After Shock

How a UK community helped after the Nepal Earthquake

It was 11.56am on Saturday April 25 2015 when everything started shaking.

A devastating earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit Nepal.

Over the next 24 hours, 35 aftershocks above 4.0 magnitude hit the country.
The National Seismological Centre, located in Kathmandu, recorded a total of 3,000 aftershocks in the following 45 days.
Buildings collapsed and entire villages were flattened by landslides.
Nearly 9,000 people were killed and around 22,000 injured.
Not everyone was lucky enough to escape.

Four days after the first and biggest earthquake hit, the United Nations said eight million lives had been affected by the disaster – more than a quarter of Nepal’s entire population.

“There were a lot of aftershocks that continued coming for a long time,” said Thakur Kandel, a seismologist at the National Seismological Centre.

“It was very tough for people to stay inside their houses at that time with the earthquake.

“Barpak in Gorkha was at the epicentre when the earthquake started to break as the rock under the surface there started to break.

“We call it a directive defect and more aftershocks continued, there was more than 3,000 in total and 479 were greater than four magnitude.

“We have never recorded anything like this - it was the biggest earthquake we have ever recorded.”

Underneath the earth’s surface, the Indian and Tibetan plates had rubbed together.

“The Indian plate has been travelling north by two centimetres per year so there’s a stress accumulation and sometimes it breaks,” said the 35-year-old.

“It’s the same reason we have such beautiful mountains in the Himalayas in our country.

“There’s a fault all along the country that passes through the epicentre of the last quake. It means there are no safe places.
“The last big earthquake was 182 years and seemed to be in the same places.

“We couldn’t predict this. For a big earthquake it needs more energy so it takes more time and in some places there’s been no earthquake for a very long time indeed.

“There was nothing anyone could have done.”

Lagging four hours and 45 minutes behind, the UK was just waking up to the news of what had happened.

Many of the 10,000 or so people of Nepalese descent living on the Hampshire/Surrey border tried to make contact with loved ones to find out if they were okay.

After the shock, it didn’t take long for them to mobilise.

“We have never recorded anything like this - it was the biggest earthquake we have ever recorded.”
- Thakur Kandel, seismologist

Community groups across the Blackwater Valley rallied in support.
Volunteers at Aldershot’s Buddhist Community Centre quickly put emergency aid packs together.

Donations poured in to local Rotary Clubs and The British Gurkha Welfare Society became inundated with blankets, sleeping bags, pillows and other bedding items at its base in Wren Way, Farnborough
Thousands of people stood shoulder to shoulder in Aldershot as two vigils were held in the town.

Cheryl D’Cruz couldn’t believe what she saw when she woke and turned on the news that morning. She texted her friend Kapil Rijal, who runs Farnborough Dental Centre.
“I just said:

‘Oh my god have you seen the news? Are your family and friends all okay?’”

Ms D’Cruz said. “He told me it was awful and he was still trying to get through to everyone but I told him if there was anything we could do to help then to let me know.”

Mr Rijal held Ms D’Cruz to her promise.

The Lisa May Foundation was set up after former Surrey Heath councillor John May lost his daughter Lisa in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsnunami. The foundation has since raised more than £80,000 to help get people back to work, get children in school and clean water to people affected by that disaster. Ms D’Cruz is the charity’s fundraising manager and its expertise was about to be called upon again.
The charity raised more than £107,000 for 155 temporary shelter homes to be built across Nepal, including 140 in Ranchowk.

Cheryl D'Cruz, John May, Dr Kapil Rijal and Kaki Sherpa, president of the Aldershot Buddhist Community Centre.

Cheryl D'Cruz, John May, Dr Kapil Rijal and Kaki Sherpa, president of the Aldershot Buddhist Community Centre.

The village of Ranchowk is so small and remote, little comes up when you Google it. The village’s population is less than 1,000, it is two kilometres from the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake and was severely damaged.

Mr Rijal organised for a team of 22 to fly out and deliver aid and help to the village. Many of these volunteers were doctors but their party also included an engineer and a nurse.

The aid packs they delivered had been put together in the Aldershot Buddhist Community Centre. The centre had originally wanted to fund the flights of the volunteers, but when they were all too happy to pay for this themselves the money was reallocated. The help delivered to Ranchowk changed the village and the lives of everyone living there completely.

50-year-old shopkeeper Putaram Gurung, whose home was destroyed in the earthquake, lived in a tent with his family for two months before his shelter home was built by the Lisa May Foundation.

50-year-old shopkeeper Putaram Gurung, whose home was destroyed in the earthquake, lived in a tent with his family 
for two months before his shelter home was built by the 
Lisa May Foundation.

The House of Commons held the debate Nepal Earthquake: First Anniversary on April 25 last year.

During the debate, Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, said: “Some £2.87 billion has been set aside by a number of countries to help the rebuilding work but none of that has been spent yet. Does he (Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West, who introduced the debate) share my concern, and the concern of those in this House and those outside it, that not £1 of the £2.87 billion set aside has yet been spent? Is it not time that the government and the Nepalese government together ensured that the money is spent, houses rebuilt and people sorted out?”

Immediately after the earthquake the Nepalese government said it was reluctant to start building works straight away as the monsoon season made affected areas practically inaccessible.

Donated money went to the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, but critics claimed the delay in spending this money meant it would not be used for humanitarian aid.

During the parliamentary debate, Aldershot MP Sir Gerald Howarth said: “The Rushmoor Rotary and the Farnborough Rotary moved into action immediately to raise money on the streets of Aldershot and Farnborough.

“I have 10,000 Nepalese in my constituency. The response from the local community was fantastic, as was that of the Nepalese community itself.

“Kapil Rijal, who is a dentist in my constituency, not only has raised money but has gone out to Nepal and is actually spending the money on reconstruction work.

“Whatever the Government are failing to do, the private sector is doing some good work.”

In Ranchowk, that good work has seen an entire village transformed. Thanks to the money provided by the Lisa May Foundation and Dr Kapil, Bhim Bahadur Gurung, 46, who works as president of the village’s construction committee, has been able to help change the lives of many of the people living there.

Bhim Bahadur Gurung speaking in front of his own temporary shelter,
 which was funded by the Lisa May Foundation

Mr Rijal’s man on the ground was Jeevan Oli, 59, a former chief district officer for Gorkha. He helped organise delivering the materials and tools needed to build temporary shelters, which are characterised by their rounded roofs, for people whose houses had been destroyed - leaving them to face their country’s monsoon season otherwise living in tents.

He said: “Everything was carried up by some of them.

“People carried things from Baluwa. It took them four hours as it’s very steep up there.

“The road was collapsed in several places from the earthquake because it was rainy season so cars couldn’t travel so people had to do it.

“Our team was lead by Kapil. Everyone else was focused on where the epicentre of the earthquake was but we went to the other area of Ranchowk which was affected but as it was in a different area didn’t get as much help.

“It was very difficult to reach there, from Kathmandu it took five days to get there.

“When the rainy season comes here we can’t build on the land during that time, transporting things and driving on the road becomes very tough.”

The first few members of the team travelling straight from Kathmandu got there the day after the earthquake. The rest took 12 days because of the damage caused to roads and infrastructure.

Mr Oli said people in Ranchowk were pleased when they moved from living in tents to having temporary houses.
“Everyone is now building themselves new houses and using the temporary structures for other things,” he said.

“We have also built the schools in Ranchowk.

“As part of a plan to support economic development, we are teaching them to harvest cardamom to gain money for the village but that will take time.”

One of the priorities was to rebuild the school which had been completely flattened in the earthquake.

The Lisa May Foundation team would end up rebuilding eight school halls to ensure children’s education could continue.

“Still, the government is not providing any aid to rebuild this school,” Mr Oli added. “They have the disaster relief fund and they talk about it but they still haven’t provided to the really needed schools.

“No school has started rebuilding from that money but they still need it.

“In Gorkha, 90% of schools were damaged and none have received funding to be rebuilt.

“The work has not started but the students can’t wait. The people can’t wait - they have to study. We need to support them.

“The disaster relief fund is not working properly. It’s not really helping people, not building things.

“The government is not getting enough money to build schools and provide people with an education so private people are providing it themselves.”

"I felt as if the earthquake will strike again and we stayed
outside of the house, in the animal shed for quite a while."
- Dambahadur Thapa

Outside the Harlington Centre, home to the town library in Fleet, sits the Gurkha Square Car Park.

The car park’s name is a small way the area remembers where the 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Gurkha Rifles, later becoming the 1st Battalion of The Gurkha Rifles, called home between 1971 and 2000.

The year of the Nepal earthquake, 2015, was the 200th anniversary of the first Gurkhas joining the British Army.
Following the disaster, groups and organisations based in Hampshire donated around £195,000 to the Gurkha Welfare Trust. The charity provides financial, medical and development aid to Gurkha veterans, their families and communities. The money donated in Hampshire was enough to build nearly 30 homes for Gurkha veterans and widows.
The single biggest donation came from The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, based in Aldershot, which gave £40,000. donated.

Making Hampshire County Council’s donation of £20,000 in 2015, leader of the council Roy Perry said: “All those affected by the terrible earthquakes in Nepal are in our thoughts and prayers, including the families of those who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances, or who have been injured or homeless.”

One of the former Gurkhas to benefit from the donations is 98-year-old Dambahadur Thapa. He has lived on his own in a village called Masardanda in the hills of Tanahun, since 2011 when his wife passed away.

Mr Thapa enlisted in to the army on October 16 1940, entering the 1/1 Gurkha Rifles before going around the world, including visits to Iran, Iraq and Egypt, in the line of duty.

In 1994 he was granted a Gurkha pension on the grounds of destitution.

When the earthquake hit, Mr Thapa was sitting outside his home.

“I was sitting on the veranda of our house when my middle son dragged me away from the house,” he said. “The rubble and stones from the first floor fell all over the place. The house was shaking and the stones fell from the damaged house.

Mr Thapa where he was sitting when the earthquake struck

Mr Thapa where he was sitting when the earthquake struck

“I was very afraid actually I went to my field and sat there and we stayed outdoors.

“I felt as if the earthquake will strike again and we stayed outside of the house in the animal shed for quite a while.

“You could say that we stayed outside for the entire monsoon season that followed after the earthquake. All others were also very afraid and stayed outside of their houses.”

Money donated to the Gurkha Welfare Trust built the house in which Mr Thapa now lives.

In total, 13 veteran Gurkhas or widows were killed in the earthquake, the homes of more than 2,000 former soldiers were damaged and one Gurkha Welfare centre was destroyed.

Another ex-Gurkha whose life was turned upside down when the earthquake hit was Corporal GyanBahadur Gurung, 75, who lives in Langkachhar, with his wife Devi Maya, 47 and daughter, who didn’t want to be photographed or named, due to a disability which is highly stigmatised in the country.

Although his time in the Gurkhas had taught him a lot, nothing could have prepared Cpl Gurung for what happened on that fateful day on April 25 2015.

The pair escaped but their home suffered severe damage.
A new one is currently under construction which, once completed, will have steel support running through the cement to make it ‘earthquake proof’.

“I am incapable of building the house on my own since my pension money wouldn’t be enough as it goes towards my family to fulfil their basic needs,” Cpl Gurung said.

“With this donation they provided I would be able to get my house back which would mean I will feel more secure and even if there is limited food in the household, I would be satisfied by the fact that I have a roof over my head to protect me.”

Aldershot Town FC are used to rising from the ashes. The club’s crest even symbolizes it. So when news filtered through of what had happened in Nepal, everyone at the club felt compelled to help the country so many of its fans are from.

Aldershot Town FC chairman Shahid Azeem said: “As with any disaster around the world, it affects everyone emotionally but particularly in our football club.

“Our link with the Nepalese community here in Aldershot brought it home a bit more.

“From a football club point of view we are a football club at the heart of the community. We have a big Nepalese community here in Aldershot and the Buddhist Centre is right outside our ground.
“When this devastation happened we wanted to do something to help in a small way.

“If you look at it from our point of view, it’s a small contribution to all of this devastation and psychological impact on this country for years and years.

“So, for us, we’ve done our small bit, to build two schools for the next generation, that’s all we can do really.”

Helping in a small way has meant the club started fundraising at match days, and ticket sales from a Chelsea under 21 team match, which are played at the club’s Ebb Stadium ground, against Liverpool under 21 also going towards the fundraising efforts.

The money raised provided funding for the Sherpa School in Bamti Bhander, Ramechhap, and Shree Ganesh School in Jyamirswora, Gorkha. The school in Bamti Bhander provides education, food and shelter for 340 destitute children up to the age of 12, 100 of whom are orphaned or have lost a parent.
At Shree Ganesh, Jyamirswora, 50 students aged between six and 12 years old are back in education despite their school being flattened in the disaster.

Gun Bahadur Thapa, 48, head teacher at Shree Ganesh

After the earthquake the school had to be closed, and teachers and volunteers made a temporary structure and used aluminium sheeting as a roof where lessons could get back underway.

Mr Thapa added: “Now I am very happy because Sahara Club helped to rebuild our school. Rest of the schools in this area have not been rebuilt yet. Few of them that have been built have only one or two rooms. Nevertheless, this school has been completely rebuilt. So we are feeling proud.”

But schools all over the country were also damaged in the disaster, and they also needed funding.

The money raised through Sahara, which translates to ‘support’ in Nepali, has done just that for the country’s future generations.

The charity runs the Sahara Academy for orphans, based in the city of Pokhara.

At the academy 28 orphaned boys live in five rooms, and get football coaching sessions twice a day, as well as an education at a nearby school.

Senior coordinator of sports and vice president Keshab Bahadur Thapa, who is based there, said: “We tried to build up the school so they can have an education for their future lives.
“That’s why we asked the UK people to help raise money. It’s very close to our hearts to build the schools that were broken by the earthquake.

“We have to support the children for the future of Nepal, it is the future of our country that is at stake here.

“The damage caused by the earthquake will be much deeper if we do not help and will be felt again in five years.

“We didn’t want to wait for the government to do something as it would be too slow. We had to do something ourselves and we did our best.”

The Gurkha Palace Restaurant, Farnborough Road, Farnborough, holds a celebratory anniversary event every year.

Organised by the restaurant’s owner, Surya Gurung, and his wife, Babita, the event includes a meal, of course, and an auction to raise money for charity. It’s the sort of event where people return year after year and purchase the same fruit bowl for far more than it’s worth, just to wind up their other half.

Where family members get in to bidding wars with each other in a fight for the favour earned by being the one able to hand items over to the children the following morning.
Money raised at the next two anniversary fundraisers went towards rebuilding schools in Nepal.

Gurkha Palace Restaurant in Farnborough, Hampshire

Gurkha Palace Restaurant in Farnborough, Hampshire

The first was Annapurna High School in Armala Village, Kaski, and the restaurant has also raised money for Mohenrda Lila School in Harmi, Gorkha, with the help of Nirmaya Rodhighar restaurant in Victoria Road, Aldershot.

There, headteacher Krishna Bahadur Neupane, 45, was relieved the children were not in school when the earthquake struck.

Krishna Bahadur Neupane, head teacher of Annapurna High School

Krishna Bahadur Neupane, head teacher of Annapurna High School

“It was a Saturday so everyone was outside working in the fields,” he said. “They came back to the school and it was destroyed and we were told what had happened.

“It was a difficult time and a lot of people became very depressed and it was very tough.

“From there the donations came in and people became happy but we learned how to survive.”

“One child died [during the earthquake]. She was just three years old.

“She was playing with another child in between two houses when the earthquake started.

“The other one got scared and ran out to go in to the home but the other one didn’t make it and died.

“In the whole area, I would say 150 people were badly injured with broken hands, legs.

“Eight people died in our neighbouring borough and in all of Gorkha it was about 1,000 people.”

But the money donated has helped purchase land from local farmers so the school can not only rebuild but continue to grow.

The damage caused at Mohenrda Lila School in Harmi, Gorkha.

The damage caused at Mohenrda Lila School in Harmi, Gorkha.

“We had 19 rooms before the earthquake hit but six rooms collapsed,” Mr Neupane said.

“We have had funding for the six rooms to be rebuilt and had temporary structures as well.

“We have had funding from America, Canada, Nepal and the UK as well as others.”

Now able to look forward, Mr Neupane has big ambitions.

“Inside the new building we will have a library we’re going to have a garden as well if there is room and we will grow fruit for the children to learn all about agriculture,” he said.

“From now the children are happy but when we have constructed the new building they will be even more happy.

“The community helped us to build the new construction, the teachers all worked to build the school together for one building, carrying all of the stones and equipment from a nearby village to get started and they filled the land.

“Without the help of the community, without the land, we can do nothing.

“The money we have received has been a really good help and we want to give our thanks from the bottom of our hearts.”

But less than a five kilometre walk away from Mohendra Lila it’s a different story. The next nearest school in a village called Salbot, Chhopprak, still lies half destroyed.

Shree Bhadrashila Pra Bi School in Salbot, Chhopprak.

Shree Bhadrashila Pra Bi School in Salbot, Chhopprak.

Charity donations are yet to reach here and neither has any money the from the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.

To get government funding towards the children’s education, the school would need to be teaching 50 pupils.

With only 21 pupils currently enrolled, the learning materials and teachers’ salaries have to be funded by the community. Some of the teachers accept rice as payment so they can feed their families.

The residents of Salbot can’t afford the materials or labour for any rebuilding work to take place, so their children take lessons with a curtain covering the damaged area of the classroom.

Hari Prasad Pokhrel, 56, is the head teacher of Shree Bhadrashila Pra Bi School.

Hari Prasad Pokhrel, head teacher of Shree Bhadrashila Pra Bi School.

Hari Prasad Pokhrel, head teacher of Shree Bhadrashila Pra Bi School.

“It’s for the young pupils at this school,” Mr Pokhrel said.

“The building is in poor condition and it has been two years since the earthquake and we have had little support.

“The money we have had has done little to help and because of the condition the building is in none of the parents want their young children to come here.”

Two years on, the impact of the earthquake is still being felt across the country.

“It was a difficult time and a lot of people became very depressed and it was very tough.

“The money we have received has been a really good help and we want to give our thanks from the bottom of our hearts.”
- Krishna Bahadur Neupane

The Nepalese Government did not respond to Get Hampshire’s request for comment.

Words: Joshua Smith
Subtitles: Sapana Gurung
Photos: Omar Havana/Getty Images, David Ramos/Getty Images, Chris Whiteoak, Alistair Wilson, Grahame Larter, Joshua Smith