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Rebuilding Nepal with people power

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Oxfam distributes hygiene kits in Sankhu. The kits contain a bucket for clean water, a bar of soap, oral rehydration salts, and towels, helping people to meet their basic sanitation needs. Photo: Aubrey Wade / Oxfam

My experience working on the relief effort has shown me how powerful people can be in the face of any crisis.

By Pierluigi Sinibaldi, Oxfam humanitarian officer currently based in Nepal

An earthquake doesn’t end with one shock. It doesn’t pass in a few seconds. Ever since April 25, the earthquake has been part of the lives of many Nepalese people, making its presence felt with small tremors almost every day, showing its magnitude in the ruins and the damaged buildings, and, as people told me, even entering at night into their dreams. As a specialist in helping people access food and earn a living after disasters, I have seen these effects firsthand.

On Wednesday May 12 I was in Abu Dhabi airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Kathmandu, when a second earthquake, this one of 7.3 magnitude, shocked Nepal again. The second earthquake brought even more hardships to the people of Nepal. Nevertheless, my experience working there confirmed for me, once again, how powerful people can be in the face of any crisis.

Our Nepalese staff and partner organizations have suffered enormous damage to their homes, and some are living in temporary shelters. They are worried about the lives and futures of their relatives, and their days are full of uncertainties. But instead of focusing on themselves, they are working to make things better for entire communities.  Their knowledge and skills are irreplaceable on the Oxfam team, and so is their vision.

People affected by the earthquake in Nepal cross a suspension bridge carrying items from Oxfam's food distribution in Saatbise, Nuwakot. About 450 households affected by the earthquake received items on one day.
People affected by the earthquake in Nepal cross a suspension bridge carrying items from Oxfam’s food distribution in Saatbise, Nuwakot. About 450 households affected by the earthquake received items on one day. Photo: Oxfam

Where an outsider like me sees heaps of rubble, my Nepalese colleagues see what used to be—people strolling around a beautiful town, visiting temples, playing cricket and soccer, and having lunch with their families on a peaceful weekend. They have a powerful commitment to helping people get their lives and communities back. And they are prepared to work 24/7 to make that happen.

Something else that has struck me here is how people from so many different countries and cultures have wanted to contribute to this emergency response. In my first two weeks in Nepal, I have worked and lived alongside people from all over the world: Kenya, Pakistan, the UK, the US, South Korea, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Mozambique, Australia, and more. We are all here to use our best skills and expertise to support our Nepalese colleagues and provide rapid relief to as many people as possible.

Everywhere we go, local people invite us to eat and sing and dance with them, and they make us all feel welcome.

It is this communion that is giving us the energy to work together from early morning until late at night. We smile at each other, talk about our lives, and never really feel the need to take a rest.

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