Silas Tamang is Nepalese and a Christian – making him a minority in Nepal, but not in the district of Dhading where his family has lived for generations. He hails from a tiny village north of Dhading town called Tenchet that was perched precariously on a steep mountainside, as are most villages in this region. On 25 April, most of the village’s 23 homes collapsed or vanished into the deep ravine from a landslide. Miraculously, only four of 105 villagers died, but the people who once lived there now have nothing. They have lost every possession they ever had, including their animals.
Silas works for a local NGO that partners with United Mission to Nepal (UMN), working to address the root causes of poverty and serve the people of Nepal in the name and spirit of Christ. On Saturday, the first day that the MAF-facilitated helicopter relief flights began operations in Nepal, UMN arranged to fly Silas and packages of relief food into the isolated village of Jharlang that had a flat area large enough to land the small helicopter. Silas knew most of the people who crowded around him when he arrived. He calls them ‘family’.
Most of the people who sat on the ground watching the heavy bags filled with lentils, salt, beaten rice, and dried noodles off-loaded from the helicopter had lost their homes. They came here to wait, hoping for any kind of help. Most are living under a tarp or in a cowshed if it’s still standing. In the last two weeks, they buried and mourned their dead: 18 in Jharlang, 26 in Chamthali, 14 in Lapa, 74 in Ree VDC, a small administrative district. The lists go on. The numbers may sound minimal, but for many of the small villages that have little more than 100 people, the lives lost total a large percentage of their entire population.
Completely cut off
In normal times, from Dhading, the main town in the region, it could take 5 to 8 hours to the end of a very rough road, plus one to two days of hiking to reach Jharlang. There are no roads into these villages. In the previous week, UMN learned that the walking bridge that crosses the deep canyon was damaged in the earthquake. Apparently, if one is brave enough, Silas said, it might be possible to cross by hanging onto the remaining cables. Carrying large bags of food, however, would be impossible.
In more accessible areas of the region, UMN spent 12 hours driving on extremely rough roads with five trucks and two tractors, suffering multiple punctures and blow-outs to reach the end of a road where villagers could pick up relief food and supplies. It was difficult but possible.
Jharling and Lapa did not have this option. It was cut off entirely. When UMN heard about the subsidized helicopter flights, it changed everything. They booked flights immediately and were able to fly three loads of food into both Jharlang and nearby Lapa. What was impossible could now be accomplished in just a few hours.
“We’re helping out in the post earthquake time, particularly in Dhading district,” Jerry Clewett, UMN’s Technical Director explains. “In the north the roads don’t reach far and even the walking paths now have been largely destroyed by landslides and a broken bridge in one particular place. In Lapa and Jharlang, we are very much reliant on the helicopters made available by MAF, and without those helicopters, we could not reach those villages. The last two days we’ve been using those helicopters first of all to take people to help with the organization of the distribution and to access the conditions there, and then to take goods. On 11 May, we’ll be taking three flights up to Lapa and Jharling with more goods for the villages there. Without the helicopter, those villages would have nothing as far as we’re aware, so these can be real lifesavers. For UMN we’re very grateful for the partnership with MAF.'
A breaking heart and hope
Silas could see his own village from Jharlang, or where it used to be, far across the canyon through a white haze - a section of green bordered on both sides with the grey rocky landslide that had wiped out all vegetation and man-made structures. As he told the story of what happened there, the pain suddenly overwhelmed him and his eyes filled with tears.
'My family is safe,' Silas finally spoke, 'but…the family I grew from is like one family. That’s why I’m sad and worried… many people are in the jungle without anything. We don’t know in the future what will happen. I think God wants to make strong for the people, wants to bring unity for the churches. We have to give encouragement then, and share the Word of God…Those who lost their family, we have to encourage them, not cry. I have big faith in Him, but when I go up here, my heart is broken because many people lost their home, their family. I’m sad that many people died here from the group, like one family. Everyone here is like my parents, my brother and sister. So this is why I’m missing them.'
An uncertain future
In the small village of Nencho, about a 30-minute walk from Jharlang, Mahima Tamang, 24, and her seven family members are earthquake victims, their house and village completely destroyed. 'All the houses came down,' she described. 'All people are now here and there. No one knows where everyone is staying.' Her family is living in a cowshed.
Mahima was at church Saturday morning singing praise and worship songs when the building began to shake. An old man died when a heavy stone fell on him. The rest got out alive.
Like Silas, her family is safe, but she’s frightened of another earthquake. Life is too uncertain and she says she simply can’t think about the future. She expressed what many of the earthquake victims are feeling.
Reaching the unreachable
One certainty, however, is the quickly approaching monsoon season that begins in just four weeks. Already heavy rain and thunderstorms have begun. With so many homeless people in isolated mountain communities, the approaching rainy season is a realistic fear. The clock is ticking to reach these people.
“At the monsoon time, there’s a greater likelihood of even further landslides so roads could be blocked,” Jerry Clewett says. “We’re hoping that in the next few days, we will get a big consignment of tarpaulins because shelter is the number one priority for those people at the present time, so those helicopters will be helping us with the delivery as soon as they arrive in our stock. There’s a real time pressure to get as much of this work done as possible within the next 4 week period.”
A little more than two weeks after the devastating earthquake, there’s no question that the hardest hit and isolated regions of Nepal have yet to receive help, but with helicopters now available, facilitated through MAF at an affordable rate, that will change. The overwhelming response from the humanitarian community is a clear indication of the need for this service. Some have called it ‘a miracle’ and ‘a game-changer.’ It is providing a means to now reach the unreachable, bringing aid to people who have suffered severe loss.