Together you have helped raise…
!! £2500 !!
…towards the rebuild of a family home that was destroyed in the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
Well done all of you, and thank you.
I sit and I watch Sita from within her small and dark but snug kitchen. She sits on the ground over her fire and from the vegetables and herbs she grows, she makes from scratch our meals. I’ll smile at her and she smiles back and as we try to speak some words together we giggle at the fact that neither one of us understands a word of the other. As she goes about her daily chores we’ll wave at each other and laugh, the way she does with everyone. Such a kind face. Such a soft voice. She worries about me. About my strange eating habits. I struggle with their local food ‘Dal Bhat’, but I am in love with her potatoes. She cooks me an entire bowl of them just for me but watches in fascination as I gobble them up whilst they all eat their hearty meal of rice, lentils and spinach. Concern in her eyes that I don’t eat enough (a fact that couldn’t be further from the truth). I try to assure her I’m fine. But I feel comforted by her care for me. I feel a connection and a love for her that I simply can’t put into words.
In 2014, Sita lost her husband, and their three boys Arjun (22yrs), Ambir (16yrs) and Akash (15yrs) lost their dad in a tragic road accident. A year later the horrors of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal hit them and they not only lost their home, the boys also lost their Grandfather and Sita lost her father in-law. This surely is enough tragedy for any one family to endure in an entire lifetime, let alone in just a year apart. Having no head of the family to be able to work and earn money, the prospect of a new and safe home for Sita and her family felt almost impossible.
I visited Sita and her boys in their makeshift home in May 2016. I was so moved by their overwhelming kindness towards me. They welcomed me into their home, expecting nothing. I left feeling desperate to do something to help them.
Since then, with the help from all of you, we have been able to raise an incredible amount of money that has gone towards helping them rebuild a new home designed by an architect friend of mine, Chris, to be durable and safe for them. We have been able to offer paid jobs to skilled works men and laborers living in the village (Karkigaun) for the rebuild. Excellent craftsmen and hard workers were able to get this done to a high standard using their expertise.
Last year I travelled back to Nepal twice, once to start the ball rolling with the design of the build and the second to see how it was going. On my second visit I had been hoping that I was going to be seeing the final product. However as the rains had begun already, so had harvesting season. Harvesting of corn and rice is a vital part of mountain life and can only be done with the rains in full flow. Once this starts it is all hands on deck for a couple of months, which subsequently meant that all building had to stop.
However, now, all these months later, the build has finished and the Simkhada’s have their new home!
Here are are a few snaps of the process of the build….
As you can see there are still some aesthetics that need to be added, but ultimately they have a home that is livable and, most importantly, is safe. Which is simply fantastic.
So, a little bit about the village and the way of life here?
Materials for the build would come in from the district headquarters of Dhading, Dhading Besi. It is a 5 hour high endurance drive on an incredibly ‘questionable’ mountain road between Dhading Besi and Karkigaun. It needs to be noted that however uncomfortable I found this section of the journey to be to get to the village, I had to respect the high regard in which this road is received amongst those who live within the villages of these mountains. It is the only road that connects the villages with goods and materials for their homes, and ultimately transport to and from the larger cities, subsequently making it possible to get work.
Karkigaun is actually an incredibly picturesque village with an amazing sense of togetherness throughout the community. All willing and wanting to help each other and work together to rebuilding their lives. Happy to help those with less and happy to help those with more. Built into them from a very young age that they should work hard as a community and to help one another. You can see this clearly from the behaviour of the kids… older children are gentle with the younger children. Watching out for them. Caring for them. Sharing what they have. This clearly runs into adulthood and is apparent throughout the village. There appears to be no divide between wealth.
Even with everything they have been through they still manage to laugh together and be happy together. It’s heartwarming and humbling to watch and to be a part of. Sita and her boys continue to welcome me with open arms, expecting nothing, but eternally grateful for the prospect of their new home.
My visit during harvesting season was not without its challenges, just getting to and from the village had its obstacles. The rains were beginning to grow stronger and the bus could only travel so far into the mountains. For the rest of the journey I would have to walk. Fortunately I had Arjun with me who knows the mountains like the back of his hand. On the way into the village it was only half a days walk from where the bus could drop me off. On the way out of the mountains, after the rains had grown more severe, it was the entire journey I would have to make by foot. A day and a half of hiking. As always though, this all just added to my experiences. Walking across rice pad ridges, climbing up steep and rocky passes into and above the clouds, and nearly falling off the side of the mountain! (gulp! Check out here what happened). I was also fortunate enough to be invited to go and harvest with Sita and her family in the rice pad fields, a task, I have to say, that is by no means even remotely to be undermind! The strength and endurance needed for this is something that we are simply not conditioned for. I was humbled. Read more about my feeble attempts to join in with the harvesting here.
A few snaps:
A journey out of the mountains….
A little bit about Sita and her boys…
Sita: A 38 year old mother of three, Sita had her first son, Arjun, at the tender age of 16 after she and her late husband were married. Her two younger sons came five years and six years later and together they raised their three boys in mountain village life. Working hard and with the love of a supportive family around them they embraced their life. Heartbreakingly though back in 2014 Sita’s husband was killed in a fatal road accident. This obviously turned her world upside down leaving her completely devastated. I’ve spoken with a couple of family members who talk about the depression Sita fell into after his passing. Still today, even though she is finding her happiness again and laughs and smiles, occasionally I watch her and I see a glaze fall over her face, and I see a sadness in her eyes.
Nearly three years on Sita appears to have found her smile again. I watch her with her sons and the obvious love she has for them and they for her. They work together beautifully, her boys eager to help and support their mum as much as they can. They are always laughing and talking together, their relationship is as strong as you would ever hope a relationship to be between mother and child. Gentle and soft but with an undeniable amount of respect between all.
Sita takes pride in her home and her family and her position in the village. She is looked at in very high regard throughout the village from family members and neighbours. She cares for them all and they for her. One of the kindest, sweetest and most sincere women I’ve ever met. She speaks not a word of English, and I speak not a word of Nepali, yet I love the relationship we have together. I feel extremely blessed to have had our paths cross.
Arjun: The eldest of the boys, and now for regrettable reasons at the young age of 22 he finds himself with the role as head male of the family. He takes on the position without any grumble, throwing himself into his responsibilities towards his mother, brothers and surrounding family. He works hard at creating a stable life for his and their future.
Arjun lives in Kathmandu with his aunt and studies hard as a student of management. In the next year he will begin his masters. In between his studies and looking after his family he is a qualified and extremely experienced trekking guide and works for his uncles adventure trekking company based in Kathmandu. He was my guide for the Jiri to Everest Base Camp trek I walked last year. With his positive attitude towards life and difficult situations he undoubtedly was a pushing force that helped me to accomplish my goal.
The money that Arjun earns as a trekking guide goes towards putting himself through college, and towards his family. Sending money back to his mum as often as he can and visiting as frequently as possible. It’s important to Arjun that his brothers also get a good education so that they too can create a happy and comfortable future for themselves. Always smiling and joking with his brothers and mum and people around him, hard working and knowledgeable, Arjun is well liked and respected in his village and within the life he has created in Kathmandu.
Over the last nearly two years since the earthquake struck, Arjun has desperately tried to get the money needed to rebuild their home. Occasionally neighbours asking “Why you havn’t fixed your home yet?!” The pressure as head male of the family is huge. But sadly with the small amount of money he earns as a guide, and with his cost of living that goes towards getting himself an education in Kathmandu and the cost of living for his mum and brothers, the money he earns just isn’t enough to achieve this alone. He’s never asked for money and he’s never asked for help, he just continues to work hard and do as much as he can with the optimism that one day he will reach his goal.
In his happy words he describes his attitude towards life as “always happy, even when bad,” and sums up his definition of a happy life with one simple word “compromise.”
Ambir: At 16 years old Ambir is the middle child (Snap! Same as me!) of Sita and her late husband. At the moment he is studying hard at school so that his hopes of someday going to college is a realistic achievement. Just like his brothers he is eager to help his mum around their home, and equally his neighbouring friends and family members throughout their village. It seems to be just an automatic condition that everyone knuckles in and gets involved with what needs to be done. No grumbling from the kids, younger or older. No “I don’t want to, you can’t make me!” No bribes of “you’ll get this treat if you do that chore” necessary from the parents. Here it’s a case of you’re asked so you do, sometimes the doing gets done even before the asking is required. All done happily and contently. So it appears. How refreshing. I have no major issues with the western world (other than the norm), it’s where I’m from and how I was raised and for me it’s home and I love it. For the most part I see families getting along fine enough and children being raised well. I do however, sometimes feel that it wouldn’t do any harm for a select few to spend a week or even a few days living in alternative lifestyle conditions like this. To witness and experience a new perspective could go a long way to reducing the amount of entitlement we’re starting to see fester and grow. I mean, do we seriously want to get to a point where we have an entire generation built around a value system of ‘owed’ rather than ‘earned?’ – I doubt it!
Ambir is a keen football player and plays for his local team. Occasionally he’ll be away for a couple of nights in a nearby or further-a-field village to play his opposing teams. I can see instantly his eyes lighting up when I ask him about his sport. Clearly he is passionate about the game and takes pride that he plays. He’s a popular boy amongst his football peers and school peers. Although I must say that I’ve noticed there appears to be no popularity ranking between the kids. Everyone is just friendly with everyone. Between the three boys I notice that Ambir can be both the shyest and also the giggliest. He tends to laugh at most things that are said to him (obviously I have no idea of what is actually being said to him). When I ask him questions in English I can see that he is eager to learn and understand. He uses the few English words he remembers to converse with me and to ask me questions. Always followed by a blast of laughter from him and a look to his brothers or mother for reassurance.
Akash: The youngest in the family. Akash is just 15 years old but stands taller than all three of the boys. He’s certainly had a growth spurt since I saw him last! With a sweet face like his mum, I sometimes watch Akash just sitting and observing everything and everyone around him. He’ll be the first to jump up to help with whatever it is that needs doing; gathering vegetables from the plots, helping with the tea, fetching items from their small shop for its purchaser. Pretty much any general household chore to be done. Perhaps it’s the role of the youngest to do so, I’m not entirely sure. He and Ambir will be up with his mum around 6.30am most mornings tending to the animals, watering them, feeding them, and getting their home ready and prepared for the day. They’ll leave for school around 9.30am/10.00am – in Nepal it’s a six day week, only on a Saturday do they get a day off – and then return again around 4pm. Then it all starts again, helping the preparation for the evening meal and tending to the animals.
They do all this without any issue. It’s just what they do, what they’re used to. But it’s not all work work work for them though, inbetween their daily chores they will be laughing and talking with each other and their mum. Usually a neighbour or two, or three or four, will pop by and they’ll all sit and chat and joke together. It’s actually a very enjoyable dynamic.
Akash does well in school and again would like his opportunity to study at college level. He seems to be very curious of what happens around him. Whilst Chris was measuring the dimensions of their home and the plot for the new build Akash was eager to be involved. Wanting to help with the measuring but also watching intensely at what Chris was doing and why. Watching what he was writing down and drawing. When I was here last year I would use my head torch to get around at night, obviously being in a mountain village it gets extremely dark and electricity isn’t quite as abundant as what we’re used to! To say the least. Akash took an immediate fascination with the head torch. It was a bit surprising actually because I would have thought they would have been used quite widely in remote areas like this (that being said I never did see anyone locally with one). Perhaps it was the style of head torch, maybe a bit more advanced than they’re used to, who knows. But for whatever reason Akash was hooked. I could see the genuine enjoyment he got from looking at it and seeing how it worked, and from wearing it. So I left it for him to keep. Simple pleasures huh!
The Simkhada Family