Just over a month has passed since Nepal was hit by the first of its devastating earthquakes which have taken around 7,000 lives and caused untold destruction to Himalayan villages.
And for Buxton couple Jane and Les Skidmore, it was a bitter-sweet relief to return home after they were caught in the first shockwave on April 25.
When it struck they had been travelling for almost a year and were staying in a village in the Everest region.
Both keen travellers, the pair have helped with relief work for years and with Pax Earth, they were supporting educational and medical projects in Nepal, says Jane, 56, a catering manager at Buxton Community School.
She adds: “We were there on a combination of a trekking holiday, visiting friends and teaching English in some primary schools in Kavre District, four hours drive from Kathmandu.
“We’ve worked with Pax Earth before, who raise funds for educational materials and run eye camps with Dhulikel hospital, recently testing hundreds of people for cataracts and providing successful operations for 32 villagers.
As we came down the stairs the whole staircase was twisting. The walls bowed and a window shattered. It probably lasted two minutes. It was very frightening.Jane Skidmore
“We were there about three and a half weeks when the first earthquake hit – we’d trekked for three days to a village called Kharikhola and planned to stay there to teach first aid for the secondary school and a women’s group.”
Nepal is a very male-dominant society, she explains - boys are given preference for schools and girls largely look after the men, so community projects are putting power in women’s hands and helping them build small enterprises like sewing shops.
“The day of the earthquake was a normal day - we were staying in a two-storey stone house and we heard what sounded like somebody banging on the roof, and all the timbers in the building started to squeak, you could hear them moving,” she adds.
“Our brains were going round, and Les said ‘I think it’s an earthquake’. As we came down the stairs the whole staircase was twisting. The walls bowed and a window shattered. It probably lasted two minutes. It was very frightening.
“Where we were there wasn’t a lot of destruction. Other buildings in the village were badly damaged but fortunately nobody was hurt, so we were totally unaware of how devastating it was. There was no way of communicating, the telephone networks were completely down, so after about three days when other trekkers were coming through the village, they told us what they’d seen. We suddenly knew our family back home were going to be very worried so we found a sky phone and got a short, emotional phone call home just to say we were okay.
“When the television came back on we could see the terrible devastation everywhere. What a lot of people don’t realise is a lot of the damage comes with the aftershocks - there were tremors consistently for the next few days, the villagers built shelters using tarpaulins or moved into tents and reports continue with around 280 earthquakes since the first quake, all over four on the Richter Scale.”
They were soon told to drop their aid work and get on the earliest flight back, which wasn’t easy, tells Jane.
“We felt like we were abandoning our friends and a village in crisis, but the government was advising people to come home.”
And the couple were also made temporarily homeless as they arrived back to the UK months early, having rented out their house for the full year.
But when the second earthquake hit, they could only feel relief.
“We heard that the house we were staying in was destroyed.
“The destruction was just massive. 50 per cent of Kharikhola was decimated, the school, the medical centre, the monastery.
“We were blessed that we weren’t there.”
Les, 64, a retired paramedic, says: “Since we left after the earthquake we have had lots of information from our friends Sujan Koirala and Ngima Dorje Sherpa, who is delivering shelter and food with Pax Earth.
“Many people continue to live in tents, they are frightened to move back into their damaged homes while the aftershocks keep coming. The next step for the damaged villages is to start rebuilding the houses, schools and medical centres, this will take many years to complete and a constant supply of aid and funds.”
Other aid agencies continue to provide invaluable help to the Nepalese people, and Les and Jane want to raise more money to help rebuild Nepal, specifically the schools they taught at in Kavre District. Last week they supported a charity dinner in Buxton and were amazed by people’s willingness to give what they could. And they’ve now flown to Namibia - it was going to be the next leg of their journey - to complete a tandem skydive for Nepal relief charities and are seeking sponsorship to help fund their projects.
Donations can be made via paypal or by post – contact firstname.lastname@example.org.