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Nepal Reflections One Year On

In January, Global Village coordinator Sarah Garden led a team of 35 volunteers to work alongside a community in Kavre, where Habitat for Humanity is undertaking an earthquake recovery project. With the end of last month marking the one year anniversary of the first earthquake, Sarah reflects on her time in Nepal.

From the moment I stepped outside of Kathmandu airport I was struck with excitement. This was one of those places – somewhere that I instantly loved. I can only describe it as magical mayhem with the smallest taxis I’ve ever been in, a whirlwind of dust, cows walking on the streets, narrow buildings and tight streets that have you walking on top of shopfronts as cars whizz past.

I have never taken so many photos! Walking the streets you had to remember to look up, down and all around as not to bump your head on the newly constructed beams that line the streets, put in place to hold up the many structures shaken from last year’s earthquakes.

You can find yourself walking for hours, losing yourself in the winding streets, looking at the many decaying but sturdy buildings with their beautifully carved wooden doorways and visiting many of the monuments in the squares that are scattered throughout the capital.


The real spirit of Kathmandu is found in its many squares. The colours of flowers, flags and temples are breathtaking. Many monuments were damaged in last year’s disasters and speaking to fellow team members who had previously travelled to Nepal, they couldn’t believe how much had been destroyed. Despite the obvious destruction there was calmness and a feeling that life was going on, a true reflection of the Nepalese spirit.


Before hitting the road to Kavre for a week of building I thought I would treat myself to 20 minutes of quiet time. This is a must do if you ever travel to Kathmandu. I recommend heading to a rooftop restaurant at one of the squares to take in the view and enjoy a plate of momos, a dumpling-like Nepalese dish. On a clear day you will see the surrounding mountains, monkeys jumping from rooftop to rooftop and the bustle of the city below – for me it was one of those moments where you just have to take it all in, looking back on my time in Nepal I was always seemed to be having one of those ‘moments’!


It is hard to imagine that what I experienced in January was a “quiet” Kathmandu. With strikes continuing and a fuel supply that was irregular and available at inflated prices cars, buses and bikes on the streets had almost halved. There was so much I enjoyed in Kathmandu that I almost forgot the ‘challenges’ that lay ahead of us. Unfortunately, both the emergency and the recovery phases our work have been slowed by institutional delays as well as the blockades of fuel and materials which have been enforced as a protest to the new constitution. Power was sporadic, heated water rarely available and the temperature dropped to 4 degrees at night. These small challenges that we faced helped us understand in some small way how hard this last year has been for Nepal’s people and we were ready to get our hands dirty – even if it meant an ice cold shower at the end of the day!

On our first morning we walked through the fog and down the mountain. Aalok, our host from Habitat Nepal pointed out the work volunteers before us had been able to complete. Volunteers have been working in this community since September where they cleared and organised rubble, built retaining walls and widened the roads to make the village more accessible to emergency vehicles in the future.


We were a group of 35 working alongside seven families to build the outhouses for their future homes. Unfortunately the blockades had created a supply shortage and that meant that house construction in the village had been delayed, but this didn’t stop us from helping out where we could. Each day we worked over seven sites with family members and local skilled labourers. We dug trenches, shucked bamboo, laid bricks, mixed mortar, created bamboo frames, shifted materials and rendered. Looking back on this week I get an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. The volunteers I worked alongside looked out for each other, they made time to learn about the families and there was a real sense of teamwork.

Throughout the week we were able to speak to all seven families, learning about each of their stories. The winter was hard on the families and life had become more difficult. One community member we worked with, Jamuna, a 37 year old mother of three, shared her thoughts on the team working alongside her family, “We are so happy and thankful for the volunteers. The whole community is very happy and pleased that the volunteers are here helping as well. It gives the whole community hope and excitement. We believe that we are all the same in this world, and we are happy that these volunteers think the same. We are always laughing at how they are taking pictures of the chickens and cows! We are always get up in the morning looking and waiting for the volunteers to come, they work so hard!”

The week flew by. Although our physical contribution was, in the grand scheme of things, small, we all left knowing that we had provided hope to this community. They were able to see some progress and know that soon they would have a safe and decent home again.


As I walked away from this experience I saw that out of the rubble and loss there is a great amount of hope. Whether you are on the busy streets of Kathmandu or in a rural village, the Nepalese people have an incredibly strong spirit. Habitat has seen the rubble cleared, walls constructed, foundations laid and communities building back their lives. One year on it is important to look forward and to continue to work alongside communities so that they can begin to feel like their life is returning to normal.

I want to thank my fellow team members who came with an openness to learn, were patient and with whom I was able to share so many laughs. We were a group of people from different backgrounds, ages and experiences and we all left with a sense of accomplishment.

Habitat will be building 87 homes in this community. There is a lot of work to be done, and Habitat Australia is inviting you to join in on this rebuilding process. You can find out more on our upcoming builds page”.

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