Capt (Ret’d) Umesh Pun MVO has returned from a month in Nepal as a relief worker with the American formed Team Rubicon. Looking thin and exhausted with dark circles under his eyes, Umesh talks about the everyday realities for Nepalese citizens after the devastating earthquake hit them just 7 weeks ago and the work of Team Rubicon with Sir Edmund Hillary’s granddaughter, Amelia Rose.
The Day After the Earthquake in Nepal…
The next day I had a call from one of my friends, who is a British Gurkha officer, and he asked me if I would go to Nepal. I just said, ‘Yes, I will go and help.’ When I see that devastation happening in Nepal, then I thought, as I Nepalese, I must do something for the Nepalese citizens.
Then in 36 hours I’ve been told to go to Heathrow Airport to fly out with the Team Rubicon [from the USA]. Team Rubicon is all the veterans from military, RAF, marines, fire [brigades]. But actually they started about five years now they get together. They been in Haiti, Philippines. And they about to go in Nepal.
As soon as we hit the Kathmandu, in about 48 hours, Kathmandu was very quiet. Most of people went back to village, because they are the place where they came from. There wasn’t any traffic.There wasn’t people, it was just like ghost town. And I was very surprised because I know what Kathmandu’s like, just traffic, people. But after three days I can see people more and more on the road, cars, scooters, tom-tom and it’s packed again. Then Kathmandu is just normal life. And by that time we tried to find out exactly the village where we can help.
Therefore we heading to Sindhupalchok, one of the districts, it’s badly hit, and we went to Tatopani, where the border cross with the China. We went to Gorkha, another district which is badly affected. Basically Team Rubicon’s mission is to treat the casualties as quickly as possible. And we had a volunteer doctor, nurses. We had medications, many bags of medication. It came from the United States.
And so first, initially, no one knows what’s going on. The government never had a control point. There were many different organisations coming to Nepal in order to help earthquake victims, but unfortunately, because of no coordination at all… we struggling to understand which part we need to do first.
In two weeks we treated more than 300 casualties up in the very remote places. Sometimes we manage to fly the casualty by helicopter, emergency… at same time we … the victims need some food and shelter as well. So what we done, we buy the rice, or lentils, oils, whatever we can, and some tents, so we start to giving to the individual families as well as treating the people. Some of the villages, when we met them, it was almost seven, eight days later than earthquake, so they were desperate. They didn’t like money, because sometime we give them money. They said, what to do with the money? We manage to develop some of the temporary houses as a demo and we manage to distribute some housing materials, like sheet the tin, some tarpaulin, some iron bars, where they can make the house so village start to build up themselves.
Temporary housing structures for villagers in remote district of Sindhupalchok
We cleared the rubbles from the schools, we start to make a little bit shelter for the children:
When we were in Kathmandu, we helped some of the individual families whose belongings, everything, under the rubble, so no one actually helping them. So we went there to actually clear up their house and bring out their whatever under the rubble.
And also we had a very good opportunity, work with the granddaughter of Sir Edmund Hillary.
Amelia Rose, granddaughter of Sir Edmund Hillary with Umesh
She actually kind of ambassador in Nepal because she doing the Himalayan Trust project. She really like our Team Rubicon, so she start to work with us. We try to help her vision. So it went very well because whatever we come up with the plan, she’s really helpful and supportive. We managed to send some of the materials wherever she want to send it.
As I myself Nepalese, I’m very fortunate to living here in the UK, when I see that news, devastation, then I really, really feel sad and feeling bad. And I always have very simple principle. If I can make happy someone, or others, I’ll be very happy. That’s my principle. If I can make at least one family happy in this difficult situation, I’ll be very happy. And that’s why I deploy to Nepal and I work one month, day and night. We didn’t have time for proper sleep or dinner because earthquake keep happening in Nepal.
I was actually in Kathmandu, having my lunch, in daytime, then suddenly that second biggest earthquake happened. It was so scary. .. at that point I start to realise, is this the end of the world or is this the end of my life?
[The villagers] They lost everything. And rainy season about to start. They don’t have proper shelter. They don’t have enough food. But some of the village people I know, they are requesting – there were about 600 houses in one village which is all gone -they want to go together, wherever the government takes them. That’s what their demand. Because they lost everything, their life, everything about their history of their village. It’s very hard. Where they going to go, these people, right? Where they going to establish new life? It’s difficult, because every district villages, they got their own heritage, their own identity about that village. As soon as you move to the new locations, they lost everything. After the earthquake, most of the hillside is unstable, and now rainy season start. So it’s going to be big landslides, everything.
I think rebuilding houses is very massive project. I don’t think anybody can do that. Yes, we can do a few houses, I’m sure Nepalese people are very strong, especially up in the village. They are so self-sufficient in the village they are really good. They work together. They share everything, what they have left. And so I’m sure they will build small houses, temporary houses, whatever houses, they can do it. This happen eighty years ago. They build themselves. No one did help at that time. So I’m sure they can do it. But these schools, I don’t think so anybody can do it, because if village people do it themselves they need money to buy the things. For example, timber or cement bricks. So if we provide little money to buy that kind of things, village people more than happy to work themselves, then build their school themselves. When they work, we can contribute a little bit money to the village, then every donor money, go back to their own village. So that’s the way we can be doing two things: one, the finance support to the village; secondly, donor money goes to the right things, for example schools.
Umesh says this sign translates very roughly as ‘Only help yourself to food/supplies if you truly need them. If you take food/relief when you do not need it then karma will affect your life.’