Becky Bottle (right in image above) is a returned International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteer who spent three months in a rural community called Makaibari in the Dolakha region of Nepal. Following her campaigning efforts after the earthquake struck, she was invited to a UK Government roundtable discussion in Edinburgh about the Scottish response to the crisis. Her reflection on the day and Restless Development’s contribution to the response is below.
I returned from an incredible three months in Nepal in April this year. It was strange enough adjusting to being back the UK when, just two weeks after my return, the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25th April.
Knowing the country’s vulnerability to earthquakes and the lifestyle that many of my friends and host family lived, myself and the other returned volunteers from Nepal were devastated. We set up a campaign called Help Us Help Nepal, raising funds and awareness to support the fantastic work that Restless Development were doing in the country in the wake of the disaster. The campaign ended up raising close to £10,000 for the appeal and we had many appearances in local and national news to share our friends’ stories out in Nepal and the challenges they are facing.
I was therefore delighted last week to be invited to meet with Desmond Swayne, Minister of State for International Development, at a roundtable discussion on the Scottish response to the Nepal Earthquake, marking three months since the tragedy.
Youngest person at the table
It was a fantastic opportunity to talk with other individuals that played such an integral role in the Scottish response to the Nepal Earthquake. At the table were senior staff from Mercy Corps UK, an International NGO who had around 100 staff already based in Nepal so were well placed to deal with the disaster, Martyn Ferguson, who was part of the 60 strong fire and rescue response team, and Paul Holmes, an NHS obstetrician who helped with emergency medical support.
Despite being by far the youngest person at the table, everyone’s voices were given equal respect and I had plenty of opportunity to give my views on the situation. With the close relationships I had formed with my Nepalese counterparts, I was able to provide a unique perspective and I pointed to this as a great testament to the DFID funded ICS programme. The Minister was delighted.
The most promising theme that I took away from the discussions was the consensus that using local Nepalese expertise was the greatest resource we had and the key to success for much of the response.
Paul and Martyn from the emergency services explained that although they themselves provided much needed support, they found that the Nepalese had already responded quickly and effectively to many of the needs in the country. They had set up temporary hospital spaces, attended to patients, and rescued a lot of people trapped in the rubble.
Mercy Corps and I were in agreement about the importance of having long-standing local links before any disaster that can remain afterwards. Just as Mercy Corps’ utilised their in-country contacts to good effect, the long-term programmes that Restless have had in Nepal since 1991 facilitated a rapid youth response to the disaster.
The psychological response
We turned to discuss not only the physical damage incurred by the multiple earthquakes, such as hearing from Paul about a young girl suffering with a broken arm without treatment for over 5 days, but also the huge psychological damage that the Nepalese community was going through.
Paul reflected that this is where we could help less and where the Nepalese people with their local expertise, linguistic and cultural understanding really came into its own. This is why I felt the Restless Development response had been so successful. The Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) that they set up in partnership with UNICEF were run by many of my young Nepalese friends. They could provide one on one support and, through games and fun activities, they could give important psychological support to the children there. This meant that pressure was taken off parents and that the children could experience as little disruption to their education and daily routines as possible.
We spent some time reflecting on the impact that the earthquake had had on every aspect of Nepalese life. I shared that a family in my neighbouring community in Dolakha had kept their life savings in a box and that it simply fell down the valley along with their house. Jenny, Nepal Programme Director for Mercy Corps, saw this as a reason to focus on resilience building with a focus on livelihoods when moving forward forward. Mercy Corps are distributing cash so that families have the choice of what to buy to help them with rebuilding and the all important harvest during the monsoon.
A platform for my Nepalese friends
The roundtable was an excellent platform to share the work that Restless and our campaign had been doing. Although there were many different voices and opinions round the table, it was encouraging to see that there were so many ways that our approaches were similar and complimented each other. It also gave me even more confidence in the strength and effectiveness of a Nepalese youth response to a disaster.
Although Restless Development is not primarily a disaster relief NGO, listening to the words from the experts round the table, the Restless set-up and response is extremely effective during a disaster and has made a massive contribution to the successes of the fantastic work being done in the country before, during and after the earthquake.
After the discussion had ended I got to talk to multiple newspapers, radio stations and I was even interviewed for TV! It was amazing to give an even greater platform for Restless Development’s work, the Help Us Help Nepal campaign and especially the voices and accounts of my Nepalese counterparts and friends.