Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Earthquake Trauma School

It is now less than a week until they hope to open Nepali schools for the first time after the earthquake on the 25 April. While KISC has been up and running to a degree for about 3 weeks now, for most Nepali children there has been no school and no education, during what was supposed to be the first few weeks of the Nepali school year.

At KISC many staff, students and parents have commented that KISC being open has been a great help in bringing students through this time, allowing healing by having people to talk it over with, to get back to normal with, to have some routine and fun. 

Around 6,000 government schools were significantly damaged (not counting private schools which make up around half of all schools in Nepal). The government therefore closed all government schools until the end of May with most private schools following suit. This has allowed staff to return to their homes and help in their communities, but for these children who have spent the last month at home fearing another big aftershock healing may have taken longer.

Which makes efforts like this one we saw over the weekend particularly special. The Lavender preschool is just over the road from KISC and we pass it each day on our way there. Together with a group we believe is connected to a local church they have set up and run an “Earthquake Trauma Management Program” in a open space nearby for children up to 12 over the last 5-6 days or so.

I was able to speak with one of the organisers a couple of days ago and he was sharing that while they’d started out the first day with just a couple of dozen children they’d quickly gone up to over 100 and they were putting on a whole load of different activities for the students. Some were specifically intended to give students an opportunity to talk, draw or write about their experiences, but many were just about having fun, providing structure to the day and some learning. All things that are essential for helping students to grow and develop, even more so during times like these.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Earthquake number 2!

Our last blog was written about trying to get back to normal in the second week after “The Earthquake!”
As you will all know just a few days later we had a second big earthquake on the 12th May, not as big as the first, but enough to terrify and send people back outside. This one was a 7.4. Sam and Dan were both at KISC, while Mim and I were at home this time round. I was glad to have Mim with me as I’d only picked her up from her first day back at preschool (since the first earthquake) less than an hour before. We got down on the floor and waited it out before running out as fast as we could once it was finished. I remembered to grab my mobile this time round – but totally forgot the grab bag we’d packed and left by the front door! After a quick “everyone ok” with the landlord’s family I got my bike from the garage and Mim and I raced down to KISC to find the whole school lined up on the basketball court pretty calmly. Sam smiled and waved as if it was a normal day and I went to find Dan to let him know we were there and okay.
Mim's preschool

We spent the afternoon and another night on the school basketball court before heading home the next morning. We weren’t sure whether to stay another night, but in the end decided we would move home again after just one night this time. The aftershocks have continued, but less frequent and less powerful this time around which has helped keep us calmer. We have moved Sam’s bed into Mim’s room and decided that they will sleep together for the time being. KISC closed for two days before reopening on Friday. Mim’s preschool started again today after a week, but they are staying in the garden under a tarp and only 9 of the 32 children came on the first day.

People are scared. There are a lot still sleeping outside. I think after the first quake we were scared with all the aftershocks, but as things calmed down everyone started to move back inside assuming it was now done, but now with a second one people are more scared and don’t trust that the worst is over – which of course no one can promise even if the chances of another big one are miniscule. This is not helped by rumours going round that “the big one” is still to come.

So this week we have tried again to get back to some kind of normality, but we see fear and loss all around. Yesterday our local veg shop was demolished. It was a really old tumble down mud and straw house with gaping holes in the roof and cracks in the walls. The police came and told them to move everything out and then had it demolished. I don’t know where they have gone or what they will do now as their house was also destroyed in the Earthquake.

Relief efforts are continuing, still trying to get food and shelter to remote areas. Thoughts have moved on to how we can provide longer term for those living under tarps with the monsoon rains less than a month away. Homes cannot be rebuilt in that time, but tarpaulins are not enough to keep out monsoon rain. Short term homes know as Portal homes made out of corrugated iron are starting to be taken out to villages. These cost only $100 but even that is too much for some families.

The government is encouraging different organisations to set up children’s camps in open safe spaces to provide some activities for the children while schools remain closed. It is thought that at least a million children are going to be out of school with buildings damaged and destroyed or being used as shelter. These safe places or children’s camps are helping, but I think they are mainly concentrated within the Kathmandu valley at the moment.

Kids Camp
The education ministry held a meeting yesterday and is putting together a plan to try and help the nearly 7000 effected schools start again (and that’s only the government schools). They are looking at providing psychological training for staff so that they know how to support their students. They also need to get engineers out to assess all the school buildings and then try to repair and rebuild classrooms and the infrastructure needed for them to operate such as toilets and a water supply.

Nepal has an overwhelming task ahead of it. With monsoon coming the risk of sickness spreading with poor and contaminated water supplies will grow. The remote areas worst affected will be even harder to reach and while foreign aid has flooded in initially the UN estimate that only 14% of the $423 million needed to rebuild has been given.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

2 Weeks On

Walk to our local shop
This morning at 11.56 it will be 2 weeks since we had a 7.9 earthquake here in Kathmandu. Dan has written some about the first week and how school has managed, and so I wanted to write a little about what this second week has been like as we have returned to some kind of normality.

In the first few days after the earthquake our initial worries were about how we were going to get supplies. Were we going to be able to get food and water and how long would shortages last? However, within just a few days the power supply was starting to come back for short periods, and since the end of the last week we have been having power for 24 hours a day (compared to the normal 6-10 hours a day of power cuts at this time of year). Soon after some people started reporting that they were getting water coming in from the city line (which should come to most houses twice a week), as I write this 2 weeks later our house has still not had any city water. The landlord ordered one water tanker last weekend for our 3 flats, not sure how long one will last, but we may need to get another soon. Shops began opening in the days soon after and as the week has gone on even fresh milk became available and I managed to get yogurt yesterday. So the shortages have not happened as we feared, but water is a big issue for many, especially those who cannot afford a tanker. 

The skies are busy with the sound of relief flights coming in and out. Last week they were flying overhead day and night, they have now stopped in the middle of the night thankfully, but we often hear them coming in in the late evening and then taking off at about 5am having spent the night unloading. These planes are big and can't get altitude quickly so in the early morning, as you are waking up, the noise can lead to panic or confusion - is it another earthquake or is their a rocket taking off or landing on our roof?! We have learnt to distinguish the different sounds between windows rattling due to a plane overhead or the deeper rumbling of an aftershock!

People are very busy with relief work at the moment. My facebook news feed is full of requests for help and pictures of destroyed villages which local friends and organisations which I follow have been to see and help. There is now a shortage of tarpaulins in the whole country as so many are desperate for some kind of shelter. Most taking aid in seem to be taking tarps, rice and water with the hope they can take more longer term supplies later to help people get back on their feet.

We are still getting regular aftershocks, the most recent one I felt was a 4.9 at 6.17 am yesterday morning (Fri 8th May). Most of them just feel like a sudden jolt, so they give you a shock but then are finished. It's the occasional one like we had at 3.40 on Thursday morning (7th May) which was actually smaller at 3.3, but was presumably closer or shallower as it seemed bigger and lasted a few seconds and was more of a shaking, and so gives you time to react and think, but even this one was done before we got up. Thankfully the kids seem not to be noticing these.

Engineers are in huge demand at the moment as people worry about the safety of their homes. Many have fresh cracks and have no idea whether they are safe or not. Thankfully our home has no new cracks and so we have been able to move back in without fear about the safety of our home. Our primary principal at KISC and her family are currently house hunting after part of their house was deemed unsafe to live in.  Very unsettling for them, but worse for the landlord who will now has to find out if he can repair it or whether he needs to rebuild.

It is estimated that over half a million people have left Kathmandu valley after the earthquake as most people traveled back to their home villages to see the damage and help with the clean up. The government closed all schools for 3 weeks too and so it has been very quiet in Kathmandu. However, millions of children will not have schools to go to at the end of this 3 week period, let alone uniforms, books, pencils, teachers, etc.

This week has been quite surreal in many ways. We spend our time with others talking about the earthquake, aftershocks, the relief effort and we spend our free time reading all the stories online or just trying to switch of from it with some mindless TV. Sometimes it just breaks our hearts and other times it feels really quite distant as our lives are quickly returning to a relatively normal routine. We are tired, the kids are tired too, so the days seem long. It's hard to plan and think beyond the immediate at times, and yet we know we are not the victims in this, our experiences were scary and traumatic but we are able to pick ourselves up and get on very quickly, something so many here don't have the luxury of and so while I can tell you my story it is nothing compared to others who have lost everything.

This country and it's people are strong and beautiful and it has been a privileged to see them helping one another and leading the relief efforts for their own country. They are not victims and with the right support this country will rise up again and I pray that it will rise up stronger then it was before and move forward from this to a great future that it's people deserve, but it is going to take time and support.

Monday, 4 May 2015


Today was the first normal (ish) day of school since the “Great Quake” as the media here are calling it. But how has the quake affected KISC? And what has been our role in it?

The damage in the hall
Within hours of the quake striking 9 days ago photos appeared on Facebook of the school hall. The back wall was down and the rubble had come nearly a third of the way down the hall. Apart from this, a cracked staircase in a small, lesser used building, and the ubiquitous fallen chimney stack, the school had survived pretty much intact, an appearance confirmed by a day spent with architects and engineers last Monday.

But what about the staff and the students? Last Thursday we called a staff meeting for those able to attend, and most staff did, although some weren’t able to because they were directly involved in the aid or relief work, or they were busy helping their families or dealing with homes that were destroyed or severely damaged. In fact, about a dozen members of staff, all Nepali staff, and their families either had their home destroyed or it is too damaged to live in. Those who were able to attend heard from a psychologist trained in dealing with family trauma and then we shared our stories together.

Then on Friday we had a short, special program, including a short assembly, time for students to spend with their class teachers in the primary, and their form teachers in the secondary, and time for games and activities, and just hanging out.  Today saw the restart of more normal classes, although Primary students are on a half day for this week, and for all students it’s optional, to allow them to integrate back gently and build up energy. Tomorrow (5 May) our Year 11-13 students start their IGCSE and A level examinations. Unsurprisingly they are finding studying hard at this time.

Special Assembly on Friday, on the basketball court
that days before had been a campsite for many
As we considered when to restart school there was the constant worry of, will it make a difference, is it too soon, too late, too normal, too different. Shouldn’t we be out there making a real difference? But then over the weekend one teacher shared this on Facebook “I keep telling [my husband], "we aren't helping enough... We need to do more." But this is a time to trust the body of believers and the many organizations and we can all work together. Tomorrow, I will have my students back in the classroom for a half day. I need to focus on teaching them and know that [my husband] along with many others will continue to work to reach the villagers.”

Another teacher said to Becky that they had been wanting to do more, and ended up at a meeting of several aid and development workers. They quickly realised that this was outside of their skill set, but that their skills were teaching. They looked round the room and realised that several of people there had children in her class. They knew the best thing they could do to help was to get back in the classroom and support their children through this time enabling the relief work to

This has always been our goal as a couple, to be at KISC to enable all the work that is going on to develop Nepal. Never has it been so important, never has it had the potential to impact this nation so much. 

A reminder, that if you would like to give to the relief effort, we recommend our organisation BMS World Mission's own disaster relief fund.