Claudia Balkhausen, Welthungerhilfe Advisor for Training in Financial Management, was in Kathmandu to give a training to the Nepal office staff. She was here when the earthquake struck, and has been here since, supporting the office and the Emergency Relief Team. She is still shaken by the experience she had to go through, but more than the fear and the scare, what she remembers the most is the way people helped each other.
We all shared the same fear
“We all ran out of our guesthouse,” she recalls “As soon as we reached a safe open space, the staff got busy distributing water for all the guests. The local staff and the foreign guests spent the night in the open, sleeping on chairs with thin blankets or on the floor. “During the night,” continues Claudia “we all squeezed together in the courtyard. We were not able to sleep, we all shared the same fear, but we tried to reassure each other, without any differentiation at all”. For the second night, the guesthouse managed to arrange some sort of protection against the rain, cover and mattresses, so that everybody could, still in the open, but a bit more comfortably try to sleep but aftershocks still remain.
Dutch bikers distribute bread
The guesthouse where Claudia was staying, the Yellow House, is famous also for its bakery and attracts many tourists and expats who come for their renowned breakfast. When a group of Dutch mountain-bikers joined the other guests, the management of Yellow House jumped on the opportunity. They filled the bikers’ backpacks with the remaining bread, and sent them during the entire day to distribute it around the areas surrounding Kathmandu. Since that day, the guesthouse has been coordinating a group of local volunteers, who – joined by some foreigners – meet every evening to discuss the most urgent needs and ways to offer support.
Such spontaneous solidarity initiatives seem to be quite common all over Kathmandu. A German auditor who also found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, spent the first night with the family of the guide that was accompanying her to the project areas. “They just welcomed her as part of the family, and she ended up spending the night in the open, together with around 100 Nepali people, who all shared food and blankets”, explains Claudia. She has one more first-hand experience of local solidarity to share.
Volunteers prepares water purifying kits
When she and some colleagues visited a local partner yesterday they found that they had established a temporary compound in a school currently closed (all schools have been closed by the Government until 14 May at least). Here, Clean Energy Nepal (CEN) is organizing the collection, packaging and distribution of soap, received from Environment Public Health. Dozens of volunteers are gathered in the school’s courtyard, wash the plastic bottles, fill them with water purifier, put stickers with instructions, and then go around the city distributing them, so that people still camped outside can, after almost one week from the earthquake, at least wash themselves.
Among the worrying news we receive of unrest among the population, tired and upset for the delay in aid delivery, these small examples of human solidarity go a long way in lifting our spirits.