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Nepalese see Israel as source of inspiration

How several Israeli professionals are giving Nepal villagers tools to rebuild their houses and their lives after the earthquakes.
18Tevel building latrines for Nepali villagers.

When Israeli trauma specialist Naomi Baum arrived in the Nepal village of Mahadev Besi on May 4, not one of the 80 families still had a roof over its head. The April 25 earthquake destroyed every house.

“Some houses are standing and some are rubble, but they’re all uninhabitable. Everyone is living outside,” the Israeli psychologist tells ISRAEL21c.

The retired founder-director of the Resilience Unit at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma of Jerusalem’s Herzog Hospital went to Nepal for a week with the center’s Nili Lavi at the request of Tevel b’Tzedek, an Israeli NGO involved in community development in impoverished Nepal villages since 2007.

They assessed needs and provided psychological support to Tevel’s paid staff and volunteers (some of whom lost relatives and homes in the quake), to Israel Embassy employees and to the villagers Tevel is assisting.

In Mahadev Besi, Baum and Lavi taught stress-busting techniques to two groups of 40 local women, using hastily prepared copies of their resilience workbook translated into Nepali. She reassured them that their tears and fears were normal, and no different than those of disaster victims she’s counseled in Israel, Haiti and New Orleans. She aimed to impart a sense of hope along with the information.

“I also heard again and again their fear of the next quake. We helped them address that fear by letting them know that everyone was feeling this way,” says Baum.

Indeed, their fears were realized when another strong quake hit the region on May 12, the day Baum and Lavi landed back in Israel along with the Israel Defense Forces’ medical delegation. Trauma center staff in Jerusalem will remain in touch with Nepal’s mental health authorities to offer assistance, according to Herzog Hospital spokesman Stephen Schwartz.

Before the monsoons

Tevel b’Tzedek founder and director Micha Odenheimer tells ISRAEL21c that the organization is providing urgent necessities – such as rice and tin roofing material — to 3,400 families (20,000 people) in the four most badly damaged villages in which the NGO regularly provides aid.

This video shows Tevel b’Tzedek volunteers and IDF engineers assessing damage to buildings in the Kalimati slum where Tevel has been working for many years.

Tevel brought an Israeli building engineer and mud-building expert, along with Indian architects, to demonstrate how to build sturdy shelters. Later, Tevel staff and volunteers will help families build permanent earthquake-proof housing.

“Now we are also building latrines. That’s really important before the monsoons arrive in June come because of the danger of cholera,” says Odenheimer.

“After natural disasters and displacement there is an increased risk of disease and widespread illness. To prevent outbreaks in our working areas, we are promoting healthy living by distributing hygiene supplies and conducting campaigns about the need for tooth-brushing and hand-washing.”

Tevel brought medical teams from two other Israeli NGOs, Natan and IsraAID, to tend the villagers physically, and volunteers such as Baum and Lavi to provide psychosocial support.

“We will continue to do workshops on resilience and talking about feelings. People who’ve experienced trauma find it more difficult to act quickly and we’re training to get them past feelings of paralysis and fear,” says Odenheimer, who was there for 10 days.

Tevel is creating temporary learning spaces because schools will stay closed for at least another two weeks. “It’s important to keep kids in a routine that helps them recover from trauma and to keep them away from playing in rubble, while giving parents a chance to get their lives together.”


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