Bishop John Rawsthorne, former chair of CAFOD and Bishop Emeritus of Hallam, was in Nepal with the director of CAFOD, Chris Bain, last month and writes to the people of Hallam.
“Last month I travelled to Nepal to visit the communities that Catholic aid agency CAFOD has been supporting since two devastating earthquakes struck the country one year ago.
“I saw remarkable work helping people recover and rebuild – work made possible because of the generosity of people in our area who made donations or organised collections in parishes and schools around the Diocese.
“The experience of meeting one man, a father who tragically lost his son, had a particularly strong effect on me.
“Living in a village in northern Rasuwa region in Nepal, the earthquake on 25 April 2015 had destroyed his home and village. His wife died in the rubble of their home. He was injured but managed to save his wounded son, while his other son was unharmed.
“Yet the very day I arrived to visit a resettlement camp where the man was now living with his two sons, his youngest son whom he’d saved from the rubble had drowned in the swift current of their nearby glacial stream. “I saved him from the rubble one year ago, but I couldn’t save him from a small river today,” he despaired.
“This was a devastating story and he was inconsolable. Although the story is heart breaking, his grief is not unique – nearly everyone I spoke with in Nepal had been affected by the worst disaster in living memory.
“But there were many stories of hope as well.
“In a camp for displaced people whose villages were uninhabitable from the earthquake damage, I met Sarkiyolmo Tamang from the indigenous Tamang community from Haku, on the Chinese border. This community are traditionally farmers and craftspeople who make bamboo baskets for carrying goods. The Haku area was destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes and landslides have made the land uninhabitable. Tamang from Haku are living in the highest-altitude camp for people who have lost their homes, with a climate most similar to their homes in the mountainous villages. Sarkiyolmo, like many Tamang, is skilled in making bamboo baskets but is now learning to make bamboo stools, which are standard items in most Nepali households and in high demand in the nearby markets of the permanent host community.
“Sarkiyolmo said, “I am still learning how to make the stools, I am still slow. I use what I can find, like tyres for the base of the stool. I like making baskets too but now I am learning something new to make and save money to buy land.”
“The Catholic community in England and Wales raised a generous £3.8m for CAFOD’s Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Nearly £60,000 of this came from people in the Diocese of Hallam, including its schools.
“This helped CAFOD’s Church partners to be on the front line of the emergency response immediately after the earthquake. The earthquake was the worst disaster in 80 years in Nepal, but Caritas Nepal, CAFOD’s partner, rapidly scaled up their operations to support local communities across 17 districts, providing immediate aid relief.
“Now CAFOD’s partners are providing longer term recovery support like shelter, clean water, and jobs training. They have provided the bamboo needed to make Sarkiyolmo’s stools and much more. Because they understand the different cultures and lifestyles of their communities, the aid they provided met the specific needs of the many different affected communities in Nepal.
“Although the Catholic community in Nepal is small, the services provided to the Nepalese people from CAFOD’s church partners punches well above its weight. The people I met were grateful for the ongoing generosity and compassion of the Catholic community in England and Wales. Let us continue to pray for the safety of the people of Nepal, that they may find comfort in their time of distress and the strength to rebuild their lives.”