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Helping in Nepal changed my life

David Simmons (Picture supplied)

Helping rebuild a devastated community in Nepal became a profoundly life-changing experience for 21-year-old David Simmons — a story that he plans to share next week at a Bermuda College lecture.

“I’m happy,” David said in the wake of his work with Raleigh International’s new Nepal branch.

“I’m refreshed. Even though I’m back to routine, I know I’m taking baby steps to what is before me.”

That was not always the case: as a student at Bermuda College, David looked forward to graduating in May 2017 with his associate’s degree, but admitted to feeling “stagnant”.

That changed on April 25, 2015, when the catastrophe known as the Gorkha earthquake claimed 9,000 lives across Nepal, levelling buildings and in some cases destroying whole villages.

David, who had completed the Raleigh Bermuda programme in 2013, felt drawn to help, and turned to the international organisation to get him there.

Getting a job as a dish washer, David washed cars and held pot luck suppers to raise the $7,500 needed to get him there in June 2016.

The death of his grandfather two days before David headed off on a 40-hour journey to Kathmandu made for a bittersweet departure. David said that travelling with a female cousin his age helped him deal with the loss.

The hectic jostle outside the airport in Nepal served as a first “cultural awakening”, with many Nepalis flocking to the city in a desperate bid to support their families in the ravaged countryside.

The toll taken by the quake was apparent as David hiked with his group to the village of Chapthok, where he would spend the next 45 days. Relief efforts, robust in the wake of global headlines, had faltered. More than a year later, families remained in ruined homes, but still flocked to welcome the newcomers.

“They were living with nothing and seemed to be the happiest people,” he said. “They were willing to help and fed us, allowing us to sleep in a kind of community centre, as their homes were considered uninhabitable for us.”

David and his team finished three houses in Chapthok while other Raleigh volunteers headed out to similar communities.

Aside from two project co-ordinators offering logistical assistance and two Nepalese translators, David and his team-mates were left on their own to forge working relationships and friendships.

“We basically had to make it work,” he said. “There were no options, really. I tried to just immerse myself in the culture and made sure I engaged with as many people as I could.”

Chapthok became “more than a second home to me”, and leaving at the end proved difficult and highly emotional.

David said his entire perspective had changed. He was also determined to go back.

“I have a passion in me now,” he said.

David plans to pursue an undergraduate degree, possibly in Tanzania where he first travelled with Raleigh, and become “an activist for building up underdeveloped or rural communities”.

He will share his experience as a guest of the Bermuda College Registered Student Organisation, MenSpeak, at a free public presentation on March 7, in the Blue Room, Hallett Hall from 1pm to 2.15pm.