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The Namaste team give back to Nepal earthquake victims

Sophie Cooke, Habitat for Humanity Australia’s Regional Program Manager for South Asia, shares her experience of volunteering and leading a Global Village team to Nepal last month to help with the disaster recovery efforts six months on from the devastating earthquakes.

We were an odd bunch, a CEO, a futurist, a music teacher, nine in all from different cities and stages of life, thrown together for a week in Nepal. At dinner on our first night our local guide Aalok, assumed we were old friends, somehow we had bonded already and were talking and joking as if we knew each other from our everyday lives.

There were some common threads: our explorations of Kathmandu, our eagerness to get to work, and lots of questions about the week ahead. Most importantly, we were brought together by a common interest, the desire to volunteer for a week with Habitat for Humanity to make a difference to the lives of a family in rural Nepal by working with them to build a house. We’d done our fundraising, organised visas and vaccinations, and finally we were here.

But, plans had changed, and our new assignment was to work with a whole village helping them to recover from two large earthquakes and hundreds of aftershocks which just five’s months earlier had left their village destroyed.

Nepal has had a tough year. After the turmoil of the earthquakes in April and May, the country was passing a new Constitution on the week of our visit to a mixed reception, and strikes and fuel shortages were making travel to some places impossible. The team accepted our shift in location and assignment without hesitation, what mattered was to help in whatever small way we could.


On our first morning in the village located in Kavre we began to appreciate the scale of the devastation caused by the earthquakes, and the huge amount of effort required for families to recover and rebuild. Around 100 houses were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in Kavre, a tiny fraction of the more than 500,000 that were destroyed throughout the country. The houses in the area had been sundried brick built decades earlier by the families living there, and had cracked and crumbled with the shocks of the quake. In a few short minutes the villagers were left with piles of rubble, and the few standing houses were too cracked and dangerous to stay in. Amazingly, no one was killed in in the village.

One woman described how her 18 year old daughter had been inside during the quake, and bricks had fallen and fractured her leg. She had spent the rest of the day so terrified that she wouldn’t let go of her mother, just one small example of the psychological trauma that must have impacted everyone in the village.

However, the people are resilient, and during our five days there we shared smiles and conversations in broken English and learned Nepali words as we worked alongside them to start rebuilding their lives. In the months after the earthquake, Habitat for Humanity had provided families with temporary shelter. This has given them some security while they start the much longer process of permanent rebuilding.

namaste-blog-sophie-1There is lots of work to be done, and each day we worked with more than 100 community members clearing rubble, building retaining walls and widening a road, to enable families to later rebuild their homes. Each family is contributing 200 hours of voluntary labour, and then get paid a daily wage so that they are not missing out on the income they would generally get from other paid work. Everyone is working together, those who aren’t involved in the construction, earn their sweat equity hours helping to cook lunch and bring water to the workers. Ranuki, one of the village leaders tells us that this is one of the positive things to come from the earthquake. Before people in the village were only concerned with their own work and looking after their family, but now they are working together as a team.

Five days in the community flew by. The physical work was tough but rewarding, and we all had a few blisters and sore muscles to show for the hard work. Although our physical contribution to the huge rebuilding efforts was small, we all left hoping that the willingness of a bunch of foreigners to travel to Nepal to spend a week passing rocks and shovelling dirt would provide some reassurance to the community that they are not alone on the long journey to recovery.

To find out more about volunteering in Nepal visit our Global Village page.


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