Amanda Redman's trip to Nepal
Helicopter wrangler and boom operator? All part of the job when you're determined to get media coverage on the plight of Nepalese people, six months after the earthquake. Siân Merrylees, celebrity media specialist, explains…
The first hint that our trip to Nepal might not go as we'd planned was a brief Skype message that pinged onto my phone while we waited to change planes at the airport in Delhi. Sally Tirtadihardja, Nepal Earthquake Response Communications Manager, was postponing the scheduled security briefing and explained that she herself would meet our group at the hotel when we arrived in Kathmandu later that evening. It was a Sunday, and although I know Sally is dedicated, something didn't seem quite right.
For months we had been planning this trip with ITV's This Morning, which would mark the reconstruction of Nepal six months after the catastrophic earthquake in April. As well as killing 9,000 people, it made nearly a million children homeless, destroying schools, hospitals, power and water supplies.
We’ve been working in Nepal since 1982. This meant we were on the ground when the disaster struck and have been central in the efforts to rebuild the country. But there is still so much to do.
To help get the message across, we'd invited actress - and long-term World Vision supporter - Amanda Redman to visit the country to see our projects, and report back on a specially scheduled slot of ITV’s This Morning. In addition to Amanda, we had ITV producer Janice, plus camera team and an itinerary that would criss-cross 100 miles of rural Nepal…and now a big problem.
No fuel! This was the news that Sally greeted us with. She explained that following the earthquake there were a number of areas that needed consideration; one is the Nepalese government's unenviable task of rebuilding a nation against a backdrop of constitutional change, and due to protests at the borders, fuel and other goods were being held up. While our team had been flying in, the Nepalese government had imposed strict fuel restrictions to ration the existing supply.
As home to Mount Everest, it’s no surprise that Nepal is the world’s most mountainous country - a major obstacle when delivering aid. Roads that were hazardous before the earthquake are even more so after it.
“I worry that the help we can provide is going to completely grind to a standstill," said Sally. "There are tens of thousands of people who were affected by the earthquake still desperately in need of shelter and supplies and we need to get aid to them before the cold winter arrives. How can we do this without fuel?"
When we landed, World Vision Communications Officer, Jay Mark Mijares was waiting to show us projects in the ancient city of Gorkha - a six-hour drive away and one of the worst affected areas due to its proximity to the earthquake’s epicentre. Now there was no chance we could get there and he was stuck, trying to get a lift back.
Having ripped up our itinerary, we spent the early part of the first day touring earthquake damage in Kathmandu. We were instantly struck by the miles and miles of buses, cars and motorbikes; part of a huge queue that snaked its way through alleyways and streets. It seemed that everywhere we turned, there were patient motorists waiting their turn to fill up with petrol.
One driver, Baneshoor, explained that the previous day he had queued in the heat for nine hours only to find that fuel had run out by the time he neared the petrol station. But Baneshoor's attitude reflected the calm of the Nepalese people - "It's the same for everyone," he pointed out. "What can you do?"
But such is World Vision’s role here that there were plenty of projects to visit in the Khatmandu valley.
We met children who were still haunted by the tremors of the earthquake, families with stories of narrow escapes, of being stuck in rubble and trapped by falling debris, and teachers desperate for damaged schools to be rebuilt.
One young mother, Sunita, had Amanda in tears as she invited her into the former chicken coop where she now lives with her two beautiful young daughters. The trauma of the earthquake and destruction of their home had led to the break-up of her marriage, and her husband had left her to rebuild alone.
"I want to go back to school but we have no money to pay for me," Sunita's daughter, Maya, told us.
School is a central pillar of Nepali life - both a status symbol and a lifeline. Children aspire to go there, and some climb and descend 4,000 foot ridges every day from their remote farmsteads just to reach the school building.
One school we visited had been badly damaged in the earthquake and while it was still standing, you only had to touch the walls to make them wobble. The children took Amanda into the temporary learning centre we’d set up immediately after the disaster and the head teacher told us that many of the children felt safer here than in their homes.
Villagers living on a remote hilltop in the Bhaktapur district showed off the water supply we’d installed prior to the earthquake. Amazingly it had survived and had become a lifesaver to the local community who, without it, were susceptible to illness and disease.
A government ruling stating that vehicles should take turns on the road depending on whether they have an odd or even licence plate meant the only vehicle we’d managed to find was one that couldn’t take everyone up the track. So three of us accompanied Amanda up the steep hill by foot and I found myself acting as boom operator while she delivered another piece to camera.
We had hoped that Amanda would be able to travel on a helicopter delivering an aid-drop but this had been grounded due to the fuel crisis.
But sometimes things can turn on a moment of chat.
By chance, in the World Vision headquarters, Sally and I had bumped into Vince Milioti, World Vision International Security Advisor, who introduced us to a member of staff who he thought might be able to get us seats on a commercial helicopter.
Jay - back from Gorkha - had hastily arranged an appointment with sponsored children who we didn’t want to disappoint. While our cars sped off to get us there, Janice and I worked out currency conversions and timings to see if her ITV budget would cover it. We then quickly confirmed the details of the flight on phones from our car, while liaising with Jay (in contact with the office) who was on his mobile in the pick-up truck in front.
The mad scramble was worth it. The helicopter trip ensured Janice could get the footage to truly show the remoteness and isolation of the villages that still desperately need help following the earthquake. And Amanda, for her part, was completely moved by the people she met and at the scale of the task ahead.
World Vision has been working in Nepal since 1982, and since the earthquake in April has distributed aid to over 200,000 people and continues to reach as many people as possible. As winter approaches, it’s vital that an estimated 400,000 people in more remote areas receive shelter and non-food items which we are providing through our Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Amanda Redman, now a committed World Vision Ambassador, shared her insights on ITV’s “This Morning”. You can catch it here.
Photographs by Alex Whittle.