A few months ago I met Doran (19, From New-Zealand) on the beaches of Koh Rong, Cambodia. We drank, relaxed and ate just like all the others around us, but skip forward 2 months and Doran is putting his life on the line to give aid to the people of Nepal after the April and May Earthquakes of 2015.
After leaving South East Asia, Doran Graham set off to Nepal and found himself right in the middle of both of the earthquakes that have claimed the lives of over 8,500 during the last few months and left the country decimated. Nepal is a beautiful country with unparalleled mountain peaks, beautiful views and very welcoming people. Since the earthquakes, the country’s economy, infrastructure and cheerful demeanour has fallen to pieces, literally and figuratively. Aside from the devastating strain on the hearts of the Nepalese people, the tourism industry which funnels in a great deal of the country’s economy has been crippled.
One small but instrumental vessel of hope is illustrated by the tourists who found themselves at hand during the earthquakes, and the many of them have stayed to lend a hand. Doran Graham is one of those people and he has dedicated the last month of his trip through Asia to helping the people of Nepal rebuild their cities and towns. When travelling through Kathmandu, Nepal on the 25th of April, the earthquake hit and straight away, Doran found himself helping clear rubble and debris and the horrible job of removing corpses from the devastation. In the wake of the initial quake, Mr Graham was one of a group of people who went straight to work on trying to free those stuck in the rubble. Since then, he has not left and has joined up with one of the organised relief groups to continue his support for the people of Nepal.
This is a video by Doran Graham capturing the ‘before and after’ effects of this devastating natural disaster, and clearly illustrates the role he is playing in helping the people of Nepal.
I got the chance to get in contact with my friend and ask him some questions about his experience:
During the first few days after the earthquake you found yourself doing what you could to help, can you give a brief recount of these initial days after the disaster?
As soon as the shaking stopped I ran outside in socks. People had gathered in a small car park outside my hostel. Everyone was scared as it was many people’s first earthquake and no one knew what had actually just happened. Started telling people it was okay as from where we were, no major distraction was visible. A few cracks in older buildings.
After about 15 minutes, curiosity got the better of me as I wondered if there was actually any distraction anywhere. I went back inside and got shoes and my camera and left with a friend to explore the town. Not even a minute up the road we saw a big pile of rubble at the end of an alley. As we walked down the alley a young crying teenaged girl was saying something about her mother and being comforted by a man. We ran down and realised that a building which turned out to be a hotel had completely collapsed and fallen off the street and further down into a large square, Nepalis used to bathe in. A few people were already on scene lifting away bricks and broken concrete and dragging out people. The first person I saw was completely lifeless and in my heart I just knew she was dead, even from 20 meters away.
We put down our cameras and joined the locals and few foreigners to dig. One group had spotted and found a conscious survivor but had no way of reaching him. It was quickly decided that we would have to break a wall of concrete above him (a few meters to the side, so we could cave him in). We used metal poles at first (which were already on scene) and then locals brought a few pick axes and shovels, which did less help then the thick poles. After hours of hitting the concrete, more and more people were coming. Most stood above us, all around the big bath square thing, watching. We would yell up at some, telling them to get certain tools, like an axe to cut through steel poles (in the middle of the concrete).
A few times too, as we were in the pit, there were a few aftershocks. When these hit, many would yell, afraid, and scamper for the side of the pit (trying to get out). A few people watching would rush away too, but when it calmed down they returned. I had a plan to duck under a big layer of concrete if another building looked like it would collapse above us or if the building we were working on wanted to move more and bury us. People were working in all corners of the pit. I continued to see bodies being lifted out (none alive). All my attention was on the man alive underneath me. After 2 or more hours. We had made a large hole big enough and cut and bent back the iron rods so that we could climb down into the hole and start removing the 3 or so meters of rubble in between us and the man. About the same time (a little after) about 50-60 soldiers arrived. They went into the hole and we made a human chain lifting out the concrete, glass and heavy marble. We reached the man who was pinned down on his arm. Locals had been offering a few bottles of water to people helping and they were being shared and thrown about. The man stuck had several bottles for himself and also kept asking for juice (still unsure why). We couldn’t use a generator and proper tools as it stunk of gas and there had clearly been a leak. I was nervous as people had brought a generator and cutting tools and was quite loud about making sure they didn’t turn it on. The soldiers then were asking people to leave as it was very crowded. Annoyed as we had still not pulled the man out alive, even after over 3 hours of work trying to. My friend who I was with was also standing to the side now forced to only watch like the rest – as the soldiers had taken over.
I didn’t want to stay and do nothing so we left to regroup with our other new friends at the car park. We told them how severe the quake actually could have been. I messaged my family letting them know I was okay. (only 4 or 5 hours so after the quake).
That evening I bumped into one of the foreigners who was digging with me. He had stayed when I left and saw them remove the buried man, alive and put in an ambulance.
The day after, as news came to us, we realised that this was a major disaster. Power cut off that afternoon and running water stopped the next. Many people including our hostels staff all stayed in a nearby park or slept in cars in the car park. I also visited the park but it seemed very unhygienic and I felt more comfortable with my fellow backpackers under a roof in a sturdy building.
The last few days I was contacting family, friends in the area (making sure they were okay) and charities letting them know I am here to help.
What has been the most profound experience you have had so far?
What is the attitude of the Nepalese people towards foreign volunteers?
While volunteering, before and after joining an organised group, where did you live and what did you eat?
What is does and average day look like for you?
Can you share some thoughts about the aftermath of the earth quake and what others can do to help?
What does the future look like for you? What have you taken away from this experience?
What can I take away from this experience? It’s still so surreal. Like I’m in a disaster movie. I think those kinds of things will come to me and I will realize what a big impact this had on me on years to come.
Another video made by Doran and other Volunteers gives a pretty clear and grim illustration of the aftermath of the two earthquakes.
If you want to support the people of Nepal and Volunteers after the devastating these two natural disasters, you can donate to this Nepal Earthquake Support
All rights reserved, all images and videos are the property of Doran Graham, NZ.