With the endless images of collapsed buildings, reports of lost heritage sites and the varying statistics and numbers of lives lost, injured or missing, it can be difficult to compute, and easy to feel unable to help those in Nepal from thousands of miles away. And with the various aftershocks hitting the country, it looks like things are only going to get worse before they get better.
Currently the international aid groups and charities such as Oxfam and Medecins sans Frontieres are doing an excellent job providing immediate aid to Kathmandu and the surrounding area. While their aid won’t be able to reach the small, remote villages in the Himalayas that are cut off from landslides or require experienced guides to find them, there are a number of small charities, including Community Action Nepal, Help Sherpa, Help Nepal and Langtang Survivors Fund that have provided vital relief to these regions and deserve to continue to receive funding.
Obviously immediate assistance is vital at this stage to ensure disease prevention, temporary shelter and food to those displaced, but what about the future of the country?
More importantly, what happens to the Nepalese people in the coming months, when another disaster diverts the charities and aid groups, when the media is consumed with fresher news stories?
If you really want to make a difference and help the Nepalese get back on their feet, the most helpful thing you can do is visit Nepal.
Tourism is one of Nepal’s largest sources of income, with approximately 4.5% of the nation’s GDP derived from it. Around 800,000 people visited Nepal last year to hike the Himalayas, go on a safari in the Chitwan National Park or visit the country’s plethora of heritage sites. Many of the villages in the Himalayas are stopping points for trekking groups, and rely on the income from visitors to support themselves. With no visitors it is inconceivable how the Sherpas, guides, teahouse owners or shopkeepers will be able to fix up their houses or continue to provide for their families, and no one wants to be reliant on charity for their existence.
It’s all good and well saying this, I know, and easy to sit on a computer preaching how everyone should go whilst ignoring the cost. But (and please stay with me on this) it actually is much cheaper than you might think.
Two years ago I spent several weeks travelling around Nepal with our guide, Narendra Timalsina. Narendra was a fountain of knowledge about Nepal, always ready with a joke or story, and was the life of the party in the evening when we were all worn out. Some of my best memories from the trip was staying up to the early hours dancing, watching the sun rise over Machhapuchchhre and quietly observing a baby rhino and its mother lounge in the sun from afar.
My trip costed £750 for all accommodation, half board, guide, transport, having my trekking permit stamped and organised at every stop, as well as entry to several cultural and natural sites. As for everything else, such as the rest of my meals, extra excursions, souvenirs, entry to heritage sites, the works, I spent approximately £300 in total. And that was me really throwing financial caution to the wind and paying for every experience, souvenir, alcohol and heritage site I could get my grubby mitts on. There were lots of people we met along the way too who had done similar experiences to us for much cheaper by booking and organising it themselves.
If you think just over £1000 is too much to pay for a holiday, stop and compare how much that costs to your average stay in Europe. Long weekends in Paris and Rome can easily come to £500, and even my two-week trip to Slovenia in Eastern Europe, long regarded as a cheap holiday destination for Europeans, was more than £1000. Then there’s the added benefit of knowing your money would be going directly into the hands of the people that need it, and you’ll be having an unforgettable travel experience too.
To give you a bit more convincing, here’s a snippet of photographs of Nepal just to show you what you’re missing.