Scots charity helps rebuild Nepal after earthquake

Charity founder Anna on her wedding day with Sanu

Charity founder Anna on her wedding day with Sanu

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A SCOTTISH charity has announced its next wave of redevelopment projects in earthquake-hit Nepal – including rebuilding the house of one tragic framily.

Perthshire-based Bring Back the Smile to Nepal has been hard at work since forming in response to the huge earthquake that struck Nepal in April.

One of the ruined homes hit by the earthquake

One of the ruined homes hit by the earthquake

Anna Gurung, founder of the charity, said: “We have been working incredibly hard, since the outset, to raise funds and also awareness so that we can reach families that would otherwise be missed.

“Occasionally we come across a heartbreaking story of a family that truly need our help. Bhakta and his family are one such story.”

While overseeing work in the area, the charity were introduced to Bhakta.

Before the earthquake, the family’s home sat nestled in the hillside above Fishling, a village spreading along both sides of the steep slopes bordering the Trisuli River, in Gorkha – the epicentre of the recent earthquake.

It is heartbreaking. The money the family are able to earn is just enough to buy food, without our help they would never be able to afford materials to repair their old home, let alone ever hope to have a new one

Anna Gurung, founder of Bring Back the Smile to Nepal

Anna added: “As soon as we were alerted to Bhakta and his story, I knew we had to help.

“His family is low caste and had very little before the earthquake. They did, however, have a simple home.

“That has now been cruelly taken away from them. With the ruins of their house unsafe to live in, three generations of Bhakta’s family have been forced to occupy a temporary shelter that they had to hastily construct themselves.”

Construction materials are difficult to source and the natural of the landscape does not make building any type of shelter a straightforward task.

Bricks and steel, required to strengthen the hillside foundations against tremors, need to be transported in.

The cost is prohibitive to many of the residents of Fishling. Bhakta – one of thousands who have not yet received any aid – managed to salvage some old tin sheets, tarpaulin and wood to build a rudimentary shelter for his family.

Anna said: “Even before the earthquake “life would have been hard for Bhakta. His family are considered low caste.

“He works as a porter locally, carrying heavy loads for people. The work is hard and unforgiving.

“Bhakta is blind in one eye and his wife is deaf and cannot speak – so much so, she was unable to even communicate her name to us.

“They are forced to live in a makeshift shelter with their son Krishna, daughter-in-law, Indra, and their granddaughter.

“It is heartbreaking. The money the family are able to earn is just enough to buy food, without our help they would never be able to afford materials to repair their old home, let alone ever hope to have a new one.”

Bring Back The Smile To Nepal have been working hard to raise the necessary funds to build a suitable house for the family before the colder winter nights set in.

Anna added: “The valley above the river is long and narrow. In winter, the amount of sunlight is limited and the nights are cold. In their canvas and wood shelter it is very dangerous to light a fire but this is needed for both cooking and heating of course.”

The situation in Nepal has been further exacerbated by the blockade of supplies from India.

Tensions along the long border with Nepal’s much larger neighbour have arisen since adoption of Nepal’s new constitution.

The Madhesi people, angered by their lack of representation under the newly adopted charter, have organised a blockade of supplies from India.

Petrol is in short supply, with prices rising by up to 500%. There is a worrying shortage of medicines and the demand for portable gas canisters is at its highest ever level.

Anna said: “There are so many people here that urgently need our help, with the support of generous donations we are so pleased to be able to help Bhakta and his family. This is just one story but we are really proud to have helped make a difference to their lives.”

READ MORE - { http://www.scotsman.com/giving-back/charities/scots-charity-only-one-left-helping-nepal-victims-1-3969768|Scots charity only one left helping victims in Nepal}

Bring Back The Smile To Nepal started as a one off fundraising effort, by Anna Gurung and a friend, in reaction to the huge earthquake that shook Nepal on 25 April this year.

Just four months later, following weeks of hard work and furious fundraising, Anna was rewarded when official charitable status was given to her campaign by OSCR, the official charity regulator for Scotland.

Anna’s energy and determination had meant, in a just a few months, her campaign had raised enough money to allow her to travel to Nepal and began to help rebuild homes and lives, in a country she cares so much about.

With a team of volunteers and trustees for the new charity, Bring Back The Smile To Nepal hopes to make a real difference for many years to come.

Whilst the charity is relatively new, Anna’s affection for Nepal and it’s people, dates back much further:

When news of the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal reverberated around the world, the reports were even more distressing for the Gurung family from the quiet village of Kenmore, near Aberfeldy in Perthshire.

Sanu and Anna Gurung had moved from Nepal to raise a family and to enable Sanu to work in the rafting and outdoor adventure business.

Although Anna’s family live in Aberdeenshire, the couple settled on Perthshire. She said: “The rivers, mountains and terrain make Perthshire very much like the areas of Nepal that Sanu worked and grew up in. We knew we would feel at home here.”
They first met in 1993, when Anna travelled to Nepal. Although she had to return to the UK, the following year she made the arduous trip across the border from Bangladesh – where she had been working as a volunteer.

A chance meeting brought them together again, they fell in love and married in 2000.

Although they had always hoped to raise a family in Nepal, the political unrest in the country, which followed the 2001 massacre of King Birendra and nine members of the Royal family at the Narayanhity Royal Palace in Kathmandu, persuaded Sanu and Anna to uproot and settle in the tranquillity of Highland Perthshire.

With their three children, Sanu and Anna had visited Nepal as recently as October 2014.

Their family and friends still fresh in their minds, the news of the largest earthquake for 80 years, meant an anxious and nerve racking wait, as they desperately tried to contact their family in the Darachok district of Nepal.

With phone lines down and power supplies sporadic, it was a fretful 72 hours spent trying to contact their loved ones.

Eventually they found that Sanu’s parents had survived but their house was unsafe and they were having to live in tents.

Further calls helped them discover that although Sanu’s Aunt had witnessed her house reduced to rubble, she had escaped unscathed. His sister, who lived in Kathmandu had also been lucky. They were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Although their own family had been comparatively lucky, the couple’s deep affection for the country and it’s people meant they felt the need to try and help, in any way they could.

Anna, together with one of her close friends, immediately hit on the idea of a parachute jump to raise funds for Mercy Corps relief efforts in Nepal. Anna quickly realised that rebuilding of Nepal would require substantially more than a single skydive, however.

Other fundraising projects were undertaken, a brand name was added, and charitable status was applied for.

Anna said: “Nepal is a beautiful country, the first thing everyone notices when visiting, is everyone’s amazing smile.

“We want to do whatever we can to help bring that back. The monsoon season is coming, communications are difficult and there are problems with the drinking water. We decided we had to act now.”

In late July Anna travelled to Nepal and began to help deliver aid personally.

September saw the charity gain the backing of TV personality and long time Nepal campaigner Joanna Lumley OBE.

As 2015 draws to a close the newly formed charity have already assisted nearly 100 families to rebuild homes. They have also formed useful links and contacts to enable many, many more to be helped in the future.

As well as a programme of fundraising events in the pipeline, Anna plans to return to Nepal in 2016 to supervise and continue the ongoing good work.

She said: “We use a local project manager, local volunteers and materials. This way we can ensure that our funding goes straight to the source, isn’t held up by red tape and benefits whole communities.”

Information about the charity can be found on their website: www.bringbackthesmiletonepal.org.

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