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The master builders of broken Nepal

June 01, 2015 15:15 IST

Helping Hands, a group of young volunteers, hopes to rebuild a “stronger, prettier and a prouder Nepal” after the Himalayan nation was rattled by the April 25 earthquake. Anusha Subramanian reports from Kathmandu.

Helping Hands volunteers build temporary shelters in Nepal's quake-hit remote villages. Photograph:  Anusha Subramanian  

It all started with a small group of volunteers, who got together to deliver much-needed medical supplies to hospitals around Kathmandu after a mega earthquake shook Nepal leaving more than 8,000 dead and over 23,000 wounded. More than a month after the April 25 disaster, even as aftershocks continue to give the Himalayan nation a scare, the team of Good Samaritans has grown now into a large organisation -- Helping Hands. They work round the clock delivering relief to remote areas which are difficult to access; building temporary shelters for those left homeless. Government data indicates that there are approximately six lakh houses that need to be rebuilt across the affected districts.

A young member of Helping Hands, Shashank Agrawal, put his garment business on hold to help his nation get back on its feel. “Initially, when we started we did not give it much of a thought. All we knew was to get relief material and deliver it to remote villages,” he said.

But the going got tough. With 25 kg of relief material in his back-pack, Shashank trekked through narrow paths to get to the remote Yarsha village development committee in Rasuwa district, 120 km from Kathmandu.  “The road was just not motorable,” he recalled.  

Helping Hands has so far dispatched over 500 loader trucks with aid such as tarpaulins, rice, dal, salt, oil, spices and blankets and the effort is still on. Its members initially started pooling in from their personal resources -- be it money or in kind -- but now they get contributions from across society.

“When we started it was a small effort. We belong to this place and have been lucky to survive the disaster. We felt we had to be there to help those who are left with nothing. We slowly started posting our efforts on Facebook and that helped us get a lot of aid,” says Chirag Goyal, an active member of Helping Hands.

“I was aimless and just carried on with life, but this disaster here in my country has changed it all. I feel responsible for my people and I am doing all that I can in my own small way as part of Helping Hands.”

The scenic Bhimtar village has been reduced to rubble. Photograph: Anusha Subramanian    

More than eight million Nepalese are directly affected by the quake. There are millions who still need immediate food assistance and it will take months to get people access to all their basic necessities.

“Helping Hands was formed to provide relief to people directly affected by the great earthquake. With the motto ‘More Hands, More Places, More Smiles’, we try to serve the needy individuals and families. We only hope that our initiative will help a little to rebuild a stronger, prettier and a prouder Nepal,” said one of the members.

While relief efforts continue, Helping Hands has taken upon itself the larger task of building temporary shelters for the villagers whose houses have been completely destroyed.

The youngsters, along with a few other volunteers who are not part of the group, have recently built 134 tin shelters in Bhimtar village for poor fishermen.

Bhimtar lies in the upper reaches of Sindhupal Chowk and falls on the way to Melamchi, 60 km from the capital. Once a scenic village with the Indravati river flowing across, it has now been transformed into rubble.  

The drive isn’t easy but some Helping Hand members doubled up as drivers. Relief has been delivered; a few shelters built.   

Around 6 lakh houses flattened by the quake need to be rebuilt across the affected districts in Nepal. Photograph: Anusha Subramanian  

Helping Hands, which was started by a few Nepalese youth, saw support pouring in from neighbouring nations. Revanth Yalamanchili, a photographer and documentary filmmaker from Hyderabad who has visited Nepal often for holidays and treks, is now volunteering with the group -- going to as many places as he can and building shelters. “It’s their passion and purpose that led me to work with Helping Hands,” he said.

Similarly, Champak Deka from Asaam, who was in Nepal during the earthquake and was volunteering with some local organisations such as Green Watch and Swach Nepal, has now joined in. “Helping Hands has enthusiastic youth with noble and compassionate attitudes to contribute towards the society and its people.” 

“What I liked is that they are meticulous and organised in their approach. They personally go and survey the area before making a commitment. They believe in action more than wasting time in contemplation in a disastrous situation of this nature using whatever resources available within their reach. For people like me, and others who are working with them they bring hope and optimism and more so for the victims most affected by the disaster,” Deka added.     

Palma Perenyi, a Hungarian photographer who was in Nepal for a holiday, also stayed back to work for the quake-hit. She helped build temporary shelters in Bhimtar and is now working on putting up a photo exhibition in Kathmandu along with few other photographers to raise funds.

Helping Hands now plans to build 500 temporary shelters in Dholkha district's Chilanka, Thamichagu and Malpu villages, which fell in the second's quake's epicentre.

Anusha Subramanian in Kathmandu