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From the rubble of Nepal

On the ground in Kathmandu, IsraAid's Asia regional director begins the work of providing relief to a devastated country
Wreckage in Kathmandu's Gangabu district after the Nepal earthquake, April 2015 (Yotam Polizer/IsraAID)
Wreckage in Kathmandu's Gangabu district after the Nepal earthquake, April 2015 (Yotam Polizer/IsraAID)

The past 48 hours have been incredibly intense, both emotionally and physically. During the difficult journey from my current home base in Japan to Nepal, I met dozens of Nepalese people working abroad who were rushing home upon hearing of the death of their loved ones in this terrible earthquake.

One gentleman on the plane, Bimal Shrestha, was clearly traumatized as he shared his personal story with me. In a shaken and broken voice, he told me that a temple collapsed on his wife and his only child, his sweet four-year-old daughter, as they were praying on Saturday afternoon when the earthquake suddenly struck.

Having worked in dozens of disasters, I am well aware that Bimal’s story is just one of hundreds of thousands. I listened closely, giving him the time and space to fully express his shock and grief, all in his native tongue. I tried my best to comfort him in Nepalese, a language I know well from my three and half years of living in Nepal.

As the conversation continued, I began to realize the extent of this catastrophe and the need for both immediate emotional care and psycho-social support along with basic humanitarian relief. I began to wonder and worry about what I will find that’s both familiar and foreign once I arrive.

The chaos was evident upon landing. The airport was hectic and packed with a frenzy of people trying to leave Nepal and others, like myself, trying to get in. A surreal mix of tourists desperate to exit and aid desperate to enter.

I was quickly greeted by several colleagues and local contacts. Sudish, IsraAID’s local field coordinator, and an old friend, had done much of the necessary ground work within hours of the earthquake. We checked in with several local officials and international organizations as well as the head of the IDF delegation in Nepal to communicate IsraAID’s plans and to coordinate our work.

We immediately drove to one of the worst affected areas of Kathmandu, Gangabu. The air was thick with dust, the roads full of rubble as I scanned the scenes of flattened homes, toppled temples and collapsed buildings.

A typical scene.
A typical scene.

We stopped and met with the local police and army as they struggled to pull bodies from the rubble. The head of Nepal’s Special Forces, Commander Thapa, was relieved to hear that our rescue team was arriving shortly and ready to work where most needed.

A common scene.
Body Bags on the side of the road.

It became clear from our assessments on the ground that entire areas outside of Kathmandu had not been assisted yet. We decided to therefore try and focus some of our efforts around one of the most devastated rural areas of Sindupalchowk.

As the digging of bodies continued all around us, I met with Manu Dhakal, a local gentleman who told me in tears that his wife, daughter, brother and father were still buried somewhere under the rubble. He pointed in the direction of what was once a restaurant and begged for our urgent support in helping him locate his family, who were simply sitting and enjoying a Saturday lunch when the entire building collapsed.

Hearing the tragic stories of loved ones trapped under the rubble.
Hearing the tragic stories of loved ones trapped under the rubble.

It quickly became clear that while much of the destroyed capital was unrecognizable, the compassionate, caring and resilient people I had the privilege of meeting thus far, were still so familiar.

I felt like I was back at home and now ready for the challenges that lay ahead.

Finalizing logictics for IsraAID's Earthquake response teams.
Finalizing logictics for IsraAID’s Earthquake response teams.

Over the next few weeks, IsraAID emergency teams will focus on search and rescue efforts, medical relief and psycho-social care.

To Support IsraAID’s Earthquake Relief in Nepal go to these sites:

About the Author
Yotam Polizer is the CEO of IsraAID – Israel’s biggest humanitarian NGO. Founded in 2001, IsraAID has worked in more than 50 countries, helping people affected by crisis re-build their lives, their communities, and their futures, together. Following the September 2015 refugee crisis in Europe, he led IsraAID’s humanitarian mission in Lesbos, Greece, to support Syrian refugees on the island and also established IsraAID Germany, which provides long-term support for Yazidi and Syrian refugees in Germany. During the last 10 years, Polizer has also built and led humanitarian aid programs in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and in South Korea to support the reintegration of North Korean defectors. He has also led missions in Nepal following the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake and in Sierra Leone for Ebola survivors, health workers, and affected communities. He has more than 10 years’ experience in education, humanitarian aid, and international development
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