All Hands Volunteers has long been established in answering the call to support a country when it has been left on its knees following a natural disaster, as has just occurred with the devastating earthquake in Nepal. However, without the assistance of local knowledgeable volunteers these efforts would be in vain.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck between capital Kathmandu and Pokhara was the worst the country had suffered in more than 80 years. Already 7,500 people have died, with that toll rising, while the sheer level of damage to buildings and infrastructure is unprecedented.“It is like nothing I have ever seen before. This place looks like it’s been hit by multiple airstrikes. I think it is even worse than when I arrived in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010”, said All Hands Volunteers’ rapid response team leader Matt Falk, who has seen a substantial amount of varied destruction over the course of ten projects with the NGO.
Local volunteer, Rukmagat ‘Ruku’ Kafle is a lecturer at a university in Kathmandu. He worked with All Hands Volunteers on Project Leyte in Tacloban, the Philippines back in June 2014 and as soon as the earthquake happened in his city he immediately requested a one year sabbatical from work to help the recovery of Kathmandu.
Mr Kafle has joined All Hands Volunteers’ rapid response team and is a key member. The 38-year-old has helped teach international staff the Nepalese culture, which has enabled the organisation to understand the workings of Nepal from the get go. The professor’s knowledge of the city and its surroundings has been a vital asset in understanding which areas require immediate need.
“Many local people want to help, but are not being accepted by bigger NGOs. I came to All Hands straight away because I know them and know that they supply individuals with the platform and tools to help. I was with them on Project Leyte and they are family to me now.
“After the earthquake, 50 people messaged me to see if I was OK. Every one of them was an All Hands volunteer I had worked with,” Mr Kafle said.
While set up as an American and international NGO, All Hands Volunteers has always put a strong emphasis on utilising the skills and knowledge of locals, so it can discover just what is precisely needed by communities. This model has been used to great success on its current flagship project in the Philippines, where the organisation has been a consistent presence in dealing with numerous natural disasters since 2012.All Hands Volunteers are now mirroring this process of utilising local volunteers in Nepal and a recovery project was launched only two days after the rapid response team landed in Kathmandu. Although international volunteers will be invited to join the project in a few weeks, for now the emphasis is on a strong team of experienced former volunteers, who are part of the Disaster Assessment Response Team (DART), and knowledgeable locals.
All Hands Volunteers’ director of international response Paddy Durrant added: “We really try to get locals involved in our immediate recovery phase after a disaster in the hope that this will make them more resilient in the future and not have to rely on international aid when another disaster strikes. We aim to provide a filter of education, where we teach local volunteers how to respond to a disaster, and they then go on to teach their communities.
The service locals provide in a disaster zone are vital. It enables the All Hands Volunteers team to identify areas within Nepal that are among the worst hit by the earthquake, but receiving the least support, and in this time of need that is what of the gravest importance.