The Byron community continues to support Nepal fundraisers to attempt to provide funds to rebuild devastated lives and communities. When the Iron Bird Flies is a feature-length documentary exploring the dynamic point of exposure between Tibetan Buddhism and contemporary western culture.
The film screening will also feature a Q&A with Jakob Leshcly.
Dominic Russell spoke with The Echo about the fundraiser.
What’s your personal connection with Nepal?
I lived in Nepal for a little over three years from 2010 to 2013 and was studying there. So I had time to learn a little of the language and get to know many local people as well as longtime expats etc. As anyone who has visited will attest, it’s a hard place not to be moved by!
Have you spoken to people over there? What are they identifying as being the crucial needs?
Yes I have, I’m involved in a few different groups online of both former expats as well as those on the ground, and I’ve talked on the phone to a few close friends. As well as the immediate need for food and clean water, temporary accommodation seems to be of critical importance. The monsoon is fast approaching and many people are still sleeping outside for fear of houses collapsing from aftershocks. Especially after Tuesday’s second big quake, most of the country is camping out!
Is the government obstructive to incoming assistance? How are the nuns and monks helping in the recovery process?
Yes, unfortunately it seems they are. The government has a long history of corruption and inefficiency, but somehow it is still surprising that at this most urgent moment they are doing things like redirecting all funds sent to new Nepali accounts through their own banks. I’ve heard that they have barley mobilised assistance and when they have it has been too little too late! This is why it is so important to know where the money we send goes and to direct it into the hands of those providing immediate and direct help. To that end many of the monasteries that I am familiar with have been praised highly at this time for really putting their compassion into action, sending teams into areas that haven’t received any assistance, setting up makeshift clinics and providing food and shelter to those in need.
The money we raise will be sent to a group called Karuna-Shechen (karuna-shechen.org). This is a non-profit humanitarian organisation that works with a network of local partners in the greater Himalayan region to provide education, healthcare, and social services to those in need, and who have established a special earthquake-relief effort. Karuna-Shechen was co-founded by Matthieu Ricard and Rabjam Rinpoche in 2000 and has since then provided education and aid to many thousands of people. The people who run this organisation have worked among very challenging political situations both in Tibet and Nepal and managed with incredible skill to accomplish amazing work. On top of this, a generous benefactor covers all of their operating costs, meaning 100 per cent of donations go directly to their projects! This is so important; so much aid money when channelled through the big NGOs is lost to bureaucracy, inefficiency and greed.
How will weather affect recovery efforts?
It is already raining there a lot and this will only make things harder! Already many places are inaccessible owing to the huge number of landslides the quake brought on. One example of this is the landslide that buried Langtang village, a town of around 500 people, with around 350 assumed dead! So access is a major concern. On top of this, as I mentioned, most of the country is currently sleeping outside, which means further health concerns are arising.
How do you think the Nepalese will manage the more long-term recovery?
As a friend said to me on the phone yesterday, the monasteries are doing such incredible work with their projects, but what had really surprised and inspired her was the incredible efforts made by those young Nepalese who are determined to help their villages, friends and families. The Nepalese are a very resilient and strong people, within whom you can get a sense of what is developed by a tradition that has a little more to offer than our bleak culture!
The political nightmare will not go away quickly and it will be a slow recovery, so institutionally speaking it’s hard to say. However the people have become accustomed to non-governance, so I think the recovery will really be led by those brave people on the ground involved in grassroots work. It must be said that among the tragedy there are already inspiring stories coming out of real forward planning and initiatives that might see long-term progress made, we have to hope!
How can we help Nepal rebuild from over here?
By channelling funds towards those groups who are really making a difference! Unless you have a specialised knowledge of earthquake relief or medical training, this is the best thing to do by all accounts. As part of our fundraising efforts we will be holding a raffle, so local businesses can support us by donating prizes or vouchers towards this. Otherwise if any individuals or businesses want to make direct financial contributions to this cause they can! I would be happy to help put people in contact with any other specific relief efforts. Two other wonderful groups worth mentioning are Shedrub Development Fund and Chokgyur Lingpa Foundation.
They were talking of opening the Everest Trek again – do you think this is a reasonable or sensible approach?
This is a difficult one! In a country that is so dependent on tourism, it’s hard to criticise the motivation behind trying to open up their most lucrative asset as soon as possible. Unfortunately long-term strategic thinking is often a luxury those in dire need don’t have. That said, this is a crucial time for deciding how the country will approach the future, and to rush too quickly towards the same old unsafe and unsustainable practices might not be ideal!
Does Nepal need extra support not just to rebuild but financially for damage to its tourist economy?
I’m sure they will. This is something that will only be known with time, but presumably the tourism trade will be dealt a major blow because of the earthquake. So many of the people in Nepal rely one way or another on tourism and related industries, therefore long-term support and attention towards the country will be vital in ensuring the people have a means to rebuild their lives.
Saturday, 6pm at the Byron Community Centre. Tickets $25/20 available at the Community Centre.