Rebuilding Nepal, One Shelter at a Time

Although the Nepal Earthquake has left the 24 hour media cycle and for the rest of the world it is out-of-sight out-of-mind, the repercussions are still wreaking havoc on poor developing villages all over the country.

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When natural disasters strike, it takes years to recover, rebuild and re-stabilize. This is evident if we think back to hurricane Katrina for example, but factor in the existing economic and political disasters that exist throughout Nepal, and recovery can seem impossible. In Kathmandu, it is business as usual, everything has been repaired or rebuilt and life goes on (unless we consider the current fuel shortage after India's back-lash against the new Constitution). But in many villages like Gorkha, rebuilding has not even begun due to the lack of access to these regions, so thousands are living under 'temporary' conditions.

We set out to help Nepal because we were contacted by many different individuals and organizations looking to send Cardborigami shelters to the survivors. For weeks after the major quake, families were living on the streets due to fear of their homes, now structurally compromised, collapsing on them. At that time, shelters would have been the ideal temporary solution for the entire country. However, since we did not have enough to provide, our team decided to physically go rebuild in remote villages nearest to the epicenter such as Gorkha. The plan was to provide funding to purchase materials needed and engage the villagers in the process of rebuilding one K-12 school that is now rendered unsafe for use.

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To get to Ghorkha, we had to travel 11 hours by car, five of which were spent on roads so dangerous that it felt like a never ending Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. When we finally arrived it was pitch black and we had no sense of where we were. Surrounded by a jungle, with one flashlight, we began to hike towards our destination, at which point a torrential monsoon downpour was added to the experience. It was quite the adventure; Unreal is the best word I can find to describe that day. I had read endless articles about why aid cannot arrive to remote villages, but now I fully understand the logistical obstacles related to rebuilding in these areas.

After the long journey, living in the villages was the most beautiful experience of my life. Everyone was so happy, appreciative, and grateful, with eyes gleaming amidst the rubble surrounding them. It was clear that these people were doing something right, they had unity, community ties, and a shared sense of responsibility to heal the physical, mental, and spiritual damage caused by the quakes. Research has strongly supported that the best way to recover after disasters is to involve the community in rebuilding, because this gives a sense of fulfillment and purpose to those who may otherwise feel helpless. That is exactly what we did, and I can attest to the mounting evidence.

For ten days we worked with many new friends who are dedicating themselves to help rebuild remote areas of Nepal. The current goal is to rebuild temporary schools to replace the thousands that collapsed. These will serve as classrooms until the government can rebuild permanent structures. We are continuing to support and communicate with the villagers. Since we left we have established wireless internet connections for the entire village, built two schools, provided shoes and supplies to the students, and built a new home for one family. Our plan is to return next year to implement more programs for the women and girls in these villages.

Many like-minded Nepali people are crossing physical boundaries, as well as those of the caste system, to rebuild, all connecting and uniting in large part on social media. We were told that the earthquake brought out the best of the Nepali, enabling them to unite. It was so beautiful to be a part of it.

There is no amazing blockbuster story that explains why we want to help others, why we want to make the world a better place, why we want to eliminate suffering for our fellow human beings. It is natural. It makes us happy to see others happy. It is not magic. It is human nature that is sometimes lost and forgotten under the stress and struggles of daily life.

This post is part of a series honoring the Toyota Mothers of Invention -- women who have demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and innovative concepts to positively impact the lives of others, whether in their own communities or on a global scale.