Teens visit Nepal to evaluate use of earthquake relief funds
When creators of Spokane’s Power of Five project to educate girls in Nepal formed the nonprofit Conscious Connections Foundation (CCF) last fall, they had no idea that they would do humanitarian disaster aid.
Grant Gallaher, Denise Attwood, Cameron and Ric Conner travel to Nepal to learn of further needs.
In March 2014, Denise Attwood, co-founder of Ganesh Himal Trading, had visited the Baseri health clinic they helped build in 2009.
During the April 25 7.9 earthquake in Nepal, the clinic collapsed.
Because of their 30-year friendships, there was no question that CCF would be involved. Donations poured in.
“Within days the support was transformed into food, shelter and medicine. In less than a week, resources were in people’s hands,” said Cameron Connor, vice president and co-founder of CCF. “We were effective, because we are trusted and have direct contacts. We sent funds to friends in Kathmandu. They bought rice and tents, and transported them to remote villages before May 15, often prior to the Red Cross, United Nations or Mercy Corps.
“There’s a place for direct, relationship-based, small-scale aid,” Denise said, noting that much aid also came from Nepalis living abroad and from other fair trade networks, like Far East Handcrafts through which Barbara Novak of Spokane helped the Cathedral of St. John send donations to her Nepali contacts.
As of Sept. 1, CCF had collected $155,000. Immediately, CCF expended enough to provide a month’s supply of food to about 6,000 people and shelter for 1,200. CCF has set aside its remaining funds to begin the process of permanently rebuilding homes, schools and other vital facilities. It has also allocated $10,300 for reconstruction of their Artisan Relief Project.
Ganesh Himal Trading itself has promised $10,000 for artisan relief—$7,000 has been spent and the rest set aside.
Connections of the Stephen R. Novak Foundation in Nepal go back to 1988 when Steve started his fair trade importing company, Far East Handcrafts. Upon his death in 1995, his parents, Terry and Barbara Novak of Spokane, kept the business going, as well as the aid projects, in which he was involved. Barbara is visiting in Nepal in October to learn about future needs for aid. The Fig Tree will follow up when she returns, telling of a school and the fair trade efforts.
CCF anticipates they will spend $60,000 to buy land to rebuild the Deurali Community Service Center, which housed the Baseri Clinic, on more stable ground with earthquake-resilient, rammed-earth technology.
To evaluate the effectiveness of their aid and to learn about the role of small-scale, “fair-aid,” relationship-based efforts in the larger scope of humanitarian aid, Cameron and his friend and research associate Grant Gallaher decided to defer starting studies at Whitman College to find out.
Friends since middle school and 2015 graduates of West Valley High School, they will trek in Nepal to evaluate the earthquake aid sent by Conscious Connections Foundation. They arrive in Nepal on Oct. 2.
Cameron’s parents, Ric Conner and Denise, who do business with artisans of Nepal affected by the quake, arrive there on Oct. 9 with Sita Gurung, co-founder of the Baseri Clinic. Originally from Baseri and now living in Seattle, Sita will help them communicate with people there.
“We will discuss rebuilding the clinic and houses,” said Denise. She and Ric, who will be there for a month, and Cameron and Grant, who will stay until mid December, are paying their own travel expenses.
Cameron and Grant developed a 16-page project plan, outlining the background, scope, purpose, expectations and methodology of the evaluation, and open-ended questions to ask recipients.
Their goals are to 1) be accountable to donors, 2) be accountable to aid recipients on what works and what’s next, and 3) learn how small scale aid response fits into the wider picture of humanitarian aid.
On Skype, they have already contacted George Wilson, who grew up in Spokane and moved to Kathmandu in March with Mercy Corps. They will interview George and others in aid agencies.
Helping them translate will be Pradeep Karki, 18, with whom Cameron has “grown up” in his many visits to Nepal. With support from Ric and Denise, Pradeep just finished high school in Nepal .
To prepare for the evaluation, Cameron and Grant took an online course with the Network of Accountability and Performance on evaluating humanitarian aid.
“We will visit communities to learn who gave what aid and what was achieved,” Cameron said. “We will also ask what more they need.
“We know that as CCF aid arrived, medicine, supplies and other aid from Nepalis living elsewhere arrived. Soon after that, villagers dug out the clinic to access medicines and supplies, and dug out the solar panel and found the batteries working.”
Once immediate needs were met, Cameron said, Nepali friends asked CCF to wait and send more for rebuilding after the June-through-August monsoon season.
In hopes that rebuilding the Baseri Clinic will serve as a demonstration project, five CCF representatives will take a two-day, earth-bag building class in Kathmandu, where experts will train villagers, them and others how to fill and place bags to build rammed-earth structures. Fifty such structures survived the quake, Cameron said.
Once those who help rebuild the clinic learn the technique, they can teach others to use it to rebuild their homes.
Ric will take photos and videos for a presentation at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane after Thanksgiving.
“We need to create awareness of the ongoing situation with more than 200,000 homes lost,” he said. “Donors want to know how they helped. We will keep it in the public’s eye.”
Cameron hopes the experience will help him discern direction for his studies. Similarly, Grant also hopes to find career options.
They wanted to step outside their comfort zone to make a difference. Cameron visited Nepal often as a child and has many friends he considers practically family.
While in Kathmandu, they will stay with a friend, Chunta Nepali. When they visit villages, they will sleep in tents and cook for themsleves so they do not burden people.
“I know how Cameron’s travels to Nepal have defined him. I, too, want to experience the culture and gain a different world view,” said Grant, whose only experience abroad was volunteering in Costa Rica one week with a turtle conservation program and a second week learning about wildlife in the jungles.
The project requires them to be self-motivated, meet deadlines and be accountable to themselves and others.
They will post updates on their research on a blog for people to follow at consciousconnectionsfoundation.org/news.
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