I first visited Fulpingkot, a village in the Sindhupalchowk district, Nepal, in November 2011 and had wanted to return ever since. I was on the verge of contacting PHASE about this when I heard the awful news about the earthquake in May 2015. It felt so real hearing news of the villagers that I had spent time with a just few years earlier. I arranged to travel out to Nepal in mid-November and was pleased to hear that I was to return to Fulpingkot.
I spent one night in Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu valley. I ventured into the old town in the dark and quickly saw the significant damage in Durbar square. We were shocked to see about 200 people queuing along the main road with empty gas canisters in the hope of being able to get some fuel. There are political problems with India which are causing severe fuel shortages and also a lack of medicines in Nepal.
Early the next morning I met two of the heath workers I was to mentor in Fulpingkot and also an Auxillary Nurse Midwife (ANM) who was travelling to Hagam (another village in the Sindhupalchowk district). We travelled to Sindhupalchowk in a PHASE truck, passing many landslides on the way. Along the route there were numerous parked buses and lorries immobilised by the lack of fuel. The roads were noticeably less busy than on my previous visit and the buses that were running were very overloaded – they often tilted at alarming angles due to the many people on their roofs!
Our first job on arrival in Fulpingkot was to get some water. I learnt that the earthquake had disrupted the usual water sources and so water was in short supply. Water came from a spring which was a 5 or 10 minute walk away and, for most of my stay, it was available via a tap for about 1 hour per day. A large barrel was filled up for use by the villagers during the rest of the day. The lack of water has adversely affected the agricultural system as many of the crops are very dependent on plentiful water.
My home for the next 11 days was to be a large tent shared with the ANMs and also with Pratap, a PHASE agricultural advisor, who arrived a few days after us. The health post had been completely destroyed by the earthquake along with every other building in the area including, sadly, the house that I had stayed in 4 years previously.
What struck me immediately was how the colours of the landscape had changed. Previously the hillsides were dotted with terracotta and golden-brown dwellings, but now the whole area was covered with corrugated iron roofs and brightly coloured tarpaulins which reflected the sun. There were also many blue tents, such as our temporary health post. The hillsides are scarred by many huge landslides which almost look like waterfalls. It must have been truly terrifying to have been in the area whilst the landslides were happening.
On my third morning we experienced another earthquake which I believe registered at 5.3 on the Richter scale. This unfortunately caused some further damage to the health post at Dhuskot.
I was amazed and humbled by the resilience of the villagers. It is notable that they are living with the real possibility of further earthquakes which must make it difficult to contemplate rebuilding.
I met a young girl who had been dug out of the rubble of her house following the earthquake in May, and I heard and saw numerous vivid descriptions and mimes of what it had felt like to be in the earthquake. I don’t think that I had previously appreciated how quickly the damage had been caused.
I also had lots of time to see first-hand the excellent work that PHASE are engaged in. The local people were full of praise for the help that they received, particularly in the days following the earthquake. I was told how, immediately following the disaster, many people only had the clothes that they were wearing. They explained that, at this time, it was also raining and there was no shelter or food. Yet, within only a few days, PHASE had managed to provide food and clothing.
I spent the following days attending the daily clinics with the PHASE staff. We also visited several schools and went to villages to give training in health education. In Kalleri, a nearby village, we met Janak, Deepika and Newton, a group of PHASE health workers. They introduced themselves to me and then proceeded to talk about antenatal and postnatal care and encouraging local women to attend the clinic for check-ups.
I also spent time with Pratap who told me all about the PHASE seed distribution programme. Being a keen gardener I was interested to see the variety of crops being grown on small plots of land and, of course, enjoyed eating them too! We also discussed the work that is being done to teach different methods of horticulture in other PHASE project areas.
In the evenings I was asked to give tutorials on all sorts of health conditions to Deepika, Newton and Janak. We discussed cases that we had seen during the day and many topics about which they wished to know more. They were very enthusiastic, keen to learn and fun to teach.
The PHASE staff have an excellent relationship with the local community. They work hard and are very much appreciated. They were incredibly welcoming to me and thirsty for knowledge and I feel very privileged to have been able to spend this time in Fulpingkot, and also to meet up with old friends.
PHASE supports experienced volunteers (GPs or teachers) to work with our staff in Nepal. If you are interested in volunteering in Nepal please click here.