10/07/2015 08:08 BST | Updated 08/07/2016 06:59 BST

What 57 Seconds of Shaking Left Behind - A Visit to Nepal

Standing in Chautara village, I got a 360 degree view of rubble-lined streets, buildings that had been yanked from their foundations and homes teetering off the hilltops. This is the true scale of devastation left by the Nepal earthquake.

As the CEO of VSO, the volunteering development organisation working in Nepal for over 50 years, I wanted to see firsthand the impact of the April disaster on the lives of the people, volunteers and staff to make sure we are doing everything we can.

My first big take away was that 57 seconds of shaking can do a lot of damage.

I visited Sindulpalchowk, the district worst hit by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and about 275km from the epicentre. Here, it's estimated that 3,500 died and thousands more were made homeless.


As the poorest country in south-east Asia, Nepal was not prepared for this scale of disaster. The damage I saw was apocalyptic. Hospitals and entire villages had been reduced to crumbling piles of bricks. Around the narrow streets of Chautara, residents have to pitch their tents near the toppling ruins of former homes which now bear a red sticker indicating 'unsafe to enter'.

Every single school has to be rebuilt. It's a blessing in disguise that the earthquake occurred on a weekend or more children could have almost certainly been killed.

Once the overwhelming sense of awe at the infrastructural destruction had subsided, another wave of emotion hit me. I realised what panic would have arisen in that terrifying minute. People would have been hanging on for their lives.

There were also some inspiring moments. In the baking sunlight, volunteers were tirelessly tidying their streets, banding together to make shelters in preparation for the looming monsoon and salvaging bricks. They were not suffocated by despair, but determined to make a future.

Building Nepal back is not just about piecing these homes back together.

Every minute that schools are closed, children are at risk of falling further behind in their education and continuing a life of poverty. Every hospital that can't open, healthcare standards plummet. Girls, already vulnerable, are at further risk of trafficking, discrimination and a bleak future.

Nepal was already behind in the development stakes but it was making huge progress. This earthquake has set it back even further.

But it isn't a hopeless situation. International and local volunteers can bring their skills to services in Nepal, strengthening the systems to provide the best possible care. From setting up and staffing Temporary Learning Spaces to providing voluntary physiotherapists, I am proud to see the ways VSO is getting involved in supporting development since the earthquake. I spoke to British volunteers like Jessica Stanford, who has taken her skills as an engineer and project manager to coordinate the humanitarian efforts in Sindulpalchowk and managing information with the local government.

Our appeal for more skilled volunteers launched just days after the first large earthquake was met with a record-breaking number of applicants. The first batch of paediatricians and obstetricians is on their way right now and I cannot stress enough what a difference they will be able to make at this time of vulnerability

Despite this drive, there is so much to be done that I worry with time passing and the news teams packed up, the public will start to forget and the support will dry up.

It's only been two months since the quake but it will take at least two years before Nepal can hope to recover.

Every aftershock brings with it the threat of further damage to the already precarious ruins, and the summer rains could spark another humanitarian crisis.

That's why I want to make sure the spotlight does not fade from Nepal. We can never go back to where it was before. We can only work together to build it back and build it better.

VSO's appeal continues globally to raise funds for to rebuild Nepal. Visit the VSO International website to find out more