Nepal’s homegrown Covid heroes

The viral video of health workers in Mustang passing a box of vaccines across a rain-swollen river was a rare instance in the media of Nepalis helping Nepalis during the pandemic. 

Usually, on Twitter and other social media platforms, what we see are posts from Kathmandu airport of yet another consignment of medical material donated by country X or by a global organisation Y with the health minister of the day posing with diplomats.

In that video from Mustang, a health centre driver stood on one riverbank fearful of crossing the raging torrent and slid a metal rod through the handle of a box of Covid-19 vaccines. Then, with the help of a passer-by, he forwarded the box to another health worker on the opposite side. The video was retweeted by WHO Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who praised the workers. 

This is how far #healthworkers go to save lives. Is it fair that in many places these heroes have still not been vaccinated?

It is in our power and our duty to do everything we can to deliver #VaccinEquity! If not now, when?

— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) June 17, 2021

Foreign assistance to help Nepal cope with the pandemic is of course positive (lack of vaccines aside) because the Nepal government has simply been unable to meet demands for oxygen, hospital beds and medical supplies. 

Yet, Nepalis know better than anyone that the mutual aid response we are witnessing during Covid-19 is nothing new: family, friends, neighbours, and others, spring to action annually when the monsoon unleashes landslides and floodwaters, and after other disasters like the 2015 earthquakes.

Following flooding in Saptari district in 2017 ‘the response of the western international system (the UN and INGOs) played only a minor role, accounting for around a sixth of the resources that affected households said they received,’ concluded a 2019 report

‘A third (of aid) came from family, neighbours and landlords, the government, the diaspora or community-based organisations, including in-kind items such as shelter, food, cooking stoves and fuels. Another quarter was from other countries, with China reported as the main source, and Nepali NGOs, particularly the Nepali Red Cross, accounted for a fifth,’ added the study. 

That report opened my eyes to the regular outpouring of humanitarian assistance from family, neighbours and governments at all levels, which is exemplified by civil society’s activities during Covid-19, and which happens almost immediately when disasters strike. 

Recently I decided to try and open the eyes of others, both inside and outside of Nepal, to this reality. With editor Srawan Shrestha we contacted groups on an unofficial list of Nepali organisations providing Covid relief and asked them to submit video clips of their work—providing hot meals and food packs to the hungry, handing out information flyers, masks and other protective equipment, building quarantine centres, etc. 

Luckily, more than enough groups responded, and we put together this short video in English and Nepali that we hope will help to change the perception about who is helping who when it comes to humanitarian assistance in Nepal.

Read also: Nepal’s local governments lead from the front, Masta KC

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