NOTHING could duplicate the trauma, utter devastation and loss that resulted from the 2015 ‘Gorkha’ earthquake which hit in Nepal on April 25, 2015.
More than 8000 people were killed and upwards of 21,000 injured.
But for three South Gippsland men, taking part in an international aid mission to the country last month, the horrific incident they became involved in must have been chillingly reminiscent.
Well-known local international volunteer, George Hendry, was leading his first trip into earthquake ravaged Nepal where he was immediately struck by the poverty and on-going impact of the catastrophe.
With him was a group of 12 people from Australia, including several locals, with another group of 12 to follow some weeks later.
“Halfway through last year I met a bloke looking to undertake a school-building project, similar to the ones we have done before, in Nepal. I knew a number of people who had previously expressed an interest in doing something in Nepal, so we decided we should lend a hand,” said George this week.
“The organisation, ‘Journey Nepal’, which was planning a school rebuilding project in a remote part of the country, is run by Nepalese people, with some outside support and we felt if we could raise a bit more money, we could be of use to them.
“More than 8500 schools across the country have been destroyed and the country still has a very great need for support.
“We arrived in Nepal on Friday March 18 and headed out with one of the Journey Nepal people to his village in one of those bus trips you’d never want to do again. It was over a distance of 200km but it took us nine hours and there were quite a few narrow corners we came around where you couldn’t see the bottom over the side.”
Having got acclimatised, they wasted no time getting into it, and several of the volunteers including George, Peter Levey the Nyora Football Netball Club President who operates two engineering plants, and Alec Miller, a retired dairy farmer from Poowong amongst them.
“They don’t have a lot of raw materials and with a blockade on bringing materials in, they had to work with what they had to replace all the school buildings they lost. The school is supposed to provide for 500 kids.
“They were using a prototype earth-bag technique which we didn’t know a lot about.”
George, Peter and Alec were helping with the construction while several others in the group assisted with the lessons away from the main construction area.
Building works included a dome-style arrangement for a roof, reinforced by concrete, but when the supports were removed, the whole thing caved in on top of the three local Aussies and numerous local workers.
George was pinned by the arm and a large piece of concrete fell on his foot crushing it.
“My hand was trapped but I knew I was OK. Peter was under a bigger weight of concrete and suffered a dislocated back, two breaks to his arm, a broken foot, broken shoulder blade and 10 broken ribs. He was pretty banged up.”
Alec was hit on the head and received a broken bone in the foot but came off relatively well for having a concrete/earthen roof fall on him.
Together with some badly injured locals, they became the subjects of a major rescue mission which finally saw them evacuated out by helicopter to the top hospital in Kathmandu, the Grand International Hospital where they received expert attention.
Three days after their ordeal, Alec was able to fly home, Peter and George spent 8-10 days in hospital before being allowed out with Peter still convalescing in the Dandenong hospital.
“We’ve both had a fair bit of work done but they say we’ll make a full recovery.”
In fact, despite the frightening incident, George says he’s going back.
“The unfortunate thing is that there is so much still to be done and we made some great contacts there despite what took place, partly because of it.
“I certainly like to help them again, whether I go back there or not.”
Needless to say, the second stage of the mission was abandoned although some people still made the trip to Nepal.
George is back home, recovering from his foot injury in particular and Peter was expected home over the weekend.
It’s likely though that the school project in the Dhading District will continue to attract support from South Gippsland.
A volunteer mission they’ll never forget