A Journey in Rebuilding Nepal
Juan Beltran, a civil engineer in the Land Development Group, has recently embarked on a journey on the other side of the world with The Invictus Initiative (www.theinvictus.org). Invictus is a non-profit organization building unconquerable relationships that bring together the skills and resources needed to initiate sustainable solutions, improve communities, and transform lives.
Juan, and 22 others, will be in Nepal for 18 days helping the communities rebuild after the devastating earthquake that took place last April. Join us in following his journey over the next few weeks….
We are on our way to Nepal now! My group, the first 11, are made up of 10 students from the University of Denver and myself. The Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, and Pepperdine students will meet us there in a few days.
Our focus will be around engineering, business, and medicine. We will be installing solar panels in schools and community centers. We’ll also provide drainage analysis and will build temporary homes from local materials to assist the local residents in Bhaktapur move from the community tents they’ve been living in since the earthquake to their own homes.
Basic medical techniques will be taught to the lower-caste women so that other community members can go to them for medical aid. We will be looking at ways we can distribute water filters and blankets in a sustainable manner to residents of the tent communities while also building relationships.
Our biggest goal though, is building relationships and immersing ourselves into their culture. We want to get to know who they are and how we can all work as one to help rebuild their lives. In the end, our relationship with the Sherpas will be the most important value for all of us.
We made it! Today we moved to Bhaktapur where we will be staying for the rest of our trip. We met Ganga, who is helping us make the necessary connections with the residents of Bhaktapur in order to complete our projects. She told us a little about the culture of Nepal and its history, as well as shared stories of the earthquake that devastated the area. It was very heartbreaking to hear all the different stories of the people that lost their lives.
She did tell us an incredible survival story of a family in the area. The mother was outside tending to chores while her 7 year old daughter and 4 month old son were inside their home. Then the earthquake hit. The daughter tried to save her little brother but the building collapsed. The mother and other residents searched through the rubble and were able to find the daughter, injured but alive. The 4 month old baby was nowhere to be found. After 28 hours had passed, the mother heard her baby crying and people started digging through the rubble. Miraculously, they found the baby alive and completely unharmed! During the earthquake, the baby happened to fall under a very sturdy chair which saved his life.
Ganga then guided us through Bhaktapur, showing us different temples, buildings, structures, and areas that were structurally unstable or there was nothing left. Many buildings were empty because families can no longer live there, forcing them to remain in the community tents. I personally talked to a street vendor who was selling his merchandise from his house. His house was made of wood and aluminum walls and ceiling. He informed me that the structure surrounding his house used to be a 5-story brick and concrete building. It was completely demolished and his neighbor unfortunately didn’t make it.
Today was basically a day to observe the affects the earthquake had on Bhaktapur and the surrounding areas. Tomorrow we will be meeting with residents as well as visiting one of the tent communities. We are also hopeful that we will be able to meet the mother, her 7 year old daughter, and her 4 month old son (should be 1 year old now) that survived the earthquake!
Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit many of the community camps to figure out where we can offer engineering and medical assistance as well as which families we can distribute blankets
and filters to. In total, we went to 5 camps.
The lifestyle of the residents living in these camps is incredibly difficult. It gets extremely cold at night and due to the petroleum shortage problems in India, there’s a lack of gas and water. Water is more expensive because of high transportation costs due to higher gas prices. We are hopeful that some of us can have the opportunity to actually spend the night in one of the camps to be able to experience what they go through every night.
We talked and got a video interview with an 87 year old woman that actually experienced the earthquake in 1934 in Nepal when she was 6 years old. She lost her parents in that earthquake and now she has lost her home. Another woman told us her earthquake experience as we stood in what was once her home. She has moved back in and only the walls on the first level are still standing. The 4 stories that once were above us are gone. The only thing protecting her and her belongings are tarps that cover her house. Fortunately, she did not lose any loved ones and everyone made it out just in time before her home collapsed.
We heard many stories, but this last one really hit me hard and hurt to hear. In one of the camps we visited, current residents informed us that some families have left and moved back into their old homes even though most are not structurally sound. Many still have roofs but those could collapse at any moment. When we asked them why, they responded that most of those families could no longer withstand the cold temperatures at night in their tents and decided to move home for warmth knowing that the roof could collapse during any aftershocks, which are still occurring at least once a week. Many have the mindset that if their roof collapses and kills them, then that’s just how it is. This really impacted me because in that moment I put myself in their shoes and thought, “what if I had to make that decision for my family? What if it got so cold that our last resort was to go back to our unsafe home to stay warm knowing that my family and I could die at any moment while we slept?”