order to get people back to some level of normality.
On 8 May 2015 choirs, mainly from Primary Schools from around the Harrogate district, came together in the Royal Hall to give the fourth charity “Kids Aloud” concert organised by Harrogate Brigantes Rotary Club. The second half was devoted to a world premiere performance by the young musicians of a new work, Circus of Life which they had helped to create. The piece was a collaboration between local composer Philip Wilby, Brigantes club member Guy Wilson, and the young singers.
The event was a great success and a combination of ticket sales, donations and sponsorship have produced a £10,000 profit which has been donated to Harrogate Brigantes’ two current international projects – the provision of a sustainable supply of clean water in Africa through Sand Dams and the Club’s own IT and literacy project that is bringing computer skills to a remote valley in Nepal.
Nepal Team Presentation
On the 19 September 2015, The Crown Hotel in Harrogate very kindly hosted a charity black tie dinner (five course meal, live jazz, guest speaker Major Lil Gurung MBE and DJ) in aid of the Nepal Earthquake appeal. The event was the brainchild of Crown General Manager, Sheldon Baudach and was attended by over 100 corporate and private guests from as far afield as Kathmandu.
March 2016 Update
Barry Pollard from Harrogate Brigantes Rotary Club journeyed back out Nepal to monitor the progress of a goat farm which is being established in a remote area using funds raised by Yorkshire Rotary Clubs.
Following an upgrade program to the technical infrastructure in the Panchamul Valley, Andy Morrison and his wife Jayne of Andisa IT ran the area’s very first Technology Tournament. Children from various schools were set technical challenges and given a small amount of materials to complete them.
Funding and support from Microsoft and Leeds Rotary Club will also mean that the Panchamul Valley project can be replicated in a further 12 schools in the adjacent Andi Khola valley.
In Spring 2019 the Nepal project team helped children from both Harrogate and Nepal create a new musical work based on the Nepali folk story ‘Monkey Boy’, which they performed together in Harrogate.