Nepal – one year after the 2015 Earthquake

It is one year tomorrow that the first earthquake of 7.8 magnitude struck Nepal on 25th April 2015. As well as the major aftershock afew weeks later, it caused massive destruction across Nepal and the capital Kathmandu, killing nearly 9000 people and displacing millions of Nepalese people.  Everyone in Nepal has been affected by this natural disaster, one way or another, and it also caused massive devastation to Nepal’s heritage sites and really affected the country’s tourism industry with 2015 visitors down 30%.

Luckily all my producers were ok, though many were too scared to move back into their homes due to cracks/damage and the frequent aftershocks in the following months, so were living in tents within their community. It was incredible to see the Nepali people pull together, rally round and help each other, with many individuals coordinating their own relief efforts to different village around Nepal.

Through kind donations from friends, family, stockists and work colleagues, AURA QUE raised £3986 to help the immediate relief effort as well as helping my producers to get back on their feet in whichever way possible.

For immediate aid relief, I decided to donate £1600 to one of my producer groups AKU Creations, where BJ & Maya had organized a fund to support local aid relief through established foundations and charities on the ground in Nepal, as well as helping individuals in their workshop and community who had been badly affected. The funds went towards many different worthy aid relief projects for distribution of food, tents, blankets, medicine as well as for medical care and rebuilding homes and schools across Nepal. They also co-ordinated food and clothing donations, and stitched hundreds of tents for charities during the early relief effort in Kathmandu. See photographs attached of some of the aid relief and summary from Maya, who has been remarkable coordinating these funds with all the various projects – see below:

“Again I want to thank you for the incredible support we and Nepal have received from you in the last year. We have received more than 90,000 Euro and divided this over several projects. Initially our contributions went mainly to support emergency relief such as food and tents, then a lot of tin / metal sheets were distributed so that people could make a shelter to protect themselves from the rain. Winter came and it became colder and blankets and warm clothing were needed. Winter is now passing, it is getting warmer every day and we are looking hopeful to the future … the government delays the rebuilding and still remains engaged in the creation of the reconstruction committee and the rules necessary for the rebuilding. Reconstruction of houses will therefore take some time, and many organizations have embarked on a second round of distribution of metal sheets so that people can build a “better” temporary shelter before the coming rainy season begins. When you visit villages in the affected areas, it is still a sad sight. Many are still living in the rubble because there is no money for further demolition and lack of clarity about what the government will do. A second round of “survey” has started which again will be an overview of the condition of the houses and people worry that if they demolish their house or clean up, they will get no support from the government. Some who have financial resources have been rebuilding but this is only a handful. Fortunately, there has been progress in the rebuilding of schools and local hospitals. It is now possible to get approval for this and the last few months, our support went mainly to organizations and private initiatives that support the rebuilding of schools. Many children have not been able to return to school because the school is completely destroyed and it is hoped that, by the next school year, which begins in April, more children will have a safe place where they can learn and play. ” – Maya Greet & BJ Gurung, AKU Creations, 12th March 2016

The remaining £2386 of donated funds, I split between the twenty individuals who worked at the NLT handicraft unit, who I have been working with since 2006. Each individual used the money in whatever way they needed to, to help them and their families.

Shyam’s house was completely destroyed, so this money went towards building a new small shelter until the government money help will come through for a rebuild of his home. Ram built new toilet facilities for his family home. Bharat and Surya Kala bought tin corrugated sheets to help repair their roofs. Alka, Shanti, Bel and Maita all used the money to help their elderly parents, whose houses had been completely destroyed in their home villages outside of Kathmandu. Kumar, Manju, Bhim and Manju all were able to repair cracks in their houses with the money. Chimsi and Makuram who are retired and live in NLT accommodation next to the factory, used some of the money to buy new warm bedding and linen for the winter season. See pictures below of Manju showing me the cracks in her house and Kumar’s family house…

When I was in Nepal last November, all of the staff at NLT had all clubbed together and bought me a wood carving of the peacock window to say ‘thank you’ for the extra help (see picture below – now proudly on display in my studio). It was so overwhelmingly kind of them all and nearly brought me to tears – it just shows that despite their own hardships, the Nepali people are so kind, resilient and generous. I am hoping to find out how they are all doing when I am back in Nepal next month, after the winter season and in preparation for the upcoming monsoon season…

NLT GIft from Staff Nov15

Thank you so much to everyone who donated to the AURA QUE relief fund, it was so kind of everyone and I was overwhelmed with the concern by everyone in the UK for my producers and friends in Nepal. Hopefully one year on, Nepal is able to move forward and rebuild, as well as promoting 2016 as a year for tourism, encouraging people to visit their country from around the world!

Many thanks, Laura Queening

Meet the Makers – Nepal Leprosy Trust

With Fashion Revolution Week in full flow, promoting the makers behind the clothes, accessories and jewellery that we buy, I wanted to write about the main producer group that I work with in Kathmandu – Nepal Leprosy Trust Handicraft Workshop.

I first met the team at NLT handicraft workshop on my first visit to the factory in 2006, and have spent much of my time in Nepal working directly in the factory on samples, production and quality control for AURA QUE handbags and accessories – this has always been the most favourite part of my work!

The Nepal Leprosy Trust handicraft unit in Kathmandu employs over 25 people, many of whom have had leprosy or some one in their family has been affected. They produce AURA QUE Hava bags, Bata Rucksacks, Atma Shoulder bags, other leather and faux leather accessories, as well as the recent range of handmade felt bags/purses. AURA QUE provided over 30% of the orders for NLT handicraft unit last year, which I aim to increase this year.

NLT works hard as a charity to help those affected both at the Kathmandu leather workshop and through the Lalguardh hospital in South of Nepal.   Though leprosy is not infectious and cured easily and cheaply, it is the irreversible physical disabilities from nerve damage that make it difficult for individuals to work and also be accepted into their community due to the stigma.  NLT work to educate people on the signs of leprosy and combat the stigma surrounding the disease. When I first started my business and promoted my work with NLT, I was shocked to have two potential stockists in UK have the same stigma about my producers and products!

As part of NLT mission statement, they state:  “One of the principal aims of NLT is to work with other NGOs to implement governmental strategies to control and eliminate leprosy as a public health problem in Nepal. However, NLT is also strongly committed to seeking and implementing methods to overcome the dehumanising effects of leprosy for those affected by it, because it recognises the inherent value of the individual. The Trust has adopted the patients’ perspective of what it means to be cured and is resolved to continue to work with them until such time as they are allowed the simple dignity of acceptance and participation in society. Whilst medical support is central to NLT’s work in Nepal, the general philosophy is that leprosy, having both medical and social consequences, demands a holistic strategy.”

It always amazes me how kind and hospitable the Nepali people are, especially those at NLT who always invite me to meet their families and insist on full daal baht meals in their homes when I am in Nepal.

One of the ladies I have had the pleasure of working with at NLT is Surya Kala, who has always been so warm and friendly since I started working there. After having leprosy, which her husband also died from, she has singularly brought up her two fantastic daughters Elishiva and Esther, who are studying hard for their degrees in Business management and Medicine. Until last year, she lived with her daughters in the NLT housing near the factory. She has since been able to save and build her own small home down the road. By working at NLT she has been able to provide for herself and her daughters and though the affects of leprosy have given her various other health problems over the years, though she has always been a happy friendly part of the NLT team; always with a great smile and caring conversation!

I am looking forward to visiting them in May, so will hope to share with you more stories from the individuals I work with out there…

Laura Queening