As international relief agencies switch from rescue operations to keeping survivors alive and rebuilding houses and infrastructure, Rail Media’s Adam O’Connor has renewed calls for continued donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee: www.dec.org.uk.
‘We were in Nepal just three weeks before the tragedy,’ says Adam. ‘It’s a beautiful country and the vistas and mountainscapes are hard to describe. What stands out is the friendliness of the Nepalese. Much of Nepal is under developed and the buildings are not as strong as in the west and this has made the effects of the earthquake much worse.’
The quake on April 25 measured 7.8-magnitude on the Richter scale and killed more than 7,500 people and injured at least 14,500. The United Nations says 8 million people, over 25% of Nepal’s population, have been affected by the disaster. This number includes nearly 2 million children.
Father-of-one, Adam, said, ‘UNICEF says it is concentrating on delivering aid – shelters, food and clean drinking water. Many communities are so remote reaching them is a real challenge. We walked in carrying much of what we needed on our backs.
The Nepal we travelled through is a land without roads and transport as we know it and the Nepalese carry everything on their backs. I remember seeing elderly Nepalese carrying two tables up mountain passes on their backs.’
The Railway Children team hiked to Everest Base Camp and back from the airstrip at Lukla. ‘I was in a plane with David Franks and Diane Crowther. The plane was the smallest I had ever been on, and also the scariest,’ says Adam. The first flight attempt had to turn back as it was too windy. After waiting for hours at a remote airstrip we made two further attempts to land at Lukla but had to admit defeat and return to Kathmandu to retry the following day. The team included Iarnród Éireann’s chief executive, David Franks and Johanna Franks, Dyan Crowther, Chief Operating Officer of Govia Thameslink Railway and Michael Holden, Chief Executive at Directly Operated Railways. Mac Motraghi, Head of Bid Delivery at Hitachi Rail Europe joined David Taylor, Business Development Director, at Thales and Adam O’Connor, production manager at Rail Media.
Tim Wade, Service Manager at London Underground and Dave Gregory a paramedic in Suffolk walked with Dave Thorpe of East Coast Trains and Andy Ridout of advance-TRS. Katie Mason of Railway Children with Simon Johnston, director at Mainspring, Darren Morley and Steve Whitehead both of First TransPennine Express, completed the team.
With the Sherpa crew leading and the camping equipment and baggage loaded on Yaks, the team walked the trail. One thing that was really apparently different from when I summited Kilimanjaro with Railway Children and most of the team some 5 years earlier, was that this trek was rich in culture. All the way along the trek we passed religious monuments and symbols, loads of the local children would often be out playing with their siblings. They would always say ‘Nameste’ to us all with a smile on their faces.
It is those children that kept reminding me along the trek of why I was undertaking this challenge and would make me think of my little boy at home. Now that this disaster has hit, again those children are in my thoughts and I want to shout from the rooftops to explain to people how much they deserve our support.
The morning of 19th March at Namche Bazzaar was a happy occasion. Adam celebrated his 31st birthday. ‘When I entered the tea room everyone erupted into a chorus of happy birthday. I received a lovely birthday card signed by all the group, and gifts of Pringles, a Mars bar and a Curlywurly.’
Although that day was a tough trek it was clear with blue-skies. ‘It wasn’t too long into the morning trek when we got our first glimpse of Everest. What a sight to see on your birthday. We stopped at one of the tea houses, and as it was my birthday I bought everyone tea. The group was posing for a photo when Ricky, the Nepalese mountain leader, pointed me out to the tea house owner. She approached me and wrapped a beautiful prayer scarf around my neck and wished me a happy birthday (pictured left). She joined the group photo. I was told by Ricky later in the day that the tea house owner and her husband visited Buckingham Palace two years ago where they met Prince Charles.’
In stark contrast to my time in Namche Bazaar (pictured below), Canadian film maker Nick Versteeg was in Namche Bazaar three weeks later when the earthquake struck and witnessed several houses shaking and falling down. ‘We were sitting in the lodge and had just ordered lunch and the building began to shake,’ he told CBC News.
‘The owner and his daughter ran to the front and we ran to an archway, we were very fortunate. The building we were in fell inward. If it had fallen outwards, we could have been hit. And then the older building in front of it started to disintegrate, rocks coming down, plaster coming down… Kids screaming, people running through the street…’
Despite a worsening weather front the team made it to Everest Base camp on 23 March. ‘Arriving at Everest Base Camp was very emotional, everyone
in the team congratulated each other with hugs and hand shakes galore!
‘We posed for a group photo, and then I was given the expedition leader’s satellite telephone for me to complete a totally different task. I called home to speak to my partner, Abena. With bated breath I dropped to one knee and asked her to marry me. After what felt like an eternity and reminding her I needed a reply, I got the answer I was hoping for: Yes!’
Hiking in the Himalayas is risky at any time. ‘We were quite lucky on the return journey. Had we left Everest Base Camp 10 minutes earlier we would have been caught in a huge rock fall. Rocks the size of cars tumbled down the mountain and came crashing across the path we were on. Luckily none of the team were in danger and a Nepalese Yak herder and his herd just managed to get out of the path of the falling boulders in time.’ The near miss brings home the ever present danger of life in Nepal. The team returned safely.
‘All of us in the team are shocked by what has happened. Seeing places that you were at just three weeks ago turned to rubble is really upsetting. We did a great thing taking on this challenge to raise funds for Railway Children, which raised a growing total of over £70,000. But now I think we all feel the need to help the Nepalese people. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the people of Nepal at this dark time.’
‘No doubt you would have seen the devastation on the nightly news. This really is a disaster that needs our support. Don’t be one of those people that reads this and passes it by thinking others will donate. Whatever your financial situation, please give what you can.’