Report from Steve Mannshardt, May 9, 2015

Steve is Executive Director of WWEP, the organization through which Durango Friends support the Mitrata Children's Home.

The Beginning of the Rebuilding Process

I departed the USA on April 29 with tickets to Nepal in hand, having planned one of my semi-annual trips many months before. Reading the reports of massive damage, I was 99% sure that I would not get as far as Nepal. My tentative plan was to stay in Delhi, a stop that I typically make along the way, and work from there. I wasn’t sure how effective I could be there in Delhi and it often felt very frustrating to be stuck in what seemed like a powerless situation. But what I soon discovered is that I could indeed function as an effective middle-man for all of the people who were trying to communicate with each other. With the internet down all across Nepal and land line phones in a total state of disarray, mobile phones and social media apps were taking the lead in keeping the residents in touch.

As the hours and days went on, I found myself not only confirming the safety and well-being of dozens of colleagues but also disseminating that information to numerous persons in Nepal, in the US and throughout the world. So what I thought would be a less-than-effective remote office in a distant country, ended up being the key hub for locating displaced persons and coordinating relief efforts.

To sum up what we now know about our affected partners in Nepal: 

1) All 35 of the students supported at the Mitrata Nepal orphanage have been located safe. The 17 students living in the facility itself are at the home, as it sustained no damage, although they have been sleeping outside to allay their fears of being trapped during recurring aftershocks. Of the 18 living off-site, some have lost their homes due to damage but are staying with friends or relatives.

2) 98 of the 102 students supported through the Mitrata-Nepal Foundation have been located safe, with the others still being tracked down in very remote villages. 25 of the students live at a boarding school, which did not sustain serious damage. The remaining 77 students attend dozens of schools throughout the Kathmandu Valley and reports of facility damage have been mixed with some schools not being usable at the current time. Construction techniques vary widely and can be the difference between no apparent damage and total collapse. All schools were on their end of year break at the time of the disaster and the re-opening of the new term has been delayed 2 weeks until May 15 for schools with little or no damage.

3) One of the newer Kathmandu schools (built in 2014) where we sponsor students sustained virtually no damage and the children are effectively back to normal apart from rattled nerves.

4) Our remote villages did not fare so well. The district of Sindhupalchowk sustained the most damage in the country and also the highest percentage of resident deaths. We have eight schools that we support in the village of Sipapokhare, a cluster of small settlements high on a ridge line located three hours from Kathmandu. 160 of the 800 residents perished in the wake of the collapses, as 99% of the homes were leveled. Of the eight schools, only one remained entirely intact being that it was built in the past few years with modern materials. Three of the eight schools were damaged such that they can be back online with minimal repairs. The remaining four schools were reduced to rubble and will need to be rebuilt. This village has a large population and able bodied local residents have already begun to salvage materials to begin rebuilding.

5) The small village of Mendo contains a three-room primary school which we have not only supported but had also engaged in repairing the structure which had fallen into disrepair. Major landslides in the area have blocked the only access road to this village for the past two weeks and reports of the situation there have been thin at best. Early reports tell us that all of the homes were destroyed and the school sustained some damage. The village is an eight hour drive from Kathmandu (on a good day) so trying to get staff up there amid the damaged roads and the earth-moving machines has been delayed.

6) Moments ago, a much-awaited report came in from the small village of Singba on the outcome of the schools. The primary school on the hillside was the next in line for our upcoming Classroom Structural Repair program. Damage to the ten-room school is significant (one end wall collapsed) but things look like they can resume with minimal repair.

7) KEEP, one of the larger NGOs in Nepal, has been working with us for years and sustained virtually no problems. They have been spearheading many relief efforts and also helped us in aiding some of the smaller organizations which we serve. The teamwork shown by all parties involved in the disaster has been heroic.

8) Crystal Mountain Treks, which heads our porter supplies programs, has made great efforts to rescue and supply the residents of some remote villages, including the ones at the epicenter of the quake. These small villages were the focus of one of our earlier village support programs.

Overall, the damage in our supported areas has far exceeded our financial abilities. The scale is simply too great to address all of the needs. Our Board of Directors is currently discussing the best and most effective direction to take in terms of which areas will benefit from our available resources. Historically, the Nepali government has been less than effective in ideal times and currently has been woefully remiss in taking effective charge of the aid and reconstruction process in light of the quake. Luckily, one of the more admirable traits of so many of the Nepali people is the will to survive and to endure despite great hardships. We have already seen tremendous strides being made by local residents and organizations towards beginning the rebuilding process.

I greatly appreciate those donors who made immediate contributions, as this allowed us to respond with much needed supplies for shelter in the devastated villages. It will be a long road to recovery for Nepal. It will likely take years, if not decades, as the present governmental structure is typically under great strain under better circumstances. Luckily we have been able to work independently to great success, thanks to our hard-working partner organizations in the urban and rural areas of Nepal. I see the year ahead as being a great challenge but also the beginning of a path to reconstruction.

Steve Mannshardt, President and Executive Director
WorldWide Education Partnerships for Nepal
steve@wwep.org
(01) 415 730-9740
www.nepal.wwep.org