22-28 January 2016 #792

A warm gesture

Youth-led groups are directing ways to help earthquake victims this winter
Sarthak Mani Sharma

As a freezing winter set in and the government had still not provided relief to survivors of last April’s earthquake, Abiral Karki and his colleagues decided to take matters into their own hands by collecting clothes and buying blankets for the victims. But Karki was not taken seriously, he recalls, when he stood on the street carrying a donations box.

"My friends asked me to get involved in a rally or call for a bandh to pressure the government,” he remembers. “But what would have been more effective? Waiting on the government to take action or doing something yourself?”

Karki is a member of the youth-led political party, Bibeksheel Nepali, which has been distributing warm clothes and blankets to earthquake victims on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley and in six other districts, including Dhading and Sindhupalchok. The group estimates it has reached 1,500 households since its campaign, Nyano Maya, began one month ago.

For the campaign, Bibeksheel Nepali partnered with more than ten other organisations including schools, colleges and local youth-clubs to collect relief materials. Volunteer Abhishek Basnyat explained that his group became a facilitator for individuals and organisations that wanted to help the victims but did not know how to reach them. “What began as a small effort really snowballed into something big,” he said.

Among the survivors in affected areas, the group has prioritised children, the elderly and postnatal women. Having collection centers and point persons in targeted districts also helped the group plan more effective and efficient campaigns.

A needs-assessment study is done before each run. These assessments help the members to recognise those who are most in need and to plan the distribution of materials in a more pragmatic way. Distinguishing between genuine and fake victims is just one problem. As another volunteer Sharan Karki explained, Bibeksheel’s task has not been easy.

“You can’t just go there and start distributing relief in a haphazard way. You have to do your homework,” he says.

For example, in the village of Budhathum in Dhading, the government has not yet distributed cash grants of Rs 10,000 to victims. But based on the existing needs on the ground, cash grants may not be so effective, says Sharan, who is himself a resident of Dhading.

“Families in the higher reaches spend almost half of their Rs 10,000 just travelling to and from Dhading Besi to buy blankets and other essentials,” he says. “It is materials, not cash that they need.”

Bibeksheel is not the only youth-led group that has been spearheading efforts to help earthquake victims. The ‘Nyano Baadaun’ campaign has helped distribute over 140 blankets and almost 700 hats and mufflers, mostly in Lamjung. The eclectic group, made up of writers, journalists and singers was started on Twitter.

We asked volunteer Lenin Banjade whether a loose meeting of friends on Twitter could do serious work on distributing relief to earthquake victims. “We do have a lot of different commitments but we have been well-coordinated and effective so far,” he says.

The group plans to expand its activities to the Tarai, where it will distribute clothes and other materials to a small Musahar settlement. It also plans to establish a ‘Nyano Bank’, a materials-storage system where winter clothes can be kept for annual usage.

At a time when the government is being criticised for doing little to lessen the suffering of earthquake survivors, youth-led groups are playing a positive role in instilling hope and confidence among the people.

There was a lot of energy and positivity right after the earthquake, but it’s all evaporated. We need to keep up that spirit and not just rely on the government,” says Basnyat.

Ranju Darshana, who at 19 is the youngest central committee member of Bibeksheel Nepali, was asked by one of the earthquake victims why she had been involved in ‘social service’ even though she was a member of a political party.

“The whole point of a political party is to help the people in society,” she answered. “That’s what mainstream political parties are not doing.” 

Interested donors can contact campaign coordinator Abiral Karki at nepaliabiral1@gmail.com  

Donate a blanket

As the government largely leaves victims of April’s earthquake to fend for themselves, one of Nepal’s most popular online shopping sites, Sasto Deal, is organising a ‘Donate a blanket’ program. The blankets collected will go to the victims of the earthquake in Gorkha, Dhading, Sindhupalchok and villages on the outskirts of Kathmandu. So far, Sasto Deal has received pledges of over 1,100 blankets from donors in Nepal and around the world and has distributed over 700.

Donors can pay for the blankets through Sanima Bank, Nepal Investment Bank or Esewa and can also submit the payment at Sastodeal Office in Tripureshwar. International donors can make their payments through Paypal.


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Earning back the people's trust, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Tags Bibeksheel Nepali, earthquake, winter, clothes, blankets, relief, rehabilitation, politics