Volunteers learning the skills to help communities in Nepal prepare for the monsoon season

Published: 24 June 2015 15:01 CET

By Lucy Keating, IFRC

Thousands of families across the district of Sindhuli are being given Red Cross shelter kits, cash and household items to help them recover from the devastating earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May.

For those whose houses were badly damaged, the impending monsoon makes shelter is a priority. Many people’s homes are uninhabitable – either completely flattened or structurally dangerous. And while many are using their homes in the daytime, they are not suitable for sleeping. Most people take their rest outside, under tarpaulins and in tents.

Across the affected districts people are already salvaging materials in the rubble and starting to construct temporary shelters until their homes can be properly mended or rebuilt. Red Cross shelter kits will help them in the process. And to  make sure they get the best out  of the materials they have, people are given a two hour presentation on the best ways to use the tools and how they can use local and salvaged material to supplement the kits.

The cash component reflects a shift in how aid is now being distributed. Rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, the idea is that people should be able to decide for themselves what their most urgent need is. Some will have taken out loans to buy materials and will use the cash to pay them back. Others will buy building materials locally which in turn will help the local economy to recover.

Kamala Pariyar from Bhimeshwor village development committee of Sindhuli received the cash relief and shelter support. She said: “My house was destroyed in the earthquake. With the cash provided by the Nepal Red Cross Society, I will be able to buy bamboo for temporary shelter. The instructions provided on shelter building and the kit will be very helpful for me.”

Relief Coordinator Wendy Brightman said it was the first time they had combined shelter and cash transfer programmes. “Cash is still a relatively new mode of relief, but we find it is one of the most effective,” she said. “It is only feasible where our assessments show that the local markets are functioning. It not only gives people back the dignity of making decisions for themselves but helps kick start local businesses which have also been affected by the earthquakes.”

In preparation for these distributions, teams of Red Cross trainers have been travelling across the affected districts teaching volunteers shelter building skills and demonstrating how to use the tool in the kits.  

In Dhading last week, 15 young men from across the district travelled to the local chapter for training, which was led by Mohammad Shahjahan from Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, who is part of the regional shelter team.

His sessions start with advice about where to build, and where not to build. A clear open space is advised, rather than in the shadow of the unstable buildings. Volunteers are advised not to build too near water, and to dig a drainage channel around the shelter so the ground doesn’t become saturated.

After that the correct ways to use the tarpaulin is explained, including a discussion of its UV properties and where best to nail to avoid tears..

Before long Suja has the men doing the presentation themselves in practice for distribution day. “You must introduce yourself,” he told one. And to another: “You haven’t mentioned you are with the Red Cross so why will they listen to you?”

The afternoon session is spent experimenting with the tool kit and a range of local materials that can be adapted to reinforce a homemade shelter. Plastic bottle tops as washers for the nails, plastic bags wrapped over sharp wooden timbers to prevent them from ripping. The real purpose of the training is to be able to give people advice on how to get started and it seems to have worked on the day.

“I have learned new skills through the shelter training, such as how to fix tarpaulins on bamboo,” said Nabaraj Shrestha, a volunteer with the Bhimeshwor chapter. “Before, I didn’t know how to use local materials in shelter building, but now I do.”

Within a week of the training, the Nepal Red Cross Society, with support from partners including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, American Red Cross, The Republic of Korea National Red Cross and Pakistan Red Crescent Society, have provided cash relief and shelter kits to 525 families in Sindhuli. In coming weeks the teams will carry out more distributions across the 14 worst affected districts.