From the onset, one of the first things that was made apparent was our team’s goal to build relationships with the local people of each community before providing any aid. Through this critical step in the Invictus model, conversations take place that allow locals to share their personal stories, problems and needs. Invictus team members then evaluate, research and plan best possible long-term solutions that require local participation and resources. After all, anyone can enter an area and give free stuff away, but without actually taking the time to truly get to know those you are trying to serve, how does one know whether or not the free stuff is actually doing more harm than good? By focusing on relationships first, our team is creating the opportunity to join the communities we are trying to help. We get to walk next to and do life with people, gaining a perspective that goes beyond the felt needs that are seen at the surface of an issue, and revealing the real needs that are at the heart of a community. This is the only way to setup the communities we partner with for long-term success.
Over the last several days, we were quick to realize that the communities we visited shared many similarities. The more people we spoke to, the more we learned that the earthquakes had not only taken people’s homes and possessions, but also their purpose and identity. Beneath the pleasantries exchanged between our new friends were feelings of disparity and hopelessness. It was difficult to see and hear, but it was important for the team to experience. The stories the community members shared not only allowed us to gain a better understanding of their mindset, but also showed us how alike our two cultures are. The team reflected on and discussed how our own identities and sense of fulfillment, as citizens of Western culture, are similarly tied into such fleeting things as careers and material possessions. Sharing stories of life’s loss and pain back home, we were saddened when we thought about how much power each of us allow the things that are here today and gone tomorrow to have over our lives.
After visiting several more communities and learning much from the community leaders we came into contact with, it was brought to our attention that a community with the greatest need was just along the mountainside of Bhaktapur. Learning that they had received very little assistance from local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), we charted transport and were quickly off to visit the village of Tamang Gaon.
Unloading the whole crew from the bus, we went into the heart of this mountain community, meeting up with the leaders and locals directly affected by the natural disaster that had hit them. The locals immediately erupted with stories recounting their experiences.
One of the ladies we met told us about a time when she was tending her livestock out in the fields when the ground suddenly started to shake. Her immediate instinct was to run back to the house where her grandchildren were staying. She rushed back, screaming for the children, but the ground was shaking so hard she couldn’t run. When she made it back to the house, the community was in chaos, but to her relief a protecting hand had been over her grandchildren. They had survived the crushing rubble as it fell and made it out alive. They are now living in the same location, with makeshift accommodations, and receiving some assistance from the rest of the community.
The team also heard a story from a young man in the village. He told us how prior to the tensions between India and Nepal leading to the blockade on the southern border, after the earthquakes happened, they were on the track to a smooth reconstruction and recovery. However, because of the blockage, materials for rebuilding have been impossible to get. Prices have jumped tremendously, creating an unstable economy, and home rebuilding was currently at a standstill for the village. Nobody knew when life would start getting back to normal. After we asked about the government’s involvement and what’s been done to reverse the conflict, we learned that the government had in fact allocated 10,000 rupees (or $100 USD) per household for the purchase of warm clothes and blankets to make it through the cold weather period we were all currently in. However, this only served as a short-term solution that didn’t adequately support a path to rebuild their previous way of life.
There on the hillside, we learned that contrary to what we had been told, this community, much like the other rural communities we had visited, were in a much better position than those living in the city. Our research had highlighted that it was the location that was the key factor in the aftermath of the earthquake. Due to the land ownership of each community member within the hillside communities, they were more easily able to come together as a community and help one another. Their ability to collaborate and assign roles and responsibilities for each community member helped everyone work together and take care of one another.
The team as a whole spent the day on this mountain listening to these stories and building friendships with individual members of the community. These new relationships helped us determine where our resources and time would be best allocated to provide the most value. This crucial aspect of our work helped us avoid undermining their collective potential for sustainability and creating a dependency from within–things that could come as a result of bringing in supplies that were either unnecessary or not needed.
Despite the fact that eight months had passed since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the Himalayan nation, with more earthquakes and tremors since then, many have been affected in more ways than most people can imagine. The team discovered that the urban areas were left more paralyzed than the hillside regions because of a lack of resources, land ownership, and a lesser sense of community. The houses within the city had been deemed unsafe or completely demolished following the earthquake, forcing families to make the decision to live in the safety but unreasonable cold of the tent camps or in the remnants of their destroyed homes, many of which had been reduced to dust. With less resources to share and more fragmented family pockets, the team knew that it was those in the city that would need our help the most.