I will never forget that first message from a friend in Nepal about the earthquake in April 2015. As smaller earthquakes frequently happened such messages were not uncommon, but soon I received more messages.
When I was still working in Nepal we got earthquake trainings every once in a while. Everyone knew Kathmandu was expecting a big earthquake in the near future and that the consequences would be devastating.
The country where I spent several times volunteering as an english teacher, where I did my anthropological research for my master thesis and where I spent two years working as a human rights field officer was now suffering.
Meanwhile I was far away in my home and there was nothing I could do. It took me days to find out that everyone I knew was safe.
Volunteering with All Hands Nepal
It had been 5 years since my last visit to Nepal. When an organisation asked me to help their local partner organizations with advice, I immediately booked my ticket. Hopefully I could inspire and motivate the organizations with sharing my experiences in Haiti where I worked after the earthquake, but I wanted to do more.
I liked the direct and simple approach of an organisation called All Hands. They offer practical help such as clearing rubble and building temporary learning centers. Disaster relief is not an easy job. In the midst of chaos, when the first survival needs are barely met, it is difficult to know what is needed.
What is the best way to help without causing harm or dependency in the long term? I am normally quite skeptical about unskilled volunteers going to a disaster zone, but All Hands somehow found a concept to put them to good use.
Cleaning rubble and building schools
It was just two months after the first earthquake and rubble was still everywhere. While most Nepali’s were quite active in cleaning up the rubble and rebuilding their homes, for some this was a more difficult task.
Elderly people, widowed women and single mothers had less support and were therefore the primary focus of All Hands who would sent a team to help clear the rubble. All Hands was also helping damaged schools to build temporary learning centers from bamboo.
It was physical hard work, but my month with All Hands was a wonderful experience. Every morning we would leave with a team of well spirited volunteers and a bus full of tools to help families clearing the rubble from what was once their home. Sometimes we managed to salvage valuable items from under the rubble such as pictures or kitchen ware.
It was good to be of use in a more practical way and see quick results. All Hands was making an impact and I felt happy that, even if it was only for a month, I was part of that. THey gave me a chance to do something back for the country that I consider to be my second home.
Practical information: volunteering with All Hands Nepal.
Volunteering with All Hands in Nepal was a great experience and they are still looking for volunteers in Sindhupalchowk as part of their Nepal earthquake recovery project. No skills are needed but be prepared to do hard physical work. They provide free basic accommodation and food.