East & Old parishioners raise £2000 for ‘quake victims

The East and Old Church, Forfar.
The East and Old Church, Forfar.

A Forfar Church’s congregation has raised more than £2000 to help rebuild homes in Nepal that were destroyed by an earthquake last year.

The East & Old Parish Church in Forfar was taking part in the Church of Scotland’s ‘Let Us Build a House’ campaign which aims to help the 700,000 people left homeless by the earthquake in Nepal in April 2015.

Rev. Barbara Ann Sweetin, minister at Forfar East and Old said: “We are currently raising funds for a major renovation ourselves but we are always ready to help our neighbour in need and we realised ‘the more you give, the more you receive’.

“Our Boys’ Brigade company built a cardboard house and sold small brown envelopes - like bricks - for £1 each which they glued around the house. Then the house was brought to the church where church members bought roof tiles for the house. Each person who bought a brick or a tile put their names on them symbolising a helping hand from one person to another.

“The church also held a coffee morning and a retiring offering and we managed to raise over £2000.

“Our congregation is looking forward to hearing how the building is coming along and eventually to hear how families and communities have come together once again. We know that many of the people who will benefit will be people of a different faith to ours, but Christ commands us to respond to all people who are in need and we are happy to follow his command.”

The campaign has raised over £200,000 nationally, Iain Cunningham, convener of the World Mission Council praised church members across Scotland for their generous response to the appeal.

“The response from Presbyteries, congregations and individuals to ‘Let us build a house’ has been truly staggering,” he said. “There have been many creative fund raising activities taking place up and down the land and we want to thank everyone for their efforts and for recognising the immense need of people in Nepal at this time.”

Joel Hafvenstein, executive director of United Mission to Nepal, the Kirk’s partner in the region, thanked everyone who donated.

“We are very, very grateful for the money that has been raised as well as for all of your prayers,” he said. “It’s tremendous and it means a lot to us. We want to use it to build homes for the poorest of Nepal’s homeless people and we are looking forward to putting this money to use.

“Through our 62 year history of service in Nepal, the Church of Scotland has been a faithful partner and it is your help that is making it possible to transform lives for people who have lost everything.”

Joel and his wife Fiona and their sons Caleb, 5, and Isaac, 2, have only been in Nepal since December 2015. But they felt at home almost immediately because both Joel and Fiona had parents who worked for UMN and grew up in the country. They returned at a time of continuing crisis.

More than 8,000 people across Nepal were killed in the devastating quake and a further 22,000 were injured. Roads, schools, hospitals, water and electricity plants were destroyed, affecting more than 8 million of the country’s 31.5 million people.

Focusing its efforts on Dhading, one of the worst affected districts, the mission quickly started rebuilding. UMN has repaired roads and pathways and built new schools, water systems and electricity plants. The mission is also training masons to build homes that can withstand earthquakes and helping people recover the livelihoods lost after the earthquake.

Some remote villages have lost most of their young men to migration, Joel says, leaving women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly living among the destruction. UMN is helping young able-bodied people make a living in Nepal instead of being forced to migrate in search of work.

And the mission’s construction efforts are helping ensure the most remote villages can be reached by car or on foot.

However, progress on building homes has been delayed as charities wait for permission from the Nepali Government, which has taken over a year to decide how to allocate millions in international aid funds across the country.

The government’s register of quake victims has left off many people who should be eligible, Joel explains, including many of the most vulnerable— remote village dwellers who don’t have land ownership documents, for example, or people who can’t read and write.

“We still have heartbreakingly large numbers of people across rural Nepal who are living in desperately inadequate shelters – in caves, tents or under bits of tin.” Joel adds. “At the moment the government is allowing some aid agencies to start the rebuilding, but only if they build homes for everyone. We are keen to do it for the poorest.”

Mission staff have helped 3,800 households in remote areas get onto the register, but the numbers who have been left out are daunting.

“With the best will in the world, the very poorest will struggle to register and be accounted for. Over a hundred thousand homeless households have complained that they were left off the register. So we continue to ask the government for permission to build homes for the very poorest.

“Knowing we have this funding from the Church of Scotland to start building these homes gives us the confidence to keep lobbying to make that happen.

And as soon as we get that we will begin working on shelter. ”

Construction in the remote northern hills of Nepal is limited by extreme weather – a monsoon season that runs from July to September and heavy snows that can start in mid-December and don’t melt until March. Joel says his team is prepared to build a new wave of schools this October, and to help people rebuild their houses as soon as permission is forthcoming.

“I can’t praise my team at UMN enough,” he says. “Most of them are Nepali professionals and they are very dedicated. We are longing to get started on shelter, and we will spend every penny that was raised by the Church of Scotland members on rebuilding these communities.

“For the moment we are glad that we’ve been able to help ensure people have clean water, access to electricity and are able to walk safely to their villages. Despite the frustrations, I’m very happy with what we have been able to achieve so far.”

One of the most valuable results of UMN’s work is the uplift it is giving traumatised communities.

“There is tremendous fear,” Joel says. “People have lived through not just the two large earthquakes but also through months and months of aftershocks, when everyone had to run outside and relive the horror they had been through.

“One of the things we discovered that was our presence in the community was tremendously comforting because we were known and had a long history in Nepal. People were telling us; ‘We know we are not forgotten. We know we are not cut off and we are not alone. As we go out into the remote areas and places of real poverty so many people are thanking us.”