From Fionnuala Shenpen
Director, Tsoknyi Gechak School
Monday June 8th: In Nubri Valley the 7.9 earthquake on April 25th caused two fatalities and damaged over 80% of the dwellings. Nubri is one of Nepal’s remotest areas, accessible only by walking trails. A harsh climate, high illiteracy and poor infrastructure make it an extremely poor region. The earthquake damaged homes, schools and community buildings. Many families are now living in tents and temporary shelters. Landslides have blocked the walking trail at many points and bridges have collapsed. The valley is now only accessible by helicopter. With the monsoon quickly approaching the need to rebuild is urgent.
Through discussions with various community members, Tsoknyi Rinpoche discovered that rebuilding was the villagers’ most urgent concern. While they can provide labour and know-how, and can re-use existing materials, cash for buying tools and new building materials is the biggest challenge. Their first request therefore was for cash. Rinpoche discussed this with the Nubri community and with our local NGO, the Tsoknyi Nuns Welfare Foundation. Everyone agreed that the most skilful way to help the people of Nubri was to give cash donations towards rebuilding, aimed specifically at the poorest members of the community.
On May 20th a delegation from Tsoknyi Gechak Ling Nunnery including Gompa Director Lopon Dorje Wangchuk la, School Director Fionnuala Shenpen, and Senior Nuns Ngawang Chötso and Damsig Drolma travelled to the Nubri valley with a representative of the Nubri committee, Tsewang Gyatsoto, to deliver cash assistance.
A total of 8,000,000 NCR (£51,200) from the world-wide Pundarika/TNWF earthquake fund has been ear-marked for this purpose and was donated to the Nubri community in the names of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche & Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche, lamas who are native to the region
Part of the mission was to cover transportation costs for six helicopter loads of tarps, blankets and other supplies that had been gathered in Kathmandu by the Nubri Committee. A total of 14,25,000NCR (£9,100) was spent on helicopter transportation for people and supplies. Landslides since the earthquakes have cut off all road access to the Nubri Valley. Although the army and locals are working to clear the roads as fast as possible the second 7.3 earthquake on Tuesday May 12th caused further damage and delays.
The Nubri Valley is divided into four VDCs (Village Development Committees): Sama, Lho, Prok and Bhi. Thus, the fund was spilt into four parts and 2,000,000 rupees(GB£12,800) was allocated to each VDC.
The group first travelled by helicopter to Sama, the highest of the four VDCs and home village of Mingyur Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. The local community all turned out to welcome the team members on arrival.
Each VDC is again divided into nine wards, so the heads of each of Sama’s wards assembled to receive the funds and to sign a receipt.
Lopon Dorje Wangchuk la addressed the community and explained that the funds were being given for the purpose of repairing and rebuilding houses that had collapsed or were damaged during the earthquake. He requested that the community remember that the economically poorest members of the community should benefit the most from the funds.
The ward heads and the local youth society were entrusted with the task of distributing the funds.
The group then visited Lho where funds were again presented to the ward leaders and the whole community was informed of the purpose of the fund distribution.
Prok village in Prok VDC was the next stop. Here, the community members gathered in the wheat fields surrounding the helicopter pad to receive the funds for their VDC.
Finally, members of the Bhi community had walked over to Prok to receive the funds for their community.
Sunday May 10th: The Tsoknyi Nuns were back on the road helping to clear rubble at Chhok Tol a small village in the Swayambhu area.
Wednesday May 6th: I am happy to report that at Tsoknyi Gechak Ling we are slowly getting back to normal. Bella our volunteer art teacher returned from the UK, bringing a large supply of Rescue Remedy (Thank you Jenny & Bella), which has been helping us all get over the shock and trauma. We have also been circulating the helpful information on dealing with trauma sent by Rangjung Yeshe Institute. The school nuns have been drawing pictures of their experiences during the quake and we have all been talking freely amongst ourselves and sharing our experiences. The nuns have also been calling home to check on their families. We found a very helpful book online to use with our younger girls – Tinka and Sam the day the earth shook . I think the title says it all. I will post a link on our page as I am sure it will be of use to many others. As best we can we are following disease prevention advice and taking care of each other.
We remain highly aware that we are in a very fortunate position. Just next door in Chobhar village and in lower Chobhar many families, including some of our staff, have lost their homes and are experiencing great hardship. Aid has been very slow to reach the upper Himalayan valleys and many there are now at great risk. We are working with many different friends and contacts to try to source tents and access helicopters and to aid the relief effort in any way we can.
We thank you for your prayers and well wishes and the generous contributions you have given to relief efforts. It will take a very long time for Nepal to recover from this disaster and more than ever she needs her friends now.
How some of the young nuns depict the earthquake:
Thursday April 30th: Today the nuns went out again – the digging group first drove over to Swayambhu to the village of Yi chang go, near the Muktinath nuns’ retreat centre Throngdroling, where they helped with the salvaging efforts and also distributed some food. Afterwards they returned closer to home to Char Ghare, a village near Phaga on the outskirts of Kirtipur. The medical team started at lower Chobhar village giving tetanus injections and then moved on to Char Ghare where they tended wounded and gave tetanus and pain-killing injections. The food team distributed 50 bags of rice, dhal, oil and Horlicks in Itagol, another village near Phanga which has been particularly badly hit – over 50 houses fell there. We had received a Facebook message asking for help as there were over 30 hungry children.
In total we have distributed over a 105 30kg sacks of rice, 680kgs of dhal, 500 litres of oil 100kgs of dried peas, 100 jars of Horlicks, 1,200 packets of instant noodles, 40kg of salt and 50 litres of water. We have given 20 tetanus and 100 pain-killer injections, besides wound dressings and Dettol soap as needed.
Though we have meet with great generosity and kindness – shopkeepers and pharmacists have given goods at discounted prices or added extra from their side – it is becoming harder to source food. Fortunately we have reached out to all the worst-hit nearby villages. Our focus is now on sourcing tents, tarpaulins or even large plastic sheets to help make shelters.
Wednesday April 29th: a team set out for the lower Chobhar village after breakfast. We brought our own shovels, tools and supplies. Pushpa a member of the school staff who lives there was able to act as our guide. It was a devastating sight – Pushpa told us how she had been working in the fields behind the village and watched as entire houses crumbled. 35 families have lost their homes, 10 people have died, one man is missing and many other are injured. We divided into 3 teams – the majority of the nuns started to work to clear the rubble and try to help the families salvage anything of value. They recovered kitchen utensils, cloth, blankets, helped to move furniture and kitchen equipment out of destabilized buildings. Another group went to buy food supplies, which we then distributed. With the help of a local nurse Mena who had also cared for our own guru Ama we sent a team to buy medical supplies. Mena set up a temporary clinic in the tent the villagers have erected and began treating peoples cuts and wounds.
That was our work for today. Seismically it has been a very quiet day so we are hoping we can sleep inside tonight!
Tuesday April 28th: we had a look around our immediate surrounds and Genla Kunchuk Palden distributed rice to the villagers of upper Chobhar. It came to our attention that lower Chobhar village had been very badly affected.