Group that acts together, PART 1

I have known Abhinav Thakur for years now. He’s been what we call a “regular Kathmandu guy”. He loves his friends and has a job he enjoys. His life, like the life of many of us, changed the day of the earthquake. Despite fears of security and amidst decisions of uncertainty, Abhinav chose to come out of his home within 72 hours. Not only did he manage to form a group with his friends, he successfully contributed in every way possible. We share his personal story.

An overview

I asked him to start from the start. He explained his initiative pretty easily as “group of friends who came together to purchase relief materials and distribute them to places around Kathmandu.” “The places we went were remote except for distance which helped us as we could use cars some of us had to go to these places in the beginning. Later we started needing vans to accommodate the materials. For about ten days straight we went to places around Kathmandu where we heard relief materials were short or null. We just called ourselves ‘Kathmandu Relief Team’. After that most of us had to go back to our regular jobs. But at present, we are in the process of starting an organization for the education of children in the earthquake stricken areas,” says Abhinav.

Working as a team

“We started working after 72 hours of the earthquake. About six of us went on the first day. The group grew to about 15. There were more than 30 of us in a few days. Through Viber groups and other social media most people would contact friends and those that were free were happy to join.” – Abhinav Thakur

Geographical location they accessed and resources they collected

It is very interesting to see what triggered them to work on a particular geographical location. How did they choose the area that required them the most?

“We talked about it. Temporary shelters, food materials and sanitation kits came up as immediate requirements so we focused on that. Regarding geographical areas, we went to places from general knowledge among the group through news, local contacts and so on. We talked about places we could go on Viber and we would come to consensus the night before.” – Abhinav Thakur

The process of learning

“There’s so much to learn once you spend time on the field. Firstly, we learnt building large tents. We learnt how to interact with people who are in need but don’t think they are entitled and are grateful for the support. We learnt how to interact with people who are in need and think they are entitled and get remarkably angry at our shortcomings. We learnt how to coordinate human resource to optimize efforts. We learnt it is not a good idea to go to places that require support with too little material. Above all, we learnt relief work takes dedication and a little hard work but it is usually very rewarding.

Nepal seems to be able to cope. As people, we are one. People of all backgrounds came together to support people of all backgrounds. Suddenly, all the political questions had diminished. When people acted of their own accord outside of the political framework, there was no dividing line, just a united Nepal. I learnt about myself that I could work on the field ten days straight without breaks. But it was taxing and I have a newfound respect for social work. I salute the youth of today for being so fundamentally selfless when time demanded it. The young community it seems is ready to take over and do well.” – Abhinav Thakur

More than a story

I asked Abhinav to share a “story” that has stuck with him after all these weeks. His answer made me regret calling it a story. It is a lesson that is rare and hard to forget. “We visited Alapot VDC on recommendation of one of the local people, Mr. Bharat Nagarkoti. When we were done distributing the relief material, we learnt Mr. Bharat himself didn’t have a tent to live in. We arranged for a tent for him and that too, he gave to someone else. He said he could share a place to sleep. During times when one can panic into seeming to need everything that comes, some people can become altruistic. Hail humanity,” said Abhinav.

Learning by doing

There are always learning lessons from every experience. Given the same situation at present, what would they have wanted to do differently?

“We would like to be better funded. That would help with the relief packages. We could include solar lights and chargers. Also, having a source of fund that didn’t need pictures as proof would help. It is sad to document grief in pictures. But finding such a source is unlikely. But mostly we would be more efficient from the first day. We would also like to be an organization of our own because that seems to garner better credibility among other organizations donating relief material.” – Abhinav Thakur

Co-ordination and Communication

“AID for Nepal is a Facebook group that helped massively and funded a couple of days of our mission. There were other online groups that helped with updating information. We went to CWIN and collected some materials for children like child’s food kit, crayons etc. Organization called Samjhana helped with sanitary kits for women. We did meet the army at a couple of places. These were very polite individuals working very efficiently in the relief campaign. They would come to a place and finish building a tent in about seven minutes. We did not meet large NGO people but we did see some of their tents around. Red Cross, Oxfam, the Turkish group, Chinese Red Cross etc. We almost never came across the government in these places. Government on the local level seems absent in our context. We did meet one VDC secretary at one of the villages we visited but he could not even help us coordinate the distribution. At most places we came across ad-hoc committees formed by the youth of the locality doing as much as they could. They would always welcome us and help in the relief distribution. It was easy to work with them as they were very willing to do all that could help the locals breathe a sigh of relief.” – Abhinav Thakur

Take the experience to the future

“The most important lesson from this experience to take to the future is that we as a nation are heavily underprepared for crisis scenarios. We as a group hope to make an impact now on the lives of some children who have been affected by this and to shield more from further crises through our future initiative.” – Abhinav Thakur

I was extremely delighted to see a citizen driven initiative not particularly led by an individual but by a purpose making an impact in the relief aid. Congratulations to Abhinav Thakur and his friends. Your people needed you and you lived up to their expectation.

Part 2 of this story introduces Srijan Silwal. Srijan is the “front man” of the group. His story is inspirational, to say the very least.

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Welcome, Abhinav Thakur!

Welcome @Abhinav_Thakur,

Thank you for talking to me! :slight_smile: I’d also like to welcome you to the community. Hope to stay in touch through your experiences!


documenting grief

Dear @Abhinav_Thakur, I agree that documenting grief, especially through photos, for evidence and funding is a sad practice. Even today, I went to provide some nutrition package in a camp area in Pepsikola and the contact person that I had gone along with at one point told the women to be ready for a photo. I made it a point to express to him that I do not want to take any photos.

I did however jot down their names, village, VDC and Ward No. I know this will not suffice for people who are perhaps looking for a better connection to establish in order to support your or anyone’s initiative - but at the end of the day, what matters is your intention and if it is genuine, support will just pour it - without asking for photos!

On a similar note, I also think that we can discourage voyeuristic and insensitive photographing and avoid being all of that, and still take photographs:

  1. Ask for permission - the golden rule. There is a culture in Nepal where usually people do not refuse explicitly, especially at such a vulnerable situation. So, we need to be able to get a sense of their comfort level.

  2. Certain code of conduct like “no handing over pictures”.

  3. Ask for permission to publish it, or share. Explain the purpose.

  4. Storytelling - I guess the main idea behind photographing is telling a story. Don’t just post a photo and leave things for assumptions. Tell a story through your photo - after all, it is that part which captivates. Engage with them, not for a photo, but for learnings like you have mentioned in your experience.

I have seen many photos of relief work that do this beautifully and I am sure they are not doing this purely for funding or evidence, but because that particular moment needed to be captured - to be shared.

Rethinking this myself …

I agree with @Abhinav_Thakur, these are good points by Dipti. Guess I gotta rethink some of my pictures as well. Asking permission and explaining purpose, publishing etc. of the images in a village is of course difficult for somebody who does not speak the local language.

One thing that worked well in my experience are situations where people want a photo to be done. This happened for several reasons to us: either they want a group photo together with the volunteers who came to help (as a farewell photo after some connection has been built), or because everyone built the shelter / toilet / whatever together and they want a photo of all the proud workers and the finished work (these are my favourite ones), or because they want to give a group picture as a thank you to those who came to help.

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Documenting grief

Dear @Dipti_Sherchan, thank you for the advice. I think what you said should be more publicized so that it becomes common knowledge. I did not even realize I was being insensitive myself until a friend said I was when I was taking a picture of a man in the ruins of what used to be his home. Sure it is fun when kids get excited and ask us to take pictures themselves. We did take pictures that told stories. I guess I simply lacked the etiquettes at the beginning of our campaign, like the Indian media we demanded go home. Your points could help a lot of well-intentioned individuals being insensitive due to ignorance and lack of experience.

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