Standing tall on rocky ground: How 3 ordinary men stood by Nepal

Standing tall on rocky ground: How 3 ordinary men stood by Nepal
PHOTO: Sanjay Radakrishna

Paradise lost.

Those two words resonated in every photo of devastation that flooded media reports after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal.

We watched videos of heritage towers collapsing on hundreds of people while shanty houses crumbled like dominoes.

Yet within a week, the Nepalis were digging through the rubble, finding and burying their dead, uncovering foundations to rebuild their homes. Where disaster brought media sensationalisation, photos of hope took a backseat to documentation.

But there were some who saw it all.

Two months on, AsiaOne speaks to three unsung heroes who braved the tragedy with the Nepalis - with grit, fervour and a smile.

26-year-old Sanjay s/o Radakrishna had arrived in the country on April 13 to commemorate his alma mater, Victoria School's, 139th anniversary by scaling three peaks in the Himalayas.

The trainee teacher was returning to Kathmandu with a group of Singaporean trekkers after the Annapurna Base Camp hike in Pokhara when an earthquake-triggered landslide slammed into their bus.

Mr Sanjay told AsiaOne: "Our bus was hit and its windows were smashed. I was not physically affected, but one of my trekking buddies was hit by a rock and was bleeding profusely. But, for logical reasons, I knew I had to stay calm despite the chaos."

Just minutes to noon on April 25, Kathmandu was rudely shaken when the first of its shanty buildings collapsed.

Elsewhere on the snowy flanks of Mount Everest and in Langtang Valley, hundreds fell to earthquake-induced avalanches while thousands more lost their families and homes to sweeping aftershocks.

As media reports followed, the situation at Kathmandu airport was messy; the place was simply too small to support the overwhelming number of arriving military planes that had flown in to rescue its citizens home. It didn't help that locals and tourists alike were huddled at the airport, waiting for the next commercial flight out.

In the ensuing days, Mr Sanjay managed to get his trekking team on a long awaited flight home but the sight of the destruction urged him to stay.

"Staying behind to help was instinctive. I felt that by being in Nepal, I would be able to help the locals on behalf of many other Singaporeans. The gift of giving is something I truly regard highly and this opportunity allowed me to contribute to society," he said.

While medication and clothes were airlifted into the country, he realised that the Nepalis needed tents and food above all to protect themselves from the upcoming monsoon season. Recognising that aid was not distributed quickly enough, Mr Sanjay started an online charity drive through his Facebook page, Project SJ1M: Rebuilding Nepal.

In just 25 days, Mr Sanjay managed to raise a total of $25,000 that he dedicated to buying tarpaulins, cooking oil, rice, noodles, and salt for destroyed households.

The self-initiated charity drive was all done manually: "Every morning I would set off with my Nepali friends and we will arrange for a transportation to various remote villages. Once at the villages, we would distribute the goods. Names would be called out and individuals will step forward to collect the supplies on behalf of their family."

Mr Sanjay did not seek help from any organisation as the avid trekker has been to Nepal nine times prior - enough for him to establish friendships that served as a rallying point in driving this effort.

For the 26 days he was there, Mr Sanjay slept outdoors in his sleeping bag and got by on dry food rations. The man is no stranger to sticky situations as he survived seven disoriented days on minimal food and water after losing his way in Cambodia's highest mountain last July. By the time a rescue team was sent to find him, he had stumbled out of the forest and hitched a ride to the nearest village.

The biggest challenge for Mr Sanjay on this journey was not boosting finances, but rather, bearing the emotional load of seeing suffering everywhere. Although he conceded that it was a "situation that drove me to persevere".

"The people of Nepal are generally very positive and resilient. Despite the loss of loved ones and destroyed buildings, they remained positive. Essentially, they were very grateful to be alive. They slowly tuned themselves to living a simple life and within days, all was well," he added.

Back in Singapore, missionaries, schools and corporate groups took to the cause, and the Salvation Army received an outpouring amount of support from households.

Show host and entertainer, Navin Prashad did what he does best. In five days, he got together a team of fellow entertainers and the group hosted DreamCatchers, a mini charity concert on May 10 at nightclub OMG.

Though Mr Prashad did not visit Nepal personally, he was moved to work with Mercy Relief to support their rescue cause: "As an entertainer, I travel and meet people from all over the world. When the quake happened, some of my Nepali friends were affected so I was constantly in contact with them to see if they were receiving the care they needed."

 

The line-up included OMG resident DJs Kevin Singh and Milan Kumar, and veteran DJ Titus from Refuge. The concert's admission fee of $30 was all donated to Mercy Relief and the team managed to raise over $5,000 in a single night.

Mr Prashad, who made headlines in 2014 for bringing together 160 local DJs in a spin relay challenge, told AsiaOne that this initiative rose out of an unanimous agreement: "What motivated us was basically the fact that we are human and only we can help each other."

This very sentiment of "being human" echoed in Thai entrepreneur Prinya Pal Singh's head when he first heard the news of the devastating quake.

Mr Singh, who is based in Pattaya, worked with his partner Mr Kamaljeet Singh, family and friends to raise US$18,000 (S$24,318) through his Facebook page, Mission Nepal.

With the money raised, Mr Singh flew to Nepal and coordinated with Mr Sajan Joshi, the President of Montage Overseas, a Nepalese company that provides manpower services. Like Mr Sanjay and his team, this duo also set about to deliver a month's worth of food, rice and blankets to villages and orphanages such as villages in Karve and Khalsa Aid Camp in Kathmandu.

He hadn't experience the quake on April 25 but was caught in the middle of it when the second disaster struck Nepal on May 13. Mr Singh was at Kathmandu airport at that time and was fortunate to survive the tremors.

While most people would scramble on the next flight home, the aftershocks proved that help was even more urgently needed - Mr Singh's mission was far from over.

He shared that his team were caught in a muddle when driving to remote villages. Their journey was hampered by torrential rains and muddy roads that caused their vehicle to be trapped. Despite the (almost literal) hump in the road, their enthusiasm was clearly infectious as locals came to their rescue to push the trapped vehicle out of the rut.

 

Joy Ride

Posted by Mission Nepal on Tuesday, May 19, 2015

 

Also featured in Mr Singh's Facebook page are videos of volunteers and locals sheltering the supplies with their bodies from heavy rain. These are poignant moments where the world stands together to face a tragedy head on.

 

It poured down heavily while loading the food grains, biscuits and tents from our bus on to the truck

Posted by Mission Nepal on Monday, May 18, 2015

 

Indeed as Mr Sanjay too recounted his experience in Nepal, it is true that indomitable positivity can always turn the tide.

"The Nepali smile is something that you cannot break so easily. Buildings may crumble, but the human spirit will not falter."

debwong@sph.com.sg

 

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