KATHMANDU: A few hours after the 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, on April 25, Mercy Malaysia called from Kota Kinabalu and asked me to lead an embedded media unit to Kathmandu.
It was the call that became a calling.
When the quake hit, a nine-year-old girl worshipped as a living goddess was receiving devotees in the heart of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. As temples and statues that frame the square crumbled, the small palace of the living goddess, or Kumari, miraculously escaped with just a few cracks. The girl and her devotees were unhurt.
The same evening, Mercy Malaysia president Datuk Dr Faizal Perdaus summoned an emergency meeting at the command centre along Jalan Tun Razak.
In his characteristic leadership style, Dr F (as he is affectionately known among all of us and also the global medical relief fraternity) moved swiftly on all issues with the precision of a military commander and the touch of a true humanitarian.
Things happened at light speed from there on. I gathered three volunteers to support our media mission: Internet/Digital lead Vishnu Devarajan, roving photographer Brij Dogra and video production maestro Hardesh Singh.
We arrived in Kathmandu on May 1 and reached our lodging in Thamel at 1am. We were part of a third deployment team with six medical volunteers.
We survived the pandemonium at Kathmandu airport which was bursting at the seams with search and rescue teams from all over the world.
Our first port of call was Mercy Malaysia’s field hospital in Ipatole, Sankhu, on the outskirts of Kathmandu and at the foot of the mountain range.
At the Shree Bhagwati Higher Secondary School compound, Mercy Malaysia vice-president and head of first responders team Dr Heng Aik Cheng and his team were already doing an amazing job handling hundreds of patients daily.
Also manning the fort were Dr Shalimar Abdullah and Dr Jitendra Kumar, both excos of Mercy Malaysia.
Two young Malaysian medical students doing their elective studies in Kathmandu joined us the moment the disaster struck.
Another group of cyclists from Malaysia, part of Kelab Explorasi 7 Benua, who experienced the quake first-hand in Thamel decided to stay on and help.
The local villagers set up a makeshift kitchen and prepared simple meals for all our 34 volunteers daily.
Scores of their children ran excitedly all over the place, their faces lit up with a heartbreaking joy.
Amidst the sorrow, loss and pain, I couldn’t help but feel that, for the kids, life goes on.
Even our van driver, who had injured his hand during the quake, drives with his left hand while I shift gears for him. He was treated at our hospital, too.
The next day was Wesak Day and we woke up when first light broke at 5.36am to a nation in mourning.
Tales of mass cremations, families buried under their own homes and house blocks sliced like cakes right down the centre only made our volunteers more resilient.
People still spend nights in outdoor tents under the rain as the country slowly inches to normalcy.
Roads have been brutally carved by the quake and alleys completely wiped off the map.
Diseases are the next concern and that’s where Mercy Malaysia truly excels.
Its field hospital stands like an oasis in a sea of madness for the almost 30 villages surrounding it who are mainly farmers on an arid land.
Back at our media workstation in Thamel, we felt aftershocks for two days running with tremors measuring 4+ and the cracks in the wall only made our hub look more precarious.
The dry, dusty and thickly incensed air (to drive away mosquitoes) meant we wore face masks all the time, as did most of the people we saw on the streets.
Team leader Dr Shalimar is now talking about getting 4-wheel drive vehicles to go further into the interiors and seek out those who need medical help and perhaps evacuate serious cases to our hospital.
There is much to write, but I have to visit our Malaysian Embassy which is on the second floor of a building now with restricted access as it has been badly damaged by the quake.
As of May 5, the official death toll from the Nepal earthquake stands at 7,366 while 14,371 are injured. The two most affected districts are Sindhupalchok and Kathmandu with 2,838 and 1,202 deaths respectively.
As you go about your daily lives, spare a thought for a nation that has been torn apart by nature – but glued together by its tenacity and spirit.
It needs your help.
Visit Mercy Malaysia’s Facebook page and Like it. Better still, donate what you can. Every little helps. I can’t begin to thank our donors and sponsors for their selfless help and support to date.
> Harmandar Singh, who is an exco member of Mercy Malaysia, is an occasional columnist for The Star.