Let us build a house

Congregations in Presbytery are encouraged to support World Mission’s Build A House Challenge.

(Leaflet)

Church of Scotland congregations have raised more than £215,000 for the Let us Build a House campaign, which is helping rebuild communities in Nepal after the devastating earthquake of April 2015 left more than 700,000 people homeless. From selling the bricks on a cardboard house and building makeshift shelters and sleeping in them, to more traditional fundraisers such as Polwarth’s Grand Canal High Tea, congregations across the country found creative ways to support the campaign.

Iain Cunningham, convener of the World Mission Council praised church members across Scotland for their generous response to the appeal.

“The response from Presbyteries, congregations and individuals to ‘Let us build a house’ has been truly staggering,” he said. “There have been many creative fund raising activities taking place up and down the land and we want to thank everyone for their efforts and for recognising the immense need of people in Nepal at this time.”

Congregations across Scotland say they are not finished yet. This Friday, 9 September, five volunteers from Annandale and Esdale Presbytery will sleep out in a makeshift shelter constructed on from scrap timber and cardboard boxes in Annan St. Andrews Parish Church car park. Then on Saturday 10 September St Andrews will hold a special Nepal event from 10am to 3pm.

“”All the money donated will go to building homes for people in Nepal who were made homeless after the 2015 earthquake,” says Alan Dodds, World Mission convener for Annandale and Eskdale. “The cost of building one house is around £500, and we hope to be able to build at least one house.”

Joel Hafvenstein, executive director of United Mission to Nepal, the Kirk’s partner in the region, thanked everyone who donated.

“We are very, very grateful for the money that has been raised as well as for all of your prayers,” he said. “It’s tremendous and it means a lot to us. We want to use it to build homes for the poorest of Nepal’s homeless people and we are looking forward to putting this money to use.

“Through our 62 year history of service in Nepal, the Church of Scotland has been a faithful partner and it is your help that is making it possible to transform lives for people who have lost everything.”

Joel and his wife Fiona and their sons Caleb, 5, and Isaac, 2, have only been in Nepal since December 2015. But they felt at home almost immediately because both Joel and Fiona had parents who worked for UMN and grew up in the country. They returned at a time of continuing crisis.

More than 8,000 people across Nepal were killed in the devastating quake and a further 22,000 were injured. Roads, schools, hospitals, water and electricity plants were destroyed, affecting more than 8 million of the country’s 31.5 million people.

Focusing its efforts on Dhading, one of the worst affected districts, the mission quickly started rebuilding. UMN has repaired roads and pathways and built new schools, water systems and electricity plants. The mission is also training masons to build homes that can withstand earthquakes and helping people recover the livelihoods lost after the earthquake.

Some remote villages have lost most of their young men to migration, Joel says, leaving women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly living among the destruction. UMN is helping young able-bodied people make a living in Nepal instead of being forced to migrate in search of work.

And the mission’s construction efforts are helping ensure the most remote villages can be reached by car or on foot.

However, progress on building homes has been delayed as charities wait for permission from the Nepali Government, which has taken over a year to decide how to allocate millions in international aid funds across the country.

The government’s register of quake victims has left off many people who should be eligible, Joel explains, including many of the most vulnerable— remote village dwellers who don’t have land ownership documents, for example, or people who can’t read and write.

“We still have heartbreakingly large numbers of people across rural Nepal who are living in desperately inadequate shelters – in caves, tents or under bits of tin.” Joel adds. “At the moment the government is allowing some aid agencies to start the rebuilding, but only if they build homes for everyone. We are keen to do it for the poorest.”

Mission staff have helped 3,800 households in remote areas get onto the register, but the numbers who have been left out are daunting.

“With the best will in the world, the very poorest will struggle to register and be accounted for. Over a hundred thousand homeless households have complained that they were left off the register. So we continue to ask the government for permission to build homes for the very poorest.

“Knowing we have this funding from the Church of Scotland to start building these homes gives us the confidence to keep lobbying to make that happen. And as soon as we get that we will begin working on shelter. ”

Construction in the remote northern hills of Nepal is limited by extreme weather – a monsoon season that runs from July to September and heavy snows that can start in mid-December and don’t melt until March. Joel says his team is prepared to build a new wave of schools this October, and to help people rebuild their houses as soon as permission is forthcoming.

“I can’t praise my team at UMN enough,” he says. “Most of them are Nepali professionals and they are very dedicated. We are longing to get started on shelter, and we will spend every penny that was raised by the Church of Scotland members on rebuilding these communities.

“For the moment we are glad that we’ve been able to help ensure people have clean water, access to electricity and are able to walk safely to their villages. Despite the frustrations, I’m very happy with what we have been able to achieve so far.”

One of the most valuable results of UMN’s work is the uplift it is giving traumatised communities.

“There is tremendous fear,” Joel says. “People have lived through not just the two large earthquakes but also through months and months of aftershocks, when everyone had to run outside and relive the horror they had been through.

“One of the things we discovered that was our presence in the community was tremendously comforting because we were known and had a long history in Nepal. People were telling us; ‘We know we are not forgotten. We know we are not cut off and we are not alone. As we go out into the remote areas and places of real poverty so many people are thanking us.”