Reposting our update on distribution of earthquake funds for those of you who may have missed the story during the bustle of the holidays…
Rebuilding Nepal Final Update
Rukman Sunwar, kitchen staff (wearing the hat), with his parents and children in front of their flattened home.
Amazing–giving out more than $80,000 to 19 families in Nepal was nothing short of amazing.
We all gathered in the village of Chaurikarka, just outside of Lukla airport in the Everest Region. With everyone’s home village scattered north, south, east, and west, some people walked two, three, or even four days to reach this central meeting point. It is a journey they make every season to reach the start of the Everest Base Camp trek, and we timed the meeting so that some of them who had work this season would already be in Lukla and not need to make a separate trip. Instead of flying into Lukla, I also hiked in (with my boyfriend), and it was a few days of stiff climbing up and down—a reminder of how extreme the mountains are, not only for trekking, but also for farming and for transporting in construction supplies that will be needed for rebuilding.
Dawa, his family, and their new home.
Arriving at the home of Lead Nepali Guide for Mountain Madness, Dawa Sherpa, his wife greeted us with tea and potato pancakes (one of my favorite Sherpa meals!). Dawa had completed reconstruction of his home only 2 weeks before our arrival, so the whole family was enjoying bedrooms, kitchen, warmth, and comfort. Dawa returned from trekking the same day, along with Mark Gunlogson, the President of Mountain Madness —and then we got down to some serious business: counting money.
Eight million rupees in cash was fun to hold…but required a team effort to divide and count!
I should tell you that Nepali money feels a bit like monopoly money—$1000 equals roughly 100,000 Nepali rupees, so $80,000 equals EIGHT MILLION rupees. By the time we had converted everything to Nepali rupees, we had roughly twenty-eight pounds of cash. It’s more money than any of us have held in our hands, and we took a moment to enjoy it. It then took 5 of us an hour to divide and count everything—that’s five man hours of counting. Whew.
In the morning, our 9:00 am program started right on Nepali time at 10:30 am. It was a crisp, cool, sunny day in the mountains, and we all sat outside together. I began by thanking everyone for their work. I’ve written this in an earlier update, but it bears repeating: at a time when homes were collapsed and families were struggling just to eat and sleep, our Mountain Madness team stayed with our group and ensured that we got back to Kathmandu safely. I couldn’t have been more grateful nor more proud. We have truly awesome staff—hard working, honest, and always with a smile on their faces. They have become family over the 8 years I’ve worked with Mountain Madness, and I love working with our team! Mark also thanked the staff and noted that it is because of everyone’s great work over the years that so many former clients and their friends were moved to donate to help rebuild.
Awesome work from the Mountain Madness staff support our treks every step of the way for years!
This gathering was the first time everyone was together since the earthquake, so we spent some time discussing what everyone had experienced after the earthquake. Most people went home, cobbled together some kind of temporary housing, and set to work planting their fields. Although the Everest Region is supported by tourism, most of the staff are from the middle mountains of Nepal and are reliant on subsistence agriculture for their food. The start of the planting season came shortly after the earthquake, and villagers could not afford to miss that agricultural window. They spent the summer working their fields and most of them had no free time to focus on home construction—they made do in tents, bamboo huts, or other temporary structures.
Temporary shelter may mean 6 months, a year, or more.
Some quick statistics:
- Of the 26 Nepali staff on our trip, 6 had no damage to their homes, 4 had partial damage, and 16 had homes that were destroyed or damaged to the point they were too dangerous to stay in. (Of those 16, only 2 had substantial financial help from wealthy relatives.)
- Of the 20 families with home damage, 18 were sleeping in tents or rough huts through the monsoon and 2 were in Kathmandu. Now, 2 people have rebuilt their homes—16 are still in temporary shelters and the 2 in Kathmandu will also stay in temporary shelters when they go to rebuild.
Reviewing damage to houses.
- Of the 20 families with home damage, 2 have completed reconstruction, 4 more have started rebuilding, 3 said they haven’t started for financial reasons, and those 3 plus another 11 said they haven’t started because they have had no free time in the agricultural season.
- Most people have not yet salvaged supplies from their old houses and demolished the old building to clear space for new construction for two reasons: with the fields full of crops, there is no space to pile stone and wood, and their neighbors are afraid that demolition work will result in falling stone, etc. that could damage nearby crops. After harvest, everyone plans to start salvage and demolition—all by hand.
Ngima Nuru Sherpa, yak driver, with his wife and children in front of their destroyed home.
We spent some time discussing what is happening in everyone’s village, the rising cost of labor and materials, the comparative cost of carpenters in different villages, and ways to improve seismic stability as they rebuild. My boyfriend, master builder Andy Mueller, kindly sourced and supplied a handout in Nepali that showed simple ways to strengthen Nepali houses. Although this information was produced by the Nepali government, not one person in our crew had ever seen it before. Information isn’t being effectively disseminated to villages, so we gave everyone a copy and asked that they also share it with other people in their villages.
Everyone wants to build stronger, safer homes, but they are struggling with cost limitations. Materials like concrete and rebar are very expensive, especially once they are portered into a remote area not along the road. Wood is also scarce, and in some areas is the most expensive building material. Labor and material costs have nearly doubled since the earthquake and with the ongoing border blockade. Around Chaurikarka, homes that might have cost $7,000 – $8,000 are now costing $12,000 – $15,000. Construction may be slightly less expensive in the middle mountains due to more local materials like bamboo and wood, or better road access in some areas. It remains to be seen how much the homes will actually cost, especially with costs continuing to rise.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
Handing out the money!
Together—you, me, all of us—from donating and from helping to spread the campaign on Facebook and other outlets, we raised $87,456 (as of Oct 16, when the campaign closed). Special thanks to stellar fundraiser, Gillian Mueller in Washington DC, for an event that raised over $10,000 and also deep gratitude to major gift donors ($2,000-$5,000) Katie Hoar, Jilyan Perry and her West Seattle fundraiser, M&M and our anonymous major gift donors as well!! I was also amazed to see how many people took a moment to donate $20, $50, $100 and more and also the dozens of people who gave multiple times—those donations really added up. Your support counts! The only fees that came out of your donations were the obligatory fees that GoFundMe takes out, $6,909, and also about $250 in bank fees for wire transfers. No administrative fees or other operating expenses came out of the money you donated.
Financial issues in Nepal are rarely transparent, and it was very important to me to be clear with all of our team (and with all of you donors) about the money we raised. I spent time in advance talking with Dawa
Sherpa (Nepali Guide) and Dambar Rai (Head Cook) to determine how we would divide the money. Our team is mostly Sherpa and Rai ethnic groups, and I wanted to be sure that both predominant ethnic groups had a voice in the decisionâ€making. Together, we came up with amounts that seemed right to everyone. I then printed out a full accounting, handed it out, and reviewed everything with them, step by step, showing that not one rupee was unaccounted for. They had never heard of anyone in any NGO program in Nepal, doing this. (Which is not to say no one has, but if they have, it is a rare instance.) I opened up the discussion to questions, making sure that everyone was completely clear about the money before we distributed any of it.
Reviewing the finances, line by line.
Clear financial accounting that everyone could review—setting a high
standard for transparency.
As I had hiked in over the prior week, I had enquired in villages about reconstruction funds and learned that the government had not yet given any money to anyone I encountered. Small grassroots nonâ€profits from other countries, often with a long-standing relationship to a particular village or area, had distributed reconstruction funds of $1000-$2000 per family in some villages. A few members of our team who live in Chaurikarka had received similar funds, but more than 15 of our 20 gathered staff had received absolutely nothing from the government nor from foreign non-profits. (To be clear, I am talking about money for reconstruction, not temporary relief supplies of food or tents.)
From the Rebuilding Nepal campaign, we gave out:
- $4650 each to 14 families with destroyed homes.
- $2600 each to 6 families (4 with only partial home damage and 2 with destroyed homes but substantial support from wealthy relatives in Kathmandu or the U.S.).
- $792 for repairing the Chaurikarka community stupa (at the request of the community which is the home village of Mountain Madness in Nepal and because Buddhists believe that the religious stupa must be repaired first in order to protect the whole village).
Please Note: the amounts above are converted back into dollars and vary slightly from the actual amount due to multiple wire transfers at slightly different exchange rates. Full accounting that the team reviewed is available here.
Our Mountain Madness team with the funds they received.
HOPEFUL FOR THE FUTURE
Saying thank you with prayer scarves.
The ability to substantially contribute to people’s lives, wellâ€being, and home reconstruction filled me with both joy and sadness. The whole team came up one by one to thank us and put Buddhist prayer scarves around our necks, which brought me to tears. I was happy that nearly 550 of us came together to help these families rebuild. I was honored that we were able to put money in their hands, which is what they need more than anything right now. I was proud that we raised so much together and are able to give a truly substantial amount towards the cost of their homes and the security of their futures. I was also saddened to hear how much they have struggled during the past few months, how hard life and living conditions have been, and how uncertain their future is. Although I feel we have given more than I could have hoped, and more than any of our team expected, it is still not enough to complete a home. It’s uncertain if the government will offer any financial assistance, particularly in these areas which were further from the epicenter of the quake.
Sukra Mohora, kitchen staff, with his wife, sister, mother, and children aged 3 years and 15 days—his wife was about 3 months pregnant when the earthquake occurred, and they’ve been sleeping in a makeshift shelter ever since.
For the time being, however, our staff were ebullient to have cash in hand to begin rebuilding their homes. They were buoyed not only by the financial support but also by the emotional support of knowing that people halfway around the world are concerned about them and interested in their wellâ€being and their future. When I asked them about the future, they had their characteristic smiles—and an optimism that will help sustain them in the months to come. Nepali people have always proven to be amazingly resourceful and selfâ€reliant. They have lived in these mountains, under the harshest conditions, for centuries, and although none of us can see how it’s all going to work out, they approach it dayâ€byâ€day, doing what they can, and hoping for the best.
GET SOME, GIVE SOME
One final activity was left for our program…Mark Gunlogson brought over a huge bag of clothing donated by Helly Hansen, one of Mountain Madness’s corporate partenrs. Most of it was children’s clothing, so after handing out the adult sizes, we made an unusual request of our team. If you’ve traveled with me, you know that I’m often doing unusual things—like gathering clients and staff for tea together so that we can learn about each other’s lives or having clients serve the final meal to all the staff after they’ve worked so hard for us on the trip. I explained to the staff that Mark & I wanted to do something a bit different. We often give them clothing for themselves and their families, but this time we asked them each to take some children’s clothing and, as they hiked back to their home villages, to give the clothing to someone very poor. This not only enabled us to reach some rural families with warm clothing before the winter, but equally important in my opinion, it allowed our staff to be not only beneficiaries but also benefactors. They were now in the position to help someone else—and that is an empowering experience.
So that’s how we wrapped up…on a high note and hopeful for the future!
SO MUCH GRATITUDE TO ALL OF
YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!
NEXT IN NEPAL…
The Go Fund Me campaign for trek staff has ended, but rebuilding in Nepal continues. My next step is to continue my work through Changing Lives Nepal (CLN), the charitable fund I started in 2008. It is CLN’s goal to find a better, more cost effective method of building in Nepal, rebuild a school and a community center, and continue our current programs: the children’s home, support for schools, and organic cash crops to support rural families. I was in Nepal this winter looking into building designs that use locally available materials.
Could rammed earth homes be a solution to Nepal’s crisis?
This and more on the Changing Lives Nepal Facebook page or in the newsletter.
Rebuilding in Nepal is a long-term process that will take years. Please consider making a 2016 donation to Changing Lives Nepal to support innovation in rebuilding. Thank you!