S'poreans helping out Nepal quake survivors

S'poreans helping out Nepal quake survivors

While most tourists were trying to leave Nepal after last month's earthquake, Mr Michael Thong headed toward its epicentre.

Two days after the 7.8-magnitude quake hit, the 20-year-old Singaporean joined a relief team to distribute aid in a remote village in the Gorkha region.

"You're travelling in the country and relying on the hospitality of people here," said Mr Thong, who was staying in nearby Pokhara after trekking in the Annapurna region. "When a natural disaster strikes, it's only right that you help them out," he added.

Pokhara in central Nepal was spared the worst effects of the quake. An estimated 7,500 people have died so far after the tremors.

After hearing news about the destruction in other areas, Mr Thong, who recently completed national service and is waiting to enter university, decided to join a team of 15 tourists and expatriates working in Nepal through non-profit organisation KarmaFlights.

The organisation set up relief trips to Saurpani, a village 80km north-west of Kathmandu.

They set off by jeep, bus and later, a tractor trailer, when landslides made roads too difficult to traverse. After camping overnight, it took a three-hour trek up the hillside to get to the village - all while carrying medical supplies, tarpaulin sheets and food.

"You never know when there's going to be another earthquake or another landslide," Mr Thong told The Straits Times in a telephone interview. "If there is, you might be another casualty."

The team found villagers in need of basics such as food and water. "Almost all of their houses were in ruins and most of the food was just stuck under the rubble," said Mr Thong.

There were tiny shelters under which about 50 people were crammed. The team helped to set up more shelters and provided basic medical help.

They returned to Pokhara the day after. Mr Thong plans to stay there and help with fund-raising.

Today, 19-year-old Singaporean Brandon Chia will head to Nepal as part of a medical team with Crisis Relief Singapore and Malaysian Medical Fellowship.

The part-time enrolled nurse contacted several organisations asking if they needed volunteers.

He will join a team of 12 volunteers, including doctors, nurses and a paramedic, on a seven-day trip to Sindhupalchok district, north of Kathmandu.

Mr Chia said he has been on several trips to start mobile clinics in developing countries but this will be his first time in a disaster area.

"I don't really know what to expect," said the recent Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate, who raised $2,200 for medical supplies and expenses through donations from friends and former lecturers.

His flights are funded by the National Youth Achievement Award Council, where he volunteers. He said: "Hopefully, I can use the skills I have learnt to help people."


This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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