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A volunteer's life in Nepal

In an extract from her blog, Kerstin Rieger, who is originally from Germany and is currently volunteering with VSO Ireland as a Disaster Management Specialist in Nepal, talks about her experience in a country that is still coming to terms with last year's earthquake.

Using my sales skills

A while ago I had a meeting with Nepal Red Cross in Kathmandu. It was not very far from VSO’s office, so I cycled there. The complex is enormous, with one main building in the front and quite a few additional buildings in the back plus a massive Red Cross car fleet. I was brought to an office on the 3rd floor and I learnt that Nepal Red Cross is the District Support Lead Agency for 20 districts in Nepal.

A second person joined 20 minutes later and it felt like I was back in IBM doing a sales call I have to say! It seems like I haven’t forgotten the skills I gained there so in the end, after listening carefully, emphasizing and asking the right questions at the appropriate time, I got the agreement I wanted. So it was a good meeting after all!

The earth was shaking!

On Friday, February 5th, I came home around 10pm and was in my room when I heard some loud beeping going off in the house. I first thought, oh no the power backup is empty and now we have no internet! But it took only another second to realise that it was the earthquake alarm in our house. Then the earth started to move! I stood underneath the door frame. It took only a few seconds, and then it stopped. I was not sure if I was allowed to move, but I did go quickly to my bed, grabbed my mobile and went back under the doorframe and stood there for another minute.

All was quiet and I decided to go downstairs and outside of the house, where I met with other VSO volunteers and neighbours. It was an awkward feeling, however I was only asking myself how frightened the Nepali people and foreigners must have felt during the major earthquake in April last year. A lot of people spent a few hours outside their houses until they felt comfortable to go back in.

Field visits

For our first field visit we went to Gorkha District and then we stopped in Dhading for one night. I was curious to find out how the situation was in the districts, what worked well and what they needed help and support with. We started off on Tuesday morning from the VSO office with a team of four. A Minibus was hired which brought us safely down to Gorkha, which was a good 4.5-hour journey west of Kathmandu.

The District Support Lead Agency ‘CARE Nepal’ was so kind to pick us up at our guesthouse and we made our way to meet the Chief District Officer (CDO) of Gorkha. It was a quick courtesy visit, but very important that the CDO made time to see us. 

Afterwards we visited the CARE Nepal office in Gorkha and had a good meeting with Madhav. He showed us his district map, explained the VDC (Village Development Committee) structure and showed us the location of Barpak, the epicentre of the April 2015 earthquake.  It was in a very remote area and he invited us to go with him the next day to see it. I got very excited, but also a bit frightened, as I did not really know what to expect. We also met with some of the INGOs and NGOs to discuss good practices, what works well, what challenges they are facing and where we might be able to support.

Barpak, epicentre of the 2015 earthquake

Barpak, the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake

I had mixed feelings when I woke up that morning. I was excited about getting the opportunity to visit the epicentre, however I also wasn’t sure what to expect really and how bad the impressions would be and what we would see. The 5-hour road trip from Gorkha was horrendous to say the least. The roads were only paved for the first 30-45 min, and then we drove on sandy, dusty roads, a lot filled with gravel and deep holes everywhere.

My colleague Shanti and I jumped up and down in the back of the jeep, sometimes my head would touch the roof or my elbow would touch the door. I first tried the seatbelt, but soon decided that this was no use at all, it strangled me more than it helped. It felt like all my organs were reorganised in my body!

We also passed a hydropower construction site where people were about to complete a 4km tunnel system. This was impressive, taking into consideration the geographical area and accessibility. In the small village where we had lunch we saw some tents from Oxfam and there was also a birthing centre that was set up by the International Medical Corps after the earthquake. Shanti and I got out of the jeep and went on a stroll around the village. Some houses were still intact, but mostly with big cracks or some were unsafe to live in.

Then we got closer to the area where it must have hit hardest. We walked through lanes with lots of rubble on either side, collapsed houses, areas where only parts of houses were left and abandoned. We met an older woman when we stopped at a house which had fallen in.

The woman told Shanti that her mother and son were still buried underneath the rubble. She asked if we knew of any diggers that would come up here to could get their bodies out. If a woman stands in front of you and you hear these heartbreaking stories you know how fortunate you are in life.

The only thing I could think of was that no digger would ever come up here in any foreseeable future and I wondered how this woman would survive every day looking onto her house, which was completely destroyed, knowing that two of her loved ones were buried underneath.

Volunteer with VSO Ireland

If you would like to help VSO Ireland improve the lives of people in Nepal, and other communities around the world, please take a look at our volunteer vacancies.

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