Print Edition - 2015-06-13  |  On Saturday

Refugees to the rescue

  • Bhutanese refugees from their camps in Beldgangi, Jhapa, are building bamboo shelters in Ramechaap and also teaching the locals the basics of their craft
- Deepesh Das Shrestha
Refugees to the rescue

Jun 12, 2015-

Sancha Hang Subba uses a khukuri to chop off precisely measured units from a long bamboo stalk. He and his team will later turn these units into rafters, beams, trusses and columns that will form the framework for the shelters they are building for the quake-affected victims in Ramechhap Municipality.

Along with 14 fellow Bhutanese refugeesówho live in the refugee camps in Beldangi, JhapaóSubba travelled to Ramechaap district a little over a week ago to help the families in the district rebuild their lives following the devastating earthquakes of April 25 and May 12.

‘I am glad that I am able to help Nepali people at this time of crisis,’ says Subba, 30, who is leading the team. ‘All these years, we have stayed in close harmony with other Nepalis. We have been living the life of refugees owing to political reasons. Now, due to the earthquake, many Nepali families are living like refugees too.’

Ramechhap district has been declared one of the 14 districts most affected by the recent disaster. At least 39 people were killed and more than 90 percent of the houses were damaged in the district. The skilled team of builders from Beldangi were dispatched to Ramechhap by the UNHCR, which was one of the first agencies to distribute tarpaulin sheets in the district. They had earlier conducted a rapid assessment of the district, and the agency coordinated with the local authorities before deciding that the refugees should be deployed to help and train the locals of Ramechaap build shelters using locally available resources like bamboo and wood.

'The people here have been living under tarpaulin sheets and cowsheds near their flattened houses,' says Subba. They didn’t know that they could use bamboo to build temporary shelters. But now they are learning the techniques from us.

The refugees have been working with the earthquake survivors from dawn till dusk, and the refugeesí craftsmanship is the foundation of the rebuilding efforts. The team has already built three bamboo huts in a small settlement in Ramechhap Municipality and is helping another 20 vulnerable households in Saune Danda Village in Chyasku. 

‘I am grateful to the Bhutanese refugees for helping us build a bamboo hut,’ says 73-year-old Pancha Maya Tamang, who had been living under a tarpaulin sheet for over a month.

Until the teamís arrival, she had been worried about how she and her grandchildren would cope during the fast-approaching monsoon season. ìAt least now, my seven grandchildren and I have a durable roof over our heads and I donít have to worry about the rain and windstorms,î she says.

Another local youth, Regan Shrestha, 21, is not just grateful for his new hut but for the training he has received from the refugees. ‘I didn’t know anything about building bamboo shelters,’ he says. ìI am really glad they are here to help and train us. There is a shortage of skilled people in the village to rebuild houses.

ìThe need for support here is immense and what we are doing is not much. I wish I could be of more help,î says Subba, who is the camp secretary of the Beldangi refugee camp in Damak. 

This is not the only instance of the refugee community’s chipping in. Within two weeks of the first quake, they had raised $2,500 in the camps and worked with the UNHCR and the authorities to deliver food, kitchen utensils and hygiene supplies to 200 affected families in Sindhuli district. 

‘When we arrived in Nepal [in the early 1990s], we were in a desperate situation,’ says Tikaram Rasaili, the Beldangi camps’ deputy camp secretary. ìBut the Nepali people wholeheartedly took us in. This is an opportunity to give something back to them in this time of crisis.'



Published: 13-06-2015 10:00

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