By Audette Exel, Founder and Chair, Adara Group
Slowly, slowly my emails downloaded. Notes of support and offers of help. Emails from the Adara team worldwide adding structure and thinking, to help our overstretched Nepali team. And yet again, a barrage of emails with copies of articles warning of the dire risks of working with the government of Nepal – full of criticisms led by those living in faraway lands.
I finished reading, sighed, and looked around the room. Welcome to another 10am Kathmandu Health Cluster meeting. People were crammed into every corner. A Nepali general was deep in conversation with a Nepali women’s rights activist. The issue was how to report on gender based violence and sexual assault that is being perpetrated on some of the most vulnerable at this time. The general was also talking about how to distribute milk and baby clothes to women and babies in need.
Beside them, the Japanese INGO head was conferring with the Ministry of Heath representative. The Indian government representative was outlining the shipments they were bringing in by Hercules to the Chinese INGO guy. And the WHO man, (who looks like a movie star), kept the meeting moving and respectfully outlined the key need: to support the Nepali health care system to get back on its feet. To make sure that in this rush to help, we don’t circumvent systems that must stand when foreign agencies move to the next crisis. To help quietly, not to lead.
How to explain what is going on here, and the layers of complexity baked into this catastrophe? How to explain that Nepalis are making order from chaos? That they are still managing to laugh, even when surrounded by pain? And that being here at this time is to feel the deepest respect for this country and its people, and to see the ordinary becoming extraordinary?
Here stand our amazing Nepali team, many of whom have lost their homes. Some of them appeared in the office the day after the quake, to roll up their sleeves and begin work. “We are safe, so now we must save others” is the mantra of our incredible Nepali Country Director, Pralhad Dhakal. “Don’t tell me you lost your home. Everyone lost their home. Are you alive? OK, good, let’s work!”
Adara has had the huge privilege of working in Nepal for 17 years. We are specialists in very remote health and education service delivery, and in the care and support of kids at risk. We are long term development specialists, not crisis experts. Even before the quake, our all Nepali team humbled me. Now, as I watch them mobilise all their skills and knowledge to help whoever they can, what I feel is utter respect.
Menuka Rai, our Health and Medical Coordinator, was back at work less than 48 hours after the quake hit. Since then, she has worked around the clock, coordinating teams of doctors and health workers, moving our mobile medical camps to the most affected areas, and treating more than 1000 people. She eats while she sorts medicines, and she sleeps in the car on the way back to base, late each night. And then she goes “home” to a tent, to see how her 7 year old daughter and the rest of the family are. Today, our team had a rest day after 7 relentless days in a row. But not Menuka. She came into the office with her daughter to sort medicines for tomorrow’s camp.
How can I explain what I am seeing here? Other than to say that there is devastation, and there is grief. But there is also magnificence, and a lesson for all of us in what giving really means.
Nepalis know that this country needs to rebuild, one brick at a time, one person at a time. And they know that to do so they need to work through and beside every sector: private, non-profit and sometimes through the instrument of government, no matter how shaky.
So to all those who want to use this precious time to criticise, can you please speak quietly? Because amazing Nepali people supported by so many from one end of the world to the other, are working hard to rebuild their country. And that’s what the noise should be about.
If you would like to support Adara’s relief effort, please visit our blog. It will give you more information on how you can help, and our plans for disaster relief.