Suman Khadka was waiting for a bus in his small mountain village of Palchok when a massive earthquake ripped across Nepal. Houses and buildings collapsed all around him, trapping people in the rubble. The air filled with dust and then the sound of screaming. Making his way through streets that now looked like a war zone, Suman helped to pull people out of the wreckage. His parents were alive, but many families were less fortunate, and the few houses that were left standing were dangerously cracked and uninhabitable.
Survivors spent the evening huddled together in a large tent in one of the fields. “There were lots of people injured and the roads to Kathmandu were closed by landslides. We were scared. We just stayed in the tent and prayed,” says 19-year old Suman, an environmental activist. Three days later the road reopened and he made his way to Kathmandu. “I couldn’t just stand by with so many people in trouble, I had to help,” he says. Aid was already pouring into the country but poor organisation meant that remoter villages like his were forgotten.
Managing to get on Facebook he sent messages to everyone he could think of saying, “People are dead, houses are collapsed, we have no food. There is no one to help us.” 14-year old Melati Wijsden happened to be online in Bali. They had never met in person but had struck up a cyber friendship when he discovered Bye Bye Plastic Bags a campaign led by Melati and her 12-year old sister Isabel, to ban plastic bags in Bali. Their group of teenage volunteers immediately agreed to help. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Suman tells SBS.
I couldn’t just stand by with so many people in trouble, I had to help.
The kids from Bye Bye Plastic Bags and their parents, a mix of locals and expats living on the island raised US $10,000 in the first two days, so Suman was able to lease trucks and buy emergency supplies to take back to his village. With the help of Rotary Club Canggu, the group in Bali collected online donations, raising tens of thousands of dollars in just over a week. Melati and Isabel’s father, Eko Riyanto, volunteered to take the money to Nepal, along with other parents of the team, including health worker, Nicola Hennigan, who treated hundreds of people in a makeshift clinic they set up on arrival in Palchok. “Everyone wanted to do something to help Nepal,” she says, “and because they knew us they knew the money would go direct to the village.” The team visited three times over the coming month, distributing emergency food packages, 70 tonnes of rice, tarpaulins and water filters. 600 chickens were bought to set up a chicken farm.
Mike King, a UK journalist who was covering the humanitarian crisis in Nepal following the quake, joined the team. Frustrated by official relief efforts he could see that, “Direct aid, on this occasion, was the only guaranteed way of reaching the people who needed it most.” Setting up a Facebook Page Suman's Story - Direct Aid for Nepal, linked to a go fund me campaign, he arrived in Palchok with a second round of donations. Suman was waiting for him. “We have enough food for our village for six weeks, now we need to help others,” the teen told him. “He was trying to do what his government and NGO’s couldn’t,” King tells SBS, “Suman and his friends could have helped any of their friends' families nearby, or in other villages, but instead they just chose the region that needed it most.
People are dead, houses are collapsed, we have no food. There is no one to help us.
The selflessness was humbling.” The team traversed the ravaged landscape of the remote Dolakha district, bringing life saving supplies to three more villages that had been completely isolated in the weeks since the quake. “People were weeping when we arrived with trucks of rice,” says King. He was joined by friend Paul Winslow, who describes Suman as a legend. “It was amazing to see a group of young people so dedicated to helping others and while we tried to help as and when we could, this really was an example of empowering them to do great deeds.”
The team of volunteers are still raising money through the go fund me campaign with the intention of building a permanent clinic for Palchok, and a nurse was recently enlisted to run a temporary clinic. Suman continues to help his village and the people of Nepal, recently starting an NGO named Dynamic Hands to work with environmental issues, tourism and education in remote regions of Nepal. He is looking for sponsors and volunteers.