Friday, 24 September 2021

Holidaymaker stays on in Nepal to help earthquake victims

A MAN who was on a kayaking holiday in Nepal when the devastating earthquake hit the

A MAN who was on a kayaking holiday in Nepal when the devastating earthquake hit the country has stayed on to help with the relief effort.

Jonny Hawkins, 26, from Henley, had spent a week paddling down the Karnali, the country’s longest river, to Kathmandu when the city was hit by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, killing thousands of people and causing widespread destruction.

Mr Hawkins, an outdoor education instructor, watched as roads, cars and buildings were destroyed.

He said: “I was in the Tamel neighbourhood buying a phrase book when the first earthquake struck.

“I ran out of the building with the locals and stood in the middle of a T-junction during the tremors. The road was rippling up and then began to shake back and forwards. There were many people in hysterics, running about and generally not having a clue what to do.

“After the initial tremors, we walked to a safe area where there were only single-storey buildings. We witnessed crushed cars, collapsed buildings and a team digging a man out of a house.

“It was pretty scary when the first big one happened. Lots of buildings were down and teams were recovering victims. That night we slept in a large car park away from the buildings with many of the local people.”

Mr Hawkins, who lives with his parents Andrew and Wendy in Berkshire Road, is in Nepal with two friends, Rory Woods and Lee Royle.

The trio had already bought tickets to the next part of their expedition but decided to stay when they saw the extent of the devastation.

They contacted Darren Clarkson-King, a Briton who runs expedition company Pure Land Expeditions in Nepal and has set up a relief project to help get food, shelter and medical aid to isolated villages in the country.

Mr Hawkins, who learnt to kayak at the Eyot Centre in Wargrave Road and has been on previous expeditions to Borneo and Venezuela, said: “The three of us are volunteering for the company, which is co-ordinating several Nepalese raft companies and using their intimate knowledge of Nepal to get the right aid to places that have been missed by the bigger aid agencies.

“Initially this was food and tarpaulins but now aid is moving towards rebuilding.

“We went on a mission to a remote village called Kattike in the region of Nuwakot, just north-west of Nepal. It was not near the epicentre, so there is little focus on aid here, however the impact was still devastating.

“Some of the better towns have maybe 70 per cent of houses remaining but we saw a couple of towns on the way totally flattened. We delivered enough food and other supplies to last a month.” Mr Hawkins, a former pupil of Trinity Primary School and Gillotts School in Henley and Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning, and Mr Woods spent five days with a family in a village called Bombera, which had been destroyed by the first earthquake.

They helped build a new home for the family, who had been forced to live in a shelter made out of tarpaulin.

Many people whose houses were destroyed in the quake had made temporary shelters out of sheets of metal from the wreckage.

Mr Hawkins and Mr Woods were blessed in a ceremony by the family before returning to Kathmandu on Saturday. The three friends are now helping to rebuild homes there before the monsoon season starts next month. Mr Hawkins said: “The monsoon arrives in late June so we have six weeks to do our best. This is a race against time.”

His mother said she was proud of her son’s decision to stay in the country and help the aid effort but also “petrified” for his safety.

She said: “He had planned to spend these two months working out there but since the earthquake this has become his job.

“He’s the sort of person that will do well. He has good interpersonal skills and gets on with people even if he can’t speak their language.

“He’s very good at living outdoors and I’m pleased he’s out there helping people. He will do a great job.”

More than 8,000 people were killed and 18,000 injured by the quake and several aftershocks. Two Britons, 23-year-old trainee architect Matthew Carapiet and 42-year-old Hemchandra Rai, were among the dead.

To donate to the Pure Land Expeditions campaign using Paypal, email info@pureland with the reference QUAKE.

l A silent auction in aid of the Nepal relief fund will be held at Caversham Heights Methodist Church, on the corner of Woodcote Road and Highmoor Road, on Saturday, May 30 from 10.30am to noon. There will be a home-made cake stall and tea and coffee will be served. Gifts can be donated between 7pm and 9pm the evening before. For more information, call Ken or Barbara Macrae on 0118 947 0040.

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