2015 was a very busy year for Helping Hands Health Education. Of course, the earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25th impacted us greatly. Despite the devastation, we were able to help the people of Nepal in this time of great need. We have also continued our work in Nicaragua, and have strengthened our ties with Bhutan.
Success in Bhutan
From January through March 2015, we sponsored a number of medical camps in villages in Nepal. In early April, Narayan led a group of 13 medical volunteers from Colorado and California to Bhutan. The group provided medical care and education at the Punakha Hospital under the auspices of the Bhutan Ministry of Health. The trip was so successfulthat the Ministry of Health invited Helping Hands back in October to tour the country and formalize our relationship with the Bhutanese government.
In October, a group of Helping Hands volunteers visited Bhutan. At that time we donated $7,000 to the Bhutan Health Trust Fund, which supports the country’s immunization program. Bhutan is dedicated to providing free primary health care to all its people, and Helping Hands is proud to be a part of this effort. We have invited the Minister of Health to Colorado in 2016 to raise funds for the Health Trust Fund.
Narayan traveled to Nepal from Bhutan in late April, when he planned to take a group of Surya Boarding School students to Japan. But two days after his arrival in Kathmandu, the devastating earthquake of April 25 hit the capital. Narayan was staying at a hotel in Bhaktapur, an ancient city about 8 miles east of Kathmandu. Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square, a worldheritage site and home to many beautiful temples, was heavily damaged, as were many homes and businesses. With chaos and destruction all around him, Narayan knew Helping Hands had to help, and that what the people needed most was housing. Millions had been left homeless, and Narayan vowed to make a difference for as many as he could.
Donations and offers of assistance immediately started coming into the Helping Hands office in Boulder. In addition, Shumei International, who sponsored the Surya School students’ trip to Japan, invited Narayan to Japan to speak about the earthquake at their annual May celebration. Narayan traveled to Kyoto with five Surya School students in early May. He spoke to large crowds of people and raised thousands of dollars for the relief effort.
Narayan returned to Nepal on May 13th, the day after a major 7.3 magnitude aftershock hit Nepal, just east of the Kathmandu Valley. Families were terrified to return to their homes for fear of being trapped by another aftershock. People were living in tents with little access to clean water or sanitation facilities. Narayan immediately began organizing groups of volunteers and collecting supplies to build long-term temporary shelters in Bhaktapur. He vowed at that time to build 500 shelters by the end of 2015, and 2000 shelters total.
By June, the building had started. Over the course of the month, Nepali and American Helping Hands volunteers built 85 shelters in Bhaktapur and the Kavre District, just southeast of Bhaktapur. The first shelters built were constructed of a metal framework, corrugated tin walls and roofs, and concrete floors. These shelters have three rooms, a toilet and a bath. They will last 15-20 years, but they areexpensive and not very well-suited to the hot, rainy climate of Nepal. We are now building shelters using bamboo framework, bamboo and mud-plastered walls, and tin roofs. These shelters also have three rooms and a toilet. We have also built a small number of corrugated tin “quonset hut” style shelters in the Harishiddhi area south of Kathmandu.
We want to especially thank the 38 Nepali Helping Hands members who volunteered to build most of the shelters in Bhaktapur and Kavre. Without them we would not have reached ourgoal!
232 shelters had been built by August, when we held our annual fundraiser in Boulder. We celebrated this accomplishment, the resilience of the Nepali people, and the generosity and compassion of the Helping Hands community that made building the shelters possible. During the fundraiser we screened films about the earthquake and the work of Helping Hands in Nepal and Nicaragua, and thanked all ourwonderful friends and donors who have given so much to support the Nepali people in this difficult time.
To date we have built 380 shelters, providing homes forover 2000 people. We have 80 more in the process of being built in the hard-hit districts of Ramechhap and Dolakha, and have provided building supplies to the most disadvantaged villagers of Malpi Village in Kavre District. Two American volunteers recently returned from a three-month stay in Bhaktapur, during which they built shelters along-side our Nepali volunteers. They have also raised over $5,000 in support of the building effort.
Immediately after the earthquake, medical personnel from the United States began volunteering with Helping Hands to assist earthquake victims. Over the course of six weeks, 60 Helping Hands volunteers traveled to Nepal to help. George Newell, vice president of Helping Hands, traveled to Nepal shortly after the earthquake. George is a paramedic and assisted greatly with the relief effort. He also traveled to Khandbari, where our Surya Boarding School had sustained damage. George’s generous donations helped with the repair and badly needed renovations of the school buildings.
We also sent two shipping containers to Nepal, one full of medical supplies and the other with baby food, school supplies and books, clothing, socks, and water filters. Unfortunately, because of the blockade at the Indian border, these containers are still in the port at Kolkata, India. We hope the political issues that led to the blockade will be resolved soon so the supplies can get to their destination.
In addition to the medical assistance we provided immediately after the earthquake, we also conducted a number of medical camps in Nepal, Bhutan and Nicaragua. 13 camps were held in villages in Nepal before and after the earthquake. In the Jalapa area of Nicaragua we held 10 medical and dental camps in 10 different villages. We helped nearly 15,000 people in the three countries over the course of 2015.
Sreejana Bilingual School, Jalapa, Nicaragua
The building of the first permanent school buildings for the Sreejana School in Jalapa is underway. Narayan and George traveled to Jalapa in December, and met with teachers and city officials. They were able to secure a building permit quickly, and hired an on-site engineer and guard, as well as a temporary storage facility. Thisinitial phase includes four classrooms and one set of bathrooms.
Mr. Tom Madden, an American Helping Hands volunteer, is teaching English as a second language at the school and will be there until next November. We are grateful to Tom for overseeing the construction project and his dedication to Helping Hands. The building should be done by February. We are very excited to move the Sreejana School to its new location in 2016!
Surya Boarding School, Khandbari, Nepal
2015 saw a number of advances in our educational work at the Surya School as well. Mr. Nick Greden, an American Helping Hands volunteer, has been teaching at the Surya School since August 2015, and will stay until June 2016. Two more American Helping Hands volunteerswill begin teaching at the Surya School in March 2016. Two Nepali teachers from the Surya School, Ms. Rameshwari Maharjan and Ms. Suchtra Rai, traveled to Crestone, Colorado under the auspices of Helping Hands and Shumei International. They have spent six months studying natural agriculture, spirituality, art, and beauty at the ShumeiCenter in Crestone and will return to Nepal in January to share their new knowledge with the students of the Surya School.
While the Surya School buildings sustained some damage during the earthquake, the main need was for more space to accommodate the growing student population. We built a new classroom building as well as a cafeteria area, and painted the older buildings.
It has been a challenging year for Nepal, and for Helping Hands as well. We mourn the losses Nepal has suffered, and we want them to know we stand with them in their efforts to rebuild. We will not stop until it is done.
We still need your help! To reach our goal of building 2000 shelters, we need your generous donations. The people of Nepal continue to live daily with the difficulties of rebuilding their country after the devastating earthquake. Together we can make meaningful progress toward improving the quality of life for many Nepali families. We know we can count on you to help in this effort.
From all of us at Helping Hands Health Education, our sincerest thanks for your generous donations of money, time, and love during 2015 and beyond. We couldn’t do what we do without you!
Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2016!
The Helping Hands Health Education Board of Directors