It has been quite some time since my last update, so I thought I should log another entry to let you know what has been happening here.
It has been a very busy and productive couple of weeks. My roll in logistics has a lot of paperwork and moving parts with it, so it feels as though there is always something up in the air or needing attention. We have had some pretty big successes. We have managed to tap into free resources from the World Food Program (WFP) for storage and larger transports. This can be a bit of a double edged sword as you then fall at their mercy (as we found out last week, which I will tell you about), but overall it saves us a lot of money, so it is worth it in the end.
We have continued the helicopter flights to the remote villages I spoke of in my last update, which we are not up to a total of 18 villages we are serving. If you don't know about that you can read and see pics on our bog: sapendeleds.blogspot.com (yes...cheap plug I know!). So far through those helicopter flights, we have distributed well over 5,200 kg of food (which is about 11,400 lbs) as well as over 160 tarps, 60 solar lamps and about 35 solar chargers. It is challenging as we are cargo limited on most of the flights for weight, so it all must be done in small chunks. We are chipping away at the need though, as well as reassessing regularly.
We have accomplished quite a few major distributions as well. In Ramachamp District, we finally got the large scale distribution off the ground on the third try. The first time, one of the five empty trucks on its way to pick up goods, was driven off a cliff injuring the driver, causing us to push back a day. That next day an aftershock (which are still occurring regularly) triggered a large landslide blocking the only road in. After a 3 day delay to clear the road, the team was finally able to get off for the distribution to more than 1,200 families in multiple mountain villages.
The logistics are complicated everywhere. We had a distribution in Sindhupolchak District last week of a truck load of tarps. The tarps, compliments of USAID (our tax dollars hard at work here in Nepal!), come in rolls that are in boxes weighing 55 kg (about 120 lbs) and are a bit difficult to load.
That particular day got off to the wrong foot when our WFP truck was almost 3 hours late, making the already 4 hour drive seem even longer on the day. The plan was to do the distribution which is in a "resort" called The Last Resort, located at the end of a long road in the mountainous region. It is a tent camp site basically, but has served as a central point for distribution by us for some of the mountain villages (some traveling more than 6 hours each way down the mountain then back up). It is hard to imagine when you see the landscape what people have to go through to get such simple and often minimal assistance in the big picture.
When we finally arrived we had expected a crew of people to help off load, as well as overnight accommodation. Due to a bit of a mis-communication, there wasn't much help on hand short of the staff from the camp, so the 10-12 of us had to unload (our team was only 5 making the trip). The challenge was that these heavy and awkward boxes had to be off loaded from the truck, up this sketchy set of rusty stairs, onto a swinging/suspension bridge about 150-200 yards long, stretching high above the river on the valley floor (it has to be at least a few hundred feet up). The boxes then had to be carried across and into the open area in the middle of the camp.
We made surprisingly good time unloading in just over an hour and a half, but everyone was quite exhausted afterwards. This, then mixed with the long 4 hour ride home due to the accommodation mix-up, made for a very long day for all involved!
The ride up was incredible as we were surrounded by this beautiful mountain scenery that was then set apart by complete and total destruction of villages along the main road we were using. We drove through probably a dozen totally destroyed villages, each seemingly worse than the one before, until reaching the camp. Some had already begun to construct temporary "homes", which are more accurately little one room shacks. Others were still sifting for things in the rubble of what was once their homes and in many cases businesses as well.
The other difficulty, as we experienced with the Ramechamp situation, is constant landslides. As we drove the road (which is THE main road for the area) we came across two or three different stretches that had experience major landslides. These landslides often block the road for days cutting off the villages until things are cleared.
The other hazard is that with the major moving of earth comes huge boulders that roll into already damaged or destroyed villages causing new destruction and fears for remaining villagers (some were bigger than the SUV we were traveling in). Needless to say our drivers were very cautious driving through these areas and very aware of the constant dangers up the mountain. We could hear rocks sliding down the mountain regularly while doing the off load.
We also have been dealing with the ongoing saga of 1,000 family sized shelter tents from Pakistan. These tents are desperately needed in preparation for the coming monsoon season, but Customs regulations mixed with the cumbersome process of moving cargo from out of the country, has caused a lot of delay. We are hopeful that they will arrive finally come this Wednesday, June 3rd, but this delivery has been more than three weeks in the making. There are many moving parts with big deliveries and it doesn't take much to experience significant setbacks unfortunately.
It has been a challenging and rewarding couple of weeks and we will continue to plug away daily and the large task in front of us. Everyone worries about aftershocks, but even they just become part of the routine after awhile. We have one that was a 5.6 since I have been here that only lasted about 10-12 seconds, but you sort of just get used to them after a while. They have spread out quite a bit as time has gone on and the smaller ones I don't even notice any more (smaller shocks remind me of the basement of our headquarter back in Philly when the subway bases through!).
All is going well here overall. Our team is in the midst of transition and will decrease in size as well over the next few days. Colonel Carol Telfer (Territorial Commander from Pakistan) has taken over as our new lead. We are concerned as less people (with no replacements in the immediate future) likely means more work for all of us remaining. That said, everyone pitches in and helps out wherever and whenever is necessary, but there will likely be much more need for that on the horizon as our team of 12 gets cut to 8.
They are caring for us well here at the cafe we are staying. We also have great interpreters both on the team and available to us from the community, so that has made things easier as well. I have picked up a few words, but my Nepali is still leaving a lot to be desired (pretty much everything actually save for the 3-4 words I now know!) Thank goodness for the Google translate app and sign language (or at least using my hands, which is not at all actual sign language, but more of motioning in certain directions with hands).
Continue to pray for the people of Nepal who have a VERY long road ahead of them. Also keep our team in prayer as we go through the transitional period. We look forward to new folks arriving in the coming weeks and things continuing to move forward as they have.
Pictures to follow soon...