Let us Build a House: A Visit to Nepal
In April 2018 I was part of a group of 18 people from congregations throughout Scotland who visited our partner organisation, the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) to see life in communities affected by the 2015 earthquake and how they are responding and rebuilding their lives and their communities.
At 11.55 on 25 April 2015 people in Nepal were getting on with their lives. In rural areas families were working in fields, in the towns and cities people were working and shopping. Many Christians were in church as that is the normal day for worship in the Himalayan country.
A minute later a devastating earthquake struck the centre of the country. The initial quake lasted 45 seconds. Buildings shook, walls cracked, thick dust rose from mountains, roads and bridges were destroyed. In some areas almost every building was damaged or destroyed – thousands of houses, schools, and clinics reduced to rubble.
Nine thousand people died, another 22,000 were injured in the worst natural disaster in Nepal for over 80 years.
A month later Rev Ram Kumar Budhatokhi was a delegate at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He spoke about how he was leading worship at a church in Kathmandu when the building started shaking and everyone fled in fear. Moved by Ram Kumar’s testimony the General Assembly instructed the World Mission Council to assist our partners in Nepal respond to the emergency.
Each of the Kirk’s 42 presbyteries was challenged to raise £500, the nominal cost of rebuilding a house. World Mission Council hoped to raise maybe £25-30,000. The response was overwhelming. Presbyteries and congregations responded with the largest ever amount of money ever raised for a single project, an astonishing £310,000.
The Church of Scotland was one of the founders of United Mission to Nepal (UMN) in 1954 and is still a partner. UMN quickly swung into action with a relief effort that delivered food, shelter and medical supplies to 12,000 families communities in Dhading District, about a three-hour drive from Kathmandu. UMN has worked there since 2005 so was already well known, even in the more remote parts of the district. During our visit we saw some of the amazing work being done by UMN and its local partners Prayas and HIMS.
After an orientation session with UMN staff in their Cluster Office eleven of us piled into 4 x 4 vehicles. It took four hours on dirt roads and river beds to travel 45 KM to Dundure where the road ended.
We adjusted our walking poles and set off for Kalangmarang, a small hillside village where we would spend our first night. We walked for four hours. A torrential downpour meant we couldn’t visit a drinking water scheme as the path would be too muddy and slippery. We were relieved to reach Kalangmarang just as it got dark as we had been walking up steep paths for most of the afternoon.
Next morning, we saw around the village – even that was hard going as the village was on the side of a steep hill so visiting the two new schools, drinking water scheme and church was tiring. We were introduced to Menja Tamang, a village elder who had donated land for the new Middle School. He was delighted with the smart new building, calling it “a palace” in comparison to the previous building which collapsed in the earthquake. We met a young woman whose leg was crushed when the church wall collapsed on her. She still hobbles around on crutches.
For four days we trekked up and down steep paths, several kilometres of them rebuilt by UMN and their local partner HIMS. We crossed the Mankhu River three times on rebuilt footbridges. We passed a rehabilitated micro hydro power plant that powered a sawmill and rice mills. The government of Nepal has asked UMN to rebuild 55 schools and we saw several buildings and classroom blocks, each built with an earthquake resistant designed. Each school also had a new latrine block to improve hygiene.
In villages we stayed in and passed through we saw more evidence of UMN’s work to improve the lives of the communities in north Dhading. New cash crops like cardamom had been introduced, each household was encouraged to build their own hygienic latrine, safe drinking water supplies had been installed – we always took the chance to fill up our water bottles when we passed a tap.
One highlight was the church service in Eve. There was a real sense of fellowship as we joined the local congregation in the rebuilt, if not quite finished church building. One of the ministers in our group, Stuart Duff, was asked to preach. We were asked to sing a song and we gave a rendition of Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart. Immediately we finished the congregation sang the same song in Nepali! Although we couldn’t understand each other very well we knew we shared the same faith and worshipped the same Lord.
Eve Church Service
Our accommodation on the trek was basic by Scottish standards. We slept on mats on the upper floors of houses, used outdoor Asian squat latrines, maybe managed a wash in cold water in the morning. We ate simple Nepali food – rice, lentils, vegetables – served to us by our hosts. We experienced a little of what life is like in isolated communities in Nepal. The trekking was arduous at times, some of the group struggled with the limited diet, but we were always aware of the immense privilege of being able to visit these communities.
Most of the places we visited are not even on the map. Yet in Kalangmarang, Tawal, and Ewe we saw churches and schools, families and farmers. We saw resilience and resourcefulness. We saw people rebuilding their lives and their communities. We saw United Mission to Nepal and HIMS using money sent from Scotland to train people, to rebuild infrastructure and communities.
The View North Towards Ganesh Himal