With inputs from Dr Christie Lam who is the founder of the 'Future Village' project and professor of Anthropology (specialising in Nepal) at Osaka University.
After more than one week of a relentless international effort in emergency assistance after the devastating earthquake in Nepal, we are yet to see aid arrive at some villages. This is the story of one such village - Katunge.
Located approximately 100km from Kathmandu, this small village has a population of about 6400 (700 families). It is accessible by dirt road from Nepal's Dhadhing district; the journey takes two to three hours usually, but during monsoons, the only option is a five- to six-hour trek. I know about this village due to my familiarity with the only non-governmental initiative in that area, Future Village, which before it got destroyed last week was providing education, safe water, health and sustainable livelihood opportunities for the locals. For the past 10 years, this initiative attracted volunteer teachers, doctors, dentists and students from India, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and even Australia. Despite thousands of nights of laughter and tears, moments of joy, hope, love, learning, play and blessings, this place was not immune to the disaster.
So what's the situation now in Katunge? In one word, catastrophic!
We know from local sources that all houses have collapsed and some local people are killed. The villagers do not have shelter and are forced to sleep in their fields. The only surviving building there is a brick-cement two-room Future Village clinic where many women, children and the wounded are crowding to take shelter. One of our local volunteers is on his way back to Katunge from Kathmandu with plastics or other materials for shelter.
"[I]t's important to ask locals what they need as opposed to what we want to give them."
Many villages in Nepal tend to be cashless, self-sustaining communities, meaning the farmers are self-sufficient in providing food (lentils and rice) for their families. These farm families, which don't have much in savings, are facing an acute food shortage since they can't buy from the market.
The biggest problem in the coming few months is how they can recover and get back to normal life. The earthquake has impacted their planting season and that could lead to a shortage of food, and lead to starvation. To add to this, farm cattle and animals which were in their sheds during the earthquake were killed. So if they can't plant, farmers will have a huge food shortage the year ahead because they just can't buy what they need.
Dr Christie Lam, one of the founders of Future Village, believes that it's important to ask locals what they need as opposed to what we want to give them.
From our sources on the ground we can conclude that emergency humanitarian relief should be the main focus at this critical stage: to provide temporary shelter, drinking water, food and medicine aids to the local villagers, to rebuild houses and to ensure villagers can have morning farming during the monsoon season which is just around the corner.
"One way to ensure the long-term and qualitative rebuilding of Nepal is by funding local grassroots initiatives because they know what's best for their local communities as opposed to big international organisations who will probably disappear in a few weeks."
Katunge's story can be repeated in many, many villages across the mountainous terrain of Nepal where assistance is yet to arrive. And this is what this story boils down to: coordinating and diverting relief to the poor in villages, and not letting this conversation end. Nepal needs your help!
My appeal to readers is simple: there are many challenges that lie ahead in the rebuilding of rural Nepal. I would urge people to focus on long term and qualitative approaches to relief and assistance.
Young people who volunteer for NGOs like Future Village can manage relief and recovery efforts very well with all the resources they have. But why won't the big humanitarian organisations go there, walk up there? Even if they don't go to the last village but reach the front ones on the walking trail, they'll get an idea of what's actually happening two villages down the road.
We haven't heard of any such relief organisation coming to Katunge, and even if they do come at some point, they won't be the catalysts for long-term relief and won't stand shoulder to shoulder to support these villages. However, local NGOs like Future Village and many others across Nepal will. One way to ensure the long-term and qualitative rebuilding of Nepal is by funding local grassroots initiatives because they know what's best for their local communities as opposed to big international organisations who will probably disappear in a few weeks.
For the times when we feel helpless, or useless, or can't calculate our impact, it's important to remember this story of the starfish.
This is how it goes.
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing? You can't make a difference!' After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "I made a difference for that one."
- Author Unknown