April marks five years since devastating earthquakes hit Nepal, which resulted in 8,790 deaths, 22,300 injuries and 755,549 houses that either damaged or destroyed.
We speak to Nepali volunteers who were there in the wake of the disaster back in 2015. After seeing the power of volunteering, they went onto support local communities during ICS placements in 2020. Samyukta and Rajkamal share what they learned about the importance of resilience, being an active citizen and continuing to support the rebuilding of their country.
At 11.56am on 25 April 2015, buildings started shaking.
Within minutes, family homes, players of worship, hospitals, schools and businesses were brought down to the ground by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Across Nepal, almost 9,000 people died and hundreds of thousands more were left homeless and facing extreme poverty.
Aftershocks continuing more than two months later hampered the recovery. As one of the world’s poorest countries, Nepal’s economy took a huge hit. Employment suffered, with people flocking from rural areas to the capital, Kathmandu, in search of work to support their families.
The wave of volunteerism following the disaster was vital in rebuilding the country. Volunteers were key in strengthening local institutions, mobilizing the capacity of affected communities, and increasing coordination among key players that responded to the earthquake.
A UN report evaluating the role of volunteers following the 2015 earthquake highlights just how far-reaching the effects of volunteers are. According to Richard Dictus, the UN Volunteers Executive Coordinator, the support provided in the earthquake response showed “how volunteers can provide vital support in tackling the effects of a tremendous disaster while transferring skills and knowledge to help build greater resilience.”
ICS alumni Samyukta and Rajkamal share their experiences of volunteering in the earthquake aftermath and how it led to their ICS journeys five years later.
Samyukta Poudel, 20, from Kathmandu remembers the fallout: “People had lost their homes and were living outside for months. Immediately afterwards, the country was in shock and wasn’t sure what to do but slowly people started helping each other.”
She was surprised how the population came together. Despite the colossal damage to the country and its residents, those who were able volunteered their time to help those affected.
“Even during the aftershocks people were out helping each other, trying to get those out who were trapped. There were lots of individuals and organisations coming together to help,” she added.
“In 2015 I saw the best in people. Right after the earthquake, people were sharing food, cooking together, hugging each other. The public was helping everyone to get over the trauma.”
It was through this power of coming together that Samyukta saw the power of volunteering and was inspired to take part in ICS and make an impact in her country. In January, she joined a team of volunteers in Lamjung in central Nepal.
“I loved how ICS is a whole team of young people working together, making ideas and living with local communities in rural Nepal. I was working in inclusive education. We were the first cycle in the community and the community seemed really happy to work with us,” said Samyukta.
For Rajkamal Fakir, 20, from Kathmandu, living through the 2015 earthquake required mental strength.
“There was physical destruction all over the country,” he said. “It was really shocking for us to see such things. Mentally, it was a challenge as I was just 16.
“It was very hard to get in contact with each other. All contact, including telephones and televisions was completely shut down. Anything could’ve happened to anyone and we just didn’t know.”
Rajkamal and his community rallied together to visit those areas most damaged by the earthquake to see how he was able to help. Seeing the power of people coming together in time of need, he went on to apply for ICS to continue his positive work in rural Nepal.
“I thought that going to rural areas would allow me to know more about my country and see what part I can play,” he said. “The government is quite centrally focused so it’s important to volunteer in rural areas where we can share ideas and focus on education.
“ICS was great in that it allowed me to go to a different part of Nepal, share and work together. In Lamjung we focused on inclusive education. A lot of people aren't aware of need for education to involve all children. There, it was mainly boys who went to school, with girls missing out.”
And for Rajkamal, the work doesn’t end there.
“To be an active citizen means to be constantly aware and alert of situations happening on a local, national and global level and then be an immediate help where it’s needed.”
How is ICS preparing communities for another disaster?
Nepal needs to remain prepared. Because of its geology, architecture and urbanisation, the country is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.
ICS has been working with organisations like Nepal’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Centre. By working with the community, local people can become first responders should another disaster happen.
Volunteers, supported by expert local partners, deliver sessions to the community on everything from mock fire drills to responsible waste management, practising safe menstrual health to orientation with local emergency services.
“My team supported people to carry out risk assessments for potential future disasters,” said Rebecca Spencer, an ICS alumnus who volunteered in Nepal.
“We ran training sessions with local healthcare professionals, teaching basic first aid and together we organised free health camps with onsite treatment and medication available. Our work really did help bring the community together.”