How to organise help in Nepal? Questions after visit in the Bottle House

I am following the situation in Nepal, mostly in Kathmandu, by both volunteering in different places and seeing how things work - or they do not, and by reading about it and talking to people. It is still a mystery to me what shape will the Rebuilding program take - and how effective it will prove.

Yesterday me and Maria went with MCube artists to Bottle House in Nayapati, a few kilometers north from Kathmandu - and we saw a horrible landscape, where basically no house survived the earthquake. These were both traditional houses and new buildings, of which we know already very well that they do have all sorts of ridiculous decoration but lack simple earthquake-proof basis.

People sleep in overcrowded tents and temporary shelters, which leak and break. Some of them decided to take down the leftovers of their houses with their own hands. I am also not sure whose responsibility will it be to demolish what is still standing, like a menace to people around - is the state helping with it, or they hope that people who already lost everything will also cover these costs? Or maybe one more 7.something earthquake will come and spare people some work and money?

In the Bottle House kids of age from 2 to 16 sleep in two big tents from China - around 11 in each, and some of the adult boys have small tents to share by two. This is a lucky coincidence that some of them could have been sent to their relatives for some time - otherwise, instead of 26, they would have to squeeze in 46 children. Houses in which they slept and took lessons are all broken - but they’re built of cheap materials, basically recycled glass bottles and clay, and maybe if the technology could be improved, same concept would be replicated. People running the Bottle House collect glass all the time.

When I asked sister Merry who runs the place since its beginnings in 2011 what are the main challenges the place faces now, she said all they need is skilled hands and materials (and money to buy them) - especially now, when workforce is scarce, young people migrated in high numbers to other countries, and access to goods is more limited due to horrible state of roads and their accessibility. She also hopes that the school which the kids attend will be rebuilt.

The visit was full of joy and great discussions (the kids knew where Poland is on the map, and they even asked me if I know Witek, a boy who volunteered there and painted Bolek and Lolek on their walls - that’s one of the key oldschool cartoons in Poland!), they also all supported Barcelona and wanted to meet Messi, and maybe even go to Argentina, talked with me about Ghurka warriors, difficulties of reading Nepali, roxy and other nice things. But when they decided to open, it turned out they are afraid of thieves roaming around, and sleeping in tents does not make them any safer, and that they cannot decide whether it’s the gods taking revenge on Nepali by creating earthquakes, or maybe gods don’t exist and they should start praying to nature instead. Question “Why earthquake happens?” was the issue Maria had to scientifically cover, not sure though with what effects. And that already opens a whole new question: what to do with traumatized people who lack professional help and assistance?

Media say there is no consensus yet to the form of the body that would supervise the process of rebuilding. This week marks one months since the earthquake and it seems right about time to solve some of the key problems, such as sowing season, temporary strong shelters for upcoming monsoon, and effective planning for the actual reconstruction. I have a feeling the DIY, low-level help might remain the main source of help for quite a while still. But I really wonder, what do Nepali think about it?


At the risk of repeating myself

This is what I had thought of for the post disaster 72h period. It would probably be a lot more difficult to get this off the ground now.

Perhaps getting to work on some aspects to prep the rebuilding would help. Here’s my post on that

Here’s vid with Erica James who seems to be familiar with the traumatization aspect. Her part starts at minute 4. Sorry for being so short… bit busy.

First reasonable proposal

That’s the first reasonable proposal for emergent / bottom up crisis response that I’ve seen so far! Thanks a lot @trythis, I think it will “show us the way” :slight_smile:

On its own, emergence does tend to work but not great, that’s exactly why I’m interested to find the fitting organizational infrastructure that can support it here in Nepal. A common web-accessible database / information system for example is definitely not it, because people never take the time to document what they’ve done.

I assume the cultural habits here do not favor the rigid / mechanical organization from this proposal, but I also assume there’s something that fulfills the same purpose and works great here.

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Rigidity is a problem

Hey, I think you deftly pointed out one of the most critical weaknesses I could think of: rigidity.

If you can think of a elegant way to re-shuffle the lower groups effectively - that would be much appreciated! Initially I wanted extreme simplicity and directness, but once people have regrouped with their loved ones - there’ll need to be a transition. Eventually it would also make sense to produce another schematic (or perhaps more detailed plan) that introduces the features that typically become more relevant 2-3 levels further up the structure. My guess is that the design of that should be done in collab with @ElaMi5 or some other of the top-down aid people, as that is where they’ll probably interface.

Also, if someone has the time - could you grab a few randomish people of the street and see if they can copy the essentials, and how long they need? The would be critical info for the next iteration of this.

Looks like someone had a similar take on the issue

They stay on a more abstract level, but very nicely explain the motivations I had as well:

more on

He has a point

You may like or not like @trythis’s particular suggestion, but it has the definite advantage that it can be bootstrapped from the bottom up. It probably makes sense for large relief agencies, the government etc. to try to organize relief top down, drawing org chart and creating unites and task forces. People like us, we just pick up a task and execute. Even a small one will be better than nothing.

Can we help you in any way from Europe?

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A few more contacts

Probably easiest for @Matthias to contact them quickly on the phone and see if they can contribute something: , katsoz has a surprisingly detailed German wiki-entry as well…

Dead, but perhaps there’s still someone interested in Kiel:

I think there was a connection to Dr. Willi Streitz

And of course there is WR Dombrowsky

@meenabhatta in the unlikely case you have time for such things perhaps this paper gives you some ammo if you need to defend a position vs the top-down world. More related material here.



But I might want to ad a feature for upvoting something through the roof.

Very very useful, will look at it in detail when returning from our field trip …

Make sure you check out their twitter

They are actively looking for ways to collaborate:

Again a German language source


This is a high level 3h discussion of the major German players in humanitarian aid. If you run into red tape with German organizations I would just put the phone on loudspeaker at the right time-stamp. There is no shortage of instances where they emphasize that LOCAL organization needs to be supported and not undermined. I is pretty slow and not much practical info, so I would recommend you just treat this as more ammo in discussions. Perhaps I’ll write down the best bits if I find the time…

Women fix it, dudes break it…

…would perhaps be a little unfair to say, but not entirely off the mark I’m afraid. So the absence of guys (and some of their egos) will perhaps be beneficial in a pragmatic effort to muddle through and get on the feet again. @Dipti_Sherchan @Natalia_Skoczylas Don’t think your work will go unrecognized, as this one is there for you as well:

She’s the Trümmerfrau. A word that still instills no small measure of respect in Germany.

Here’s assessments on the role of women by the ICRC (and this) -skip directly to conclusions.

Different story: food, this is mostly so you can see in what format the top-down people assess the situation (for the slightly longer term), so you can effectively talk to them.

Well written

Yes visiting such affected place gives you an insight on the real situation at ground zero. The writer presence there seem to have spread some smiles which is good at this time where people are filled with sadness…

I really appreciates the initiatives of the people who are working towards mental relaxation of the traumatized children.