RMS Impact Trek: Day 4 – Becoming an Observer in Eklephant and Bhimtar

Megan Arnold

By Megan Arnold

When I applied to the Impact Trek, one of the drivers of my desire to go was to see actual earthquake damage first hand. My experience with earthquake damage was numbers – how many buildings and casualties, how much loss in dollars. I’ve seen photos of damage – individual buildings, street blocks, aerial photos – but never quite connected with the reality of it all because I was so removed from it. I could look, sympathize, then move on with my day. However, being here in a remote village of Nepal, I see the scale of damage and it’s so much more than the metric of “177 buildings damaged”…

I stand in the villages of Eklephant and Bhimtar, taking pictures of what was someone’s home – their intimate interiors now exposed to the elements and this foreigner’s camera lens. This building may have housed generations of families, could even have been 4 generations all at once, and their livelihoods. With the sudden and terrifying shaking of earth, what once kept them safe came crumbling down.

The building’s inhabitants, both human and animal, were displaced. Some people lived out in the fields for over a week, wondering every time an aftershock rumbled through, if they would die. People set up shelters with whatever they had on hand or could salvage until the temporary shelters arrived.

Most people are now housed in other family homes or in temporary housing – half-domed structures with of light metal roofs resembling a tunnel, and tarp, wood, or stone walls. Their livestock are right outside, their harvests drying wherever they can find space. They are waiting for government aid to come in so they can start rebuilding, some cannot afford to rebuild even with the additional aid.

Here I am in their village, taking photos of their past lives and their current difficulties. I feel like even more of a foreigner than my blonde hair and blue eyes obviously indicate. I am a foreigner because I have never lost my home. I have never needed to salvage my belongings and lived in temporary shelter. I have never lost my livelihood, nor my food storage. I have never lived outdoors, fearing for my life each time the earth trembled. I have never been without clean water and sanitation. I have never worried where my next meal would come from. I have never lost a loved one under a pile of stone.

Yet, here I am, an observer. I see them going on with their lives and I see the homes that they lost. I listen to them share their experiences. I empathize, but that feels so meaningless considering the hardship they have faced. I want to help these people, and they’re just a fraction of all of the people in Nepal going through this tragedy. There are scores of villages across the region who are even more remote, and also completely flattened.

For me, this is where Build Change comes in. Their impact goes beyond the rebuilding 143 homes in this village. Their mission is to scale the rebuilding and retrofitting process across the country. They are demonstrating earthquake-safe building practices and training builders to retrofit. They built model homes that have diagrams even non-Nepali readers (myself included) can have some understanding of. They have completed retrofits and are working with the government to design more affordable new constructions. They are striving to address the unique living conditions of the villages in the reconstruction.

There is a lot of work ahead to rebuild these villages in Nepal and Build Change is in the thick of it. They are scoping out how to scale rebuilds and retrofits to the hundreds of thousands of people who need it. It has been an amazing experience to see their impact firsthand.