Four months have passed since the massive twin earthquakes rattled Nepal, leaving behind a trial of devastation. The country that once took pride in its monumental architecture and rich traditions was reduced to a heap of debris within a span of seconds. Around 9,000 people lost their lives, 22,000 were seriously injured, 6,00,000 homes were razed to the ground and 8,00,000 left homeless in the aftermath. Today, Nepal continues to mourn for its people and is reeling under shortage of food, clean water and adequate shelter. Though Indian rescue and relief efforts at the time of calamity made headlines, little is known about the ongoing relief efforts in Nepal.
Even after 120 days of the quake, nearly three million survivors, many stranded in mountainous areas, are in need of urgent help. At a time when a majority of non-governmental organisations have stopped their relief efforts, Believers Church, an independent church with its headquarters in Thiruvalla, Kerala continues in its efforts to resurrect the distraught country.
At the forefront of rescue and relief missions since 27 April, the fateful day when the earthquakes struck the country, it is the first church from India to initiate action for rescuing thousands of stranded Nepalese. Headed by Metropolitan KP Yohannan, the Believers Church has 400 churches and 20 schools under its ‘Bridge of Hope’ mission in Nepal. It has also deployed around 500 volunteers in rescue efforts. Under the mission, church volunteers help earthquake victims by reconstructing houses and providing food, medicine and clean water.
The rescue missions are being carried out under the leadership of Dr Narayana Sarma, the Kathmandu Diocese Bishop Gopal Chethri, the Pokhara Diocese Bishop and Vicar Generals like Father Hem Sharma and Father TB Tamang, along with volunteers from ‘Sisters of Compassion’. Believers Church has so far spent 3 crore for its relief mission. Various dioceses of the Church have also pitched in. The Diocese of Lucknow situated in Siliguri, for instance, has helped with food, clothes and medicines and has sent out several volunteers to Nepal.
According to Believers Church volunteers in Nepal, the relief work is progressing well. However, bad weather and inaccessible locations pose a big challenge to their work which is mainly concentrated in Gorkha and Sindhupalchok— areas worst affected by the quake.
“Life in these areas has not returned to normal, and without any external help, the local population is finding it difficult to rebuild their lives. We are continuing our mission, and hope to rebuild their lives within a short time,” said Father Sijo, the spokesperson of Believers Church.
Father Sijo stays regularly in touch with the volunteers in Nepal to keep track of the progress of relief work. “There are still aftershocks, and one of the volunteers just sent a message saying that the region they are camping in, got jolts for a few seconds,” he tells Tehelka. “Continuous tremors are making people worry about the possibility of another major quake in the future.”
Soon after the earthquakes, many foreign countries came forward to help Nepal but their reach remained limited to urban areas. As a result, the worst hit rural areas were overlooked. Seeking to reach these villages, the Church sought a helicopter from the Nepal government. The volunteers were apprehensive to ask the Nepal military for the required permits as the country had made its objections about foreign relief efforts known quite vocally. “But the military agreed to the demands and provided the church with a chopper, enabling us to speed up the relief mission,” says Father Sijo.
The Nepal government has in fact lauded the relief operations carried out by volunteers of the Believers Church. Former Prime Minister of Nepal, Madhav Kumar, officials of the Nepal military and government officials have also joined the church volunteers in distributing relief supplies. “Till date, we have distributed food supplies, water, medicines, blankets and plastic sheets to make tents, which have helped tens of thousands of people,” Father Sijo tells Tehelka. “We have also accommodated over 400 families in a Diocese of Kathmandu church compound and provided for their basic needs.” The Church is planning more such coordinated efforts to speed up relief operations.
Experts are of the opinion that it would take a decade or more to reinstate Nepal to its former glory. They agree that elaborate plans need to be devised for the reconstruction the country. In furtherance of their intention to extend more aid, Metropolitan KP Yohannan plans to meet the Prime Minister of Nepal soon.