25 January 2016
I wish to thank everyone again who has contacted us with their best wishes of encouragements and donations for our very brave Nepalese friends in 2015.
With this wonderful support, great work is been done to help some of the most vulnerable there.
As I am off to Nepal for three months from 5th February, I think this update is important.
I last went mid-September and stayed amongst our friends two and half months. For weeks prior to going, I had been very apprehensive at the thought of finding a devastated land with traumatised people, especially the children.
Although there was much upheaval everywhere, l was amazed to find resilient and positive people almost everywhere.
Nepal seems to have disappeared form the News making many people think that the crisis is now over.
Far from it...
Life in Nepal is chaotic and people live badly.
Little re-construction post earthquakes has happened but much clearing up in the big cities had gone on. Many historic buildings and famous landmarks have disappeared, but the sites have been cleaned up to the effect that you sometimes wonder if there was a temple there at all before.
Many areas looked like they have been hit by shells. There are collapsed dwellings all over. Pretty villages have been flattened and replaced by Shanti towns.
Yes, the reality of seeing my friends and their children living precarious lives under tarpaulin, is hard to bare and the little help most have received from the government is rather shocking.
As if the devastation was not enough to cope with, the country has been enduring the bullying from India. The giant neighbour closed its Trade Routes with Nepal last September, effectively strangulating the ravaged country with disastrous humanitarian results for the most vulnerable, especially the children.
Two days after a long awaited New Constitution voted by 90% of Nepalese, India-backed rebels stopped supplies coming in overnight. India did it in the past to flex its muscles, but this time it is a catastrophe (more about the crisis right at the end).
Ban Ki Moon, of the UN, has denounced the blockade as illegal under International Law and made many attempts to bring it to light without result. Nevertheless The Indian Prime Minister, Mr Modi, was given the full Royal and Red Carpet treatment during his recent visit to London... no doubt thanking us for the Aid we still give to his buoyant economy venturing in extra planetary travel (The UK remains committed to give India another quarter of a billion pounds (£254 millions) in aid until 2019).
With next to no fuel nor kerosene, thousands of vehicles are stranded and queuing days and night for a maximum 10 litres of petrol (only 6 lts for motorbikes) paying between five and eight times the original price.
Work on roads blocked by collapse or landslides after the quakes and heavy monsoon has stopped because of lack of fuel.
Buses, lorries and diggers are seen abandoned by the road side everywhere.
This illegal blockade affects everybody and it is scandalous.
It is very difficult for School buses to operate including providing meals. Many schools have closed as a result.
Hospitals dependent on fuel for generators in an electricity-starved country, are struggling, when still open.
Some Newspapers reduced publication because of shortage of paper and fuel to operate machines.
Salt is rare and costly, so is cooking oil. The lack of cooking gas in cities means women cook on the streets using wood salvaged from collapsed buildings.
The impact is not only affecting cities. It is difficult, expensive and dangerous to travel on the roofs of over-crowed buses and the collecting and deliveries of farm produce to the cities, has been hampered, ruining already struggling rural communities.
Shortages of essential medicines, cement for rebuilding, steel and iron for construction add to the endless list.
A thriving black economy has sprung up, inevitably, funding the rebels.
The blockade by India, however, seems to have united the people of Nepal rather than divide them, as we suspect was the plan.
To add to the grief, of course tourists stay well away, creating the near collapse of the "industry" supporting hundreds of thousands of Nepalese.
Some of my immediate neighbours have moved in the Monkey House which is one of the safest houses in old Kathmandu. Coming home after 9pm in the dark, we have to walk around bodies under quilts on the floors, trying not to tread on the babies and the elderly.
I was glad to be back in Nepal and able to do something constructive rather than just worry from afar.
You cannot under-estimate the impact of the help and support so many of you have given to our friends there.
Yes, I did look like a pack mule at Kathmandu airport. No surprise there.
For the school we sponsor in Etay village, I gave the 5 kgs of colourful Lego pieces that travelled with me hand luggage (a mere 25 kgs...woops).
When l tipped over the bags on the floor, it was like the awe and magic at Christmas !
All the students from 5 to 16 years old went for it, bigger ones helping the smaller.
I watched and remembered how much l loved building houses, safe and happy when my immediate environment wasn't always so. Perhaps it will be of comfort to those who lost much in the earthquakes, including their confidence.
You may remember Sujal, Puja and Roshan, the three children who had been abandoned at the school.
Their health and education are guarantied for this year at least.
We have to work on making it more long term for them.
They are doing well but you can see they are different from the other kids who have parents, even the poor ones.
The one who worries me most is little Sujal.
"Dumped" aged 6, I find it really difficult to make him smile, let alone laugh. So sad!
I made the three of them choose a soft toy each out of the many l brought over for the nursery/pre-school class.
These three are a priority and they are able to keep the toy as theirs, whereas the other children use the toys as a library.
It was very touching to see each of them looking at a whole pile and slowly selecting THE ONE.
I asked them to give the soft animal a name, then l introduced them to their new best friend.
Roshan, the eldest boy, went to bury his bear, Tommy, in his bed in the dorm. Puja placed her bear, Subita, on a table in the playgroup classroom where she could watch it and little Sujal did not let go of his lion, he calls Raj, for one second. Fabulous but telling !
The small rural community of Etay and surrounding area is poor but not unique in Nepal.
Many dwellings have collapsed. Many farmers, like two thirds of the population in Nepal, are landless people forced to work as bonded labour for the landed rich. They do not own the very land they toil from dawn to dusk and have been living in servitude for generations, with little cash and hope to break the cycle for a brighter future.
By attending school, their children are their only hope to find work in the city or abroad, subsidising the families by sending money home.
Coming from the outside, like l do, has its benefit. It shows that there is a world still functioning out there. I gave several pep talks to the teachers and management of Namo Buddha School to boost moral after so much damage occurred in the community.
For many years now, part of the ritual of visiting the school is the distribution of children's clothes donated by well wishers from UK.
For this l always rely on the Principal and the teachers to point out which kids in the community really need it most, as it is not always obvious.
This year again l was able to give warm hand knitted and crocheted hats, vests and colourful little blankets.
Some garments had written labels "Knitted by a lady aged 89 years old" which was astonishing to our friends who never thought anyone could live so long !
Knowing how cold and uncomfortable the winter months will be under tarpaulin, with some of the money raised for The AR Nepal Fund, l bought several large and thick blankets in Kathmandu for some of the villagers. All were so welcomed and gratefully received.
I also kitted out the boarders at the school with new bed linen and warm colourful blankets.
You do realise the pressure that l put myself under ?
I am a Virgo and a French one at that... I just don't do mix. The blankets have to match…
I hunted in the markets and had all the warehouse stocks out.
Believe me it is not easy to get 60 of the same... We did it !
Got the blankets at a rate that cannot have left much of a profit for any of the dealers, and without much negotiating.
The bed linen were easy by comparison. I went to the wholesale traders down my street. They thought l was going to open a hotel.
l bought a whole stock of 180m of 100% cotton printed with pink lilies on pale blue for the boys and 180m of lilies on pink ground for the girls.
l got the lot cut, sewn and packed in record time and for a record rate, again without much negotiating. People are so pleased to see foreigners help Nepalese people.
A friend of ours, Lucy Dean, a Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture practitioner now based in Geneva, was in Nepal with our friends during the earthquakes. She saw first hand the gravity of the situation and assisted in the Gorkha region, one of the most affected areas.
Back in Europe she wanted to do something that would help the Nepalese with pain relief not relying on drugs and sent trained volunteers to Etay to run a Free Pain Relief Centre.
With our help they were able to stay three months at the school in Etayand greatly helped hundreds of members in the community with treatments.
I was there when the last team was operating and the joy, friendship and love between all parties was palpable.
Another friend, Roger Marsh, who practices Craniosacral Therapy and Acupuncture in The Shangrila Room at my Galleries was deeply affected by the dramatic events befalling our friends and their children in Nepal. Roger is planning a visit with a colleague for a few weeks of treatments in Etay. Their visit will be another "God Sent" to people who have so little. Amazing!
The Earthquake-Proof Community Centre in the small village of Etay.
Thanks to your generosity we have raised to date an incredible 50K out of the 95K needed for the construction. This made me feel confident about discussing the project with community leaders.
We have the perfect location! I knew we would.
It will replace the ancient, presently crumbling, PATI - Pilgrims shelter, in the centre of the village, only 100 yards away from the school.
The plan is to demolish and rebuilt the shelter by doubling its size by using donated land at the back of it.
By doing this the building will sleep over 350 souls on three levels, in case of emergency.
I investigated every building possibilities not only for a cost effective but also for a "green" build, having been told in UK about bamboo or recycled materials being alternatives to the re-enforced concrete option considered "old fashion" by some.
Let me tell you that l tried very hard but was laughed out and bluntly told by the local government that no private building, let alone a "Public" one, would be passed unless the build followed international guidelines in seism-prone locations = reinforced concrete pillar system on very substantial concrete foundations.
So we have to swallow and get on with it.
We have the perfect architect on board, Mr Yogendra Agrahari.
He restored and practically rebuilt a whole temple complex in Panauti, that l know very well.
You would swear the whole place was ancient, when in fact it is less than twenty years old.
The small museum, l have helped over the past few years, is part of this complex.
All new reinforced technology is hidden away and is solid as a rock. Nothing at all happened to it during the quakes. It was not a miracle.
Yogendra is so touched by our project and by our support to the community that he will charge us very little for his work.
The new build will look like the old one by making use of all the old wooden carved windows and pillars that will become merely decorative rather than structurally supportive.
Some will have to be restored and a few old additional ones will have to be found. My job when l next go in February.
I had three separate meetings with the whole community and its appointed leaders, the last one with the local Member of Parliament as the chief guest.
This was very official with the Press in attendance.
The unveiling of the banner bearing the architects drawings made a big impact on everybody.
My speeches were translated as they went by our friend Subarna Shrestha, the School's Principal.
I made it clear from the start that the financial help given for the building was not from my government but coming from donations made by individuals like me who care and are concerned about the future and safety of the community and its children in particular.
After putting forward my suggestion for having one room as a Health Post for visiting doctors from other districts, we asked for comments and suggestions. Members from all ages put forward requests - a small Library - a cyber/internet point - a room for the pensioners to meet.
I suggested a few basic exercise/fitness equipment would occupy some of the younger generation who could coach the elderly who struggle with knee, back and neck problems.
I stated that there will be absolutely no place for corruption or favours to individuals and said that accounts would be regularly and thoroughly checked and made it plain that, although The AR Nepal Fund would finance most of the building work, to make it theirs, the Community would have to participate in raising some of the cash.
The leaders had already decided to raise funds at the end of the last meeting. The equivalent of an incredible £350 was collected then and there under rounds of applause!
This earthquake proof building means a lot to the community.
Thanks to the school heads, who were a step ahead of me, eleven members of the community were elected as a Board for the Community Project. A Bank account that would necessitate three signatures for each cheque was also open.
The Board had decided it would employ a local boy to log in deliveries of materials and quantities used by the contractors to ensure no misbehaving. I was well impressed.
I am told this building will bring together rather than divide its members. I feel very confident that this is the right long term project to assist the small community.
So at the moment, with huge frustration, we are delayed and have to wait until India comes to its senses and for the prices of building materials to go back to normal so we can start in earnest. So unfair.
Although we have enough money in the pot for the most expensive part, the underground and pillar system up to the first floor, more funds are needed to make it to the second level. Lets make it happen for them!
Together we are doing good, important and lasting work.
Thank you for your support and for your best wishes that I always pass on to our friends and their children.
Spread the word to other like-minded friends whom you feel would like to contribute to these very worthy projects.
More Good News, in brief.....
Thank you !
"Most of us would like to help those who are less fortunate than us achieve goals that, we in the West, take for granted.
I feel it is our duty to help each other, where-ever we find ourselves in the world, as we see others help us in our hours of need."
All my very best to you,
A way to contribute is by cheque made payable to
ALAIN ROUVEURE NEPAL FUND
Todenham near Moreton in Marsh
GLOS GL56 9NU
or by bank transfer to:
ALAIN ROUVEURE NEPAL FUND
LLOYDS TSB 30 95 75 - Account 22238 668
IBAN GB43LOYD 3095 7522 238 668
The Closure of India's Trade Routes into Nepal.
This has happened before, but following the devastating earthquakes of last year, this time it has created a man-made humanitarian disaster.
India has been bullying Nepal for many years and has tried to influence it for its own benefit.
Nepal has an "open border" policy with India that stretches for over 1800 kilometres to the south. This province is flat and rich in agriculture, which is not the case for the rest of the country that is made up of the Himalayas, the highest mountains on the planet.
The open border has meant that for many years thousands of Indian citizens from Bihar, the most populated region of India, have walked in and settled in Nepal, mostly in the south.
They called themselves "Madeshis" and when asked what they consider themselves to be, the answer is pretty much without exception "Indian", which makes it confusing and complicated.
Nepal is a land-locked sovereign state that depends much on India for many of its vital supplies, but being sovereign it should be able to make its decisions through its elected government, despite the inevitable corruption that prevails in the sub-continent.
The end of the nineties saw ten years of terrible political turmoil in Nepal and the end of the monarchy.
After six years of arm-wrestling between infighting parties, a New Constitution was voted in, backed by more than 90 percent of the elected Constituent Assembly on 19 September 2015.
This New Constitution includes the re-distribution of zones between agriculturally rich south and poorer mountainous regions in the north, thus strategically dividing the two main provinces in the south bordering with India.
The design behind this new re-allocation was to guaranty that these two extremely populated regions (the two provinces have 52% of Nepal total population with a majority of over 70% being Madeshis) would not be able to strike and stop trade coming in, like they did several times in the past with India's backing.
India’s displeasure with this development has both symbolic and strategic dimensions.
The Trade Routes into Nepal closed violently two days after the voting of the New Constitution took place.
Nepal depends too much on India and the situation today has inflicted terrible pains on the people of Nepal who have already suffered so much with the terrible earthquakes.
Many Indian politicians and intellectuals are against Mr Modi's present policies, and against the ban seeing it as a dangerous game that may well push Nepal into China's arms.
If India wants its neighbour to prosper, then why does it treat Nepal as if it still needs to be pushed around, instead of accepting that Nepal is able to move ahead as an independent nation?
But why exactly is India pressurising Nepal?
Amongst others things, WATER!
Nepal, with the mighty Himalayas, has most of the water reserves India depends upon for its continued development.
The annual monsoon crashes on the southern hills feeding what become India's biggest rivers.
Snows on the tops guaranty, for the time being at least, reserves for the rest of the year. India wants water in dry season to be channelled to its northern provinces.
Plans for artificial rivers have long been drawn. India is irritated that it cannot dam its waters on flat and over-populated regions and irritated that it cannot easily establish power stations for its power-stricken fast consuming population.
It wants reservoirs and power stations in Nepal, even if this means displacing millions of Nepalese in the wake.
But where it gets more insidious...
For years, India has been backing the Madeshis living in southern Nepal, pushing for a referendum and a vote for more independence within Nepal.
This, long term, would probably mean an annexation of the Nepalese provinces and their large rivers as Delhi knows the people's cultural loyalties.
The other reality is that, if anything bad was to happen, lets say rioting in the south, it really does not want the Madeshis to return back into India, especially not over-crowded Bihar.
Where it gets complicated is that Delhi interference into Nepal's politics is not new and Nepalese leaders have been complicit in this interference.
Most of the politicians have been bank-rolled for years.
During the decade of the Maoist War (1996-2006), Nepal was in terrible violent crisis.
India’s help as a neighbour was crucial in striking a peace deal in 2004 between the Nepalese government and the Maoists. Since then, Nepal has been moving through a process of "relatively peaceful" transition, making strides in a number of areas: ending monarchy, adopting secularism, promoting social inclusion and achieving development, even if corruption is endemic and rife in the subcontinent.
Some reforms in Nepal have taken place and more must follow. You can always improve on a blue print. This is what a Constitution is about, and as a sovereign country, Nepal should be left alone to decide its own destiny and not act with India's foot on its throat as it is at the moment.
Interestingly enough, USA and Great Britain, including UN remain silent. China has not said much either, but is watching...
It too needs the water coming from the other side of the same Himalayas....
UK Registered charity No. 1166353