ONE year on from the earthquake that left swathes of Nepal in ruins, elderly Gurkha veterans are rebuilding their lives with support from a younger generation of soldiers in the Himalayan foothills.
Nearly 1,200 Gurkha veterans or their widows lost their homes last year. A further 1,000 suffered damage to their property, leaving them vulnerable to tremors that continue even to this day.
One such veteran is 75-year-old Corporal Krishnabahadur Thapa, who served with the 2nd Gurkha Rifles from 1959 and fought in Brunei and Borneo.
Talking of his service, Krishnabahadur recalled: “[I remember] gunfire and bullets whizzing over our heads. I felt then that we would probably all be killed.”
When last year’s earthquake struck, Krishnabahadur initially thought a heavy lorry was causing the ground to shake, but the horrifying truth soon became clear. His home was destroyed and he spent the following weeks in a tent with his family.
“To all who helped us and the good people who have made this possible for us, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will remember your kindness for as long as there is breath in my body.”
Having received emergency aid from The Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT), a UK charity operating in Nepal, the ex-Serviceman faced months in a temporary shelter. Rebuilding progress was hampered by the annual monsoon and then a trade blockade on the southern border with India.
Rebuilding homes and lives
Following a period of planning, GWT began its long-term earthquake response in earnest last November. Staffed largely by former Gurkhas, who celebrated their 200th anniversary of Service last year, the charity’s current priority is helping veterans and widows by providing new, earthquake-resistant homes while maintaining its routine support.
At the time of writing, after months of hardship, Krishnabahadur was only days away from moving in to his new home with his wife, Belkumari. For the couple, it will be a relief to have a secure roof over their heads.
John White, Head of GWT’s Earthquake Response Team, said: “At least 80 per cent of the 1,200 home builds should be finished by the end of 2016, with the rest completed by the second anniversary of the earthquakes.”
As well as rehousing Gurkha veterans and widows, GWT’s response will include building hundreds of water projects, schools and community centres in affected villages over the coming years. It estimates that it will have spent £17.5 million on its earthquake projects by 2020.
Krishnabahadur had a clear message to the British public: “To all who helped us and the good people who have made this possible for us, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will remember your kindness for as long as there is breath in my body.”
Find out more
For further information on GWT’s work, visit www.gwt.org.uk/earthquake