Rebuilding From Rubble: A Trip to Nepal

Writer & Photographer / Valerie Dilcher

Editor’s Note: Featured in our October 2013 cover story “Center Grove Faces in Intriguing Places,” Valerie Dilcher (nee: Long) is a 2003 graduate of Center Grove High School. At that time, she was living in Jerusalem while completing her graduate degree. She continues to live an “intriguing” life.

It was nearly midnight Friday, April 24, and most of us in the U.S. were already asleep, resting from another week’s activities. However, the weekend had already begun in the far-away country of Nepal. Just four minutes before noon Saturday, April 25, this poor nation was rocked with an astounding 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Without warning, the less than 60-seconds of earth-shaking caused homes, roads and public buildings to collapse, and “life-as-they-knew-it” came to a complete halt for the Nepali people. The next morning, we in America saw the photos; the death toll would continue to climb until it reached 9,000. Just 17 days later, May 12, another just-as-powerful quake struck the capital city of Kathmandu. The destruction to the nation appeared almost endless.

Before this, I felt that I had little to do with the nation of Nepal. I watched, however, a critical situation unfold: with 70 percent of the population living in areas unreachable by roads, I learned that getting aid to remote places quickly became an urgent priority for relief workers. This poor nation needed help. My husband and I were soon given an opportunity to help answer that need.

Having just registered for a crisis-response training course through an organization called Crisis-Response International (CRI), we responded “yes” to join a series of teams deployed to Nepal to join the relief effort. We underwent four days of intensive training by nurses, chaplains and other aid-workers. The training covered topics such as assessing scenes of mass destruction, “triage” (“tagging” wounded to nearly-dead bodies,) basic first aid care and grief and Post Traumatic Stress counseling.

First Impressions on the Ground
Eventually, my team of 10 began our series of plane rides to Kathmandu. Our first impression of the capital city was that of an eerie ghost town. The airport itself, with its cracked floors and disheveled feeling, made one realize that something tragic had just occurred.

Outside of cracked and partially fallen buildings and sidewalks were grassy fields completely packed with tents. It felt as if the city’s whole population was living in these tents and just wandering outside. Fear, uncertainty and anxiety permeated the atmosphere as we watched families sitting around their tents waiting but unsure of what they were waiting for.

My team spent a full day in the city, delivering supplies to families in the tents and asking them questions about their situations. When we asked about what their future might hold or when they might be able to move back into apartments and homes, a common answer was, “I don’t know.”

One situation that stood out to me in particular was that of our translators, Hannah and Kumar. They had graciously committed themselves to working with our team, both in the city and in the long travels to the remote areas. Both college graduates, they were only four months married and had just recently leased an apartment in Kathmandu together. Now that apartment, along with most in the city, was cracked and unsafe to live in. No one knew when (and if) the already impoverished government would be able to repair it.

While giving out tents to families in need of shelter, we realized that Hannah and Kumar themselves were also sleeping in a makeshift tent. Those that were helping us also needed help. With mixed emotions, we presented them with their own tent, not knowing how long a fresh new tent might be their best form of shelter. These newlyweds, however, were more than grateful!

To the Remote Villages
A nine-hour car ride from Kathmandu took us into the remote village life of Nepal. Our team camped in a region near the base camp of Mount Everest, making ourselves available to help the villagers in any way. We filled our days sharing meals, assessing homes, giving medical treatment, removing rubble and helping families find some of their most precious things.

One woman in the village begged us to enter her home (collapsed and hazardous) in an effort to recover her sewing machine. Realizing it was her means of livelihood, we tried our best but were unable to recover the machine. For another family, we worked an entire day trying to do the work of a bulldozer, destroying the home so they could rebuild on their land. They were immensely grateful for our work, though we often felt the smallness of our own efforts.

Our hearts joined together with the people of this village, and during that time, we witnessed much deeper questions arise from their hearts. “Are the gods angry with us?” they wondered. “Why did this happen so suddenly and without warning?” These were not simple questions with easy answers.

As we shared life with the people of Nepal in those short 10 days, however, one truth stayed deep in our hearts: we can’t fully understand their suffering, but to some degree, we share in a suffering common to humanity. Whether it is an earthquake the lasts mere seconds, a sudden phone call, medical diagnosis or car crash, events come into all of our lives that are beyond our control.

As the rebuilding and reconstruction from “rock bottom” continues, let us not forget the people of Nepal nor hesitate to reach out to them in their need in whatever small or great way that we can.

For more information about the Nepal earthquake or to make donations for the relief effort, visit:

Crisis Response International – deploying teams and sending funds:

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