Big celebration in the 2015 earthquake region

Festival on the grounds of the new school in Sangachok

I’m reminded of a Hollywood movie: The vice-president enters by helicopter. A handful of bodyguards pave the way for him. The Secret Service men are wearing grey suits, dark glasses, earphones – and they keep a straight face. I’m tempted to shout to the wannabe Clint Eastwoods: “Hello, wake up! You’re on a school compound, there’s no danger here, just partying!” But then I deny myself to do it. That’s probably how it must be when a high-ranking politician attends an event in Nepal. And after all Nanda Bahadur Pun is the second man in the state as vice-president. In his posh suit one hardly believes that he once commanded the Maoist rebels in the Nepalese civil war (from 1996 to 2006).

15 schools intact again

Parade to the village

However, the citizens of Sangachok, a small mountain village about 70 kilometers east of the capital Kathmandu, are very proud that the vice president of the country visits them. On the last day of October the completion of 15 schools is celebrated in Sindupalchowk District, which was hit particularly hard by the devastating earthquake in Nepal on 25 April 2015.

About 40 percent of the 9,000 people who died in the earthquake four and a half years ago lived in Sindupalchowk. Up to 90 percent of the buildings in the villages and small towns of the rural region were destroyed, including many schools. The German aid organisation “Nepalhilfe Beilngries” demolished and rebuilt seven of these schools and repaired eight other damaged school buildings. If that is no reason to celebrate!

Like carnival and Oktoberfest

Ritual dance

“There has never been such a big celebration in my home village before and probably won’t be again in the next years”, Sabina Parajuli is amazed. The 29-year-old ophthalmologist comes from Sangachok. After the earthquake she had helped to treat the numerous injured in the region. Sabina’s father is the head of the new school in Sangachok, her mother works as a teacher. Everything is really big at this “Oktoberfest”. About 2,000 people receive the delegation of the “Nepalhilfe Beilngries” already one kilometer ahead of the village and accompany us in a long train with music band to the venue. As a native of Cologne I feel reminded of carnival.

Music interlude

Ralf Dujmovits – so far the only German mountaineer who has scaled all 14 eight-thousanders – and I followed the invitation of the Nepalhilfe to take part in the celebration. The Austrian mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Ralf and I had launched the aid project “School up!” after the quake to rebuild the destroyed school in the village of Thurosirubari, not far from Sangachok. We collected donations, the Nepalhilfe Beilngries organized the construction.

Speech marathon

Vice President Pun in his speech

Having arrived at the schoolyard of Sangachok, we are led to the grandstand. With a traditional Nepalese cap on our head and several so-called “khatas” – Nepalese greeting scarves – and wreaths of flowers around our necks we take a seat. We don’t leave it that fast anymore. The program includes 35 points, mostly speeches on Nepali, interrupted by some dance interludes.

Quite tiring

The visit of Vice-President Pun also attracted many local politicians to Sangachok. And when they stand at the microphone and talk themselves into a rage, it can take a while. Almost five hours in total. That requires patience and ability to sit still. I find it a real relief when we are asked to dance a little with local musicians after the last of the 35 items of the program. The Vice-President has long since been back in the air, including his “Eastwoods”.

“Always in our hearts”

Ralf and me in front of the new school in Thulosirubari

One day later we visit some schools of the region, also “our” one in Thulosirubari. For Ralf Dujmovits and me it is an emotional moment. Ralf had visited the village about a week after the quake, I had done it about a year later. At that time we had looked into faces telling of shock, suffering and despair. Already in March 2018, when we celebrated with the villagers the inauguration of the first two parts of the new school building, this had changed radically. People had regained their optimism.

Now the third part of the building including the toilet building has been completed, 480 children and teenagers are taught in the new school. Our “School up!” project has now been successfully completed. “You will always be in our hearts”, Ramsharan B.K., the chairman of the school committee of Thulosirubari, tells me when we say goodbye. I would like to pass on his thanks to all those who have supported us. You were great, without you this would not have been possible! And by the way, I would not have had the opportunity to have fun with a vice-president and his shadow men. 😉

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