April 29th 2015. We gathered at Blue Sky Paragliding company headquarters in Pokhara, Nepal to load four jeeps with relief supplies and get organized. We loaded 120 kg rice, 25L fuel, 10 tarps, 10 blankets 15 boxes of water, shovels and picks in our truck and more in the other three. We worked with Karma Flights because they had already established a relay distribution station to make sure supplies got into the right hands.
Our group of Nepalis, French, Canadian, British and Americans hit the road feeling optimistic and slightly apprehensive as roads are bad and it’s raining. We began to fishtail, something wrong with the steering. A quick roadside fix put us back on the highway. In Mugline we bought more blankets. The traffic was thick; everyone drove too fast. As we crested a small hill the gears would not engage. I jump out and saw the back right wheel was sticking out 1.5 feet, just barely on the truck. A few small cars passed us, but the big busses and trucks could not. A mechanic arrived in two minutes, and in 15 minutes the new part was installed, the wheel back on. During this time an angry German film crew criticized us on our poor choice of places to break down.
We got on the village road, a 4x4 mud bath, as it got dark. It was a grueling 4 hours. We arrived at the supply relay station about 10:30pm, set up the tarps just in time for a torrential down pour. The French being French, brought some fancy stinky cheese and fresh homemade bread. We picnicked in the rain as we discussed the distribution strategy for the next day. The earth shook, and Micole, the Nepali independent aid worker reassured me that is was just the landslides.
April 30th 2015, At dawn the rain continued to pour. The relay station was set up 100 meters from a massive landslide that blocked one of the remote access roads. The villagers started showing up around 6AM. They walk down from the steep mountain-side villages that have been cut off. I could see the slide areas all around us.
The issues with distribution became quite obvious: people wanting more than their share, families sending different people to collect, people fighting over supplies and how they should be distributed. None of the groups, like us, at this location were professional relief groups. But Karma Flights had been there for five days and slowly figured out a system. The only doctors on site were four foreigners who happened to be in Nepal, two left that day.
By 10AM, 200 villagers were at the supply station, many having come a few times already. Villagers were sneaking around the ropes just grabbing whatever they could, kids were pulling up stakes from the tents of the aid workers, I saw another villager role up the tarp we slept on and pack it away very quickly.
It was clear they wanted the tarps more than anything else. Everyone was sleeping in shelters, even if their homes still stood. They would not sleep alone, in some cases 5-7 families would all be sleeping in one shelter, for fear of being alone.
Because the destroyed villages are on the mountain sides, they cannot be reached by the aid workers directly, adding to the already extreme challenge of trying to help everyone fairly. One local guy, Sanjay, offered to take me to his village, just 30 minutes walking uphill.
“Everything is broken, all houses destroyed” he told me. On the way we passed over a very damaged suspension bridge and crossed three landslides. Nine out of ten houses I saw on the way were collapsed. Gunchoktar Village was devastated. Sanjay took me to his ruined house “ My sister in law was killed here, I ran away, that why I am alive.”
He explained to me most of the village animals were killed as well. “They will begin to stink and this very bad,” he continued, “we put all our dead family and villagers in one hole, we burn them later when we can get them down the hill.”
When I returned to the supply station, hundreds of people waited. Many vehicles, buses, trucks, relief workers, media, many people were coming into the area making a bad road worse. At a landslide there was a bus that would not pass because the road was too narrow and the cliff side was weak. Twenty vehicles waited to pass. Only one guy was digging, so we mobilized and got more people involved. I saw two military guys just watching and yelled at them in Nepali. They hustled and got to work. At least one did. When I asked why the other wasn't working, he pointed to his gun. We had eight people push this bus pass, it began to slide towards the cliff and just barely made it by a few inches and a lot of good karma.
It was a long, muddy and dangerous but we made it. A few times it made me think, “Everyone is telling me to be safe, but trying to help at all is unsafe.” When we got back to Pokhara I saw my camera bag was missing. My heart sunk “This can't be happening. all my batteries, my lenses, my SD cards, gone, and with them any chance to continue the coverage of this disaster. But I had my camera around my neck and a single battery, thank God.
We cannot open a Nepali account here, the government has taken all the new bank accounts that were opened since the 25th to lend to their own efforts. It’s pretty sad, actually and a sign of how this will go for the next few years. It makes me feel like our efforts are now that much more important.
Hamilton Pevec is a documentary filmmaker. He is not a trained aid worker or a professional fund raiser, but he has teamed up with local Nepalese and friends in the paragliding businesses in Pokhara, where he lives with his wife Devika Gurung, to help get needed supplies into isolated rural areas in the epicenter region. If there are people wishing to send funds to Nepal for this kind of immediate survival aid, you can deposit money in Hamilton Pevec’s account at Alpine Bank. He is able to withdraw it with his bank card in Nepal to buy needed supplies and deliver them. However, he is not a registered non profit and therefore your donation will not receive a tax deductible receipt. You can also donate on line at www.susiladharma.org. Designate Nepal Hamilton in the area where you can say where you want the money to go and it will get to these efforts and you will get a tax receipt.