At our recent Sydney Fundraising Event, it was great to spend time with old and new friends of Nepal reflecting on what has been achieved in the past 6 months and share our vision for the coming year.
We hope you will join us on this journey to help build a more resilient Nepal.
I would like start by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land, the Gandigal and Wangal people.
I am Amit Thapa, the Chairman of the Friends of Nepal Association or FONA (FONA means a young flower in Nepali).
I am one of the founders of FONA, together with my wife Sarah Thapa. Sarah is the engine room of FONA none of this would have happened without her, so I would like to thank her.
I come from a small village called Janghajholi in Sindhuli District of Nepal, which is 70km east of Kathmandu. I have been living in Australia for the past 20 years.
FONA came to life in the days after the massive earthquakes in April and May 2015. For me, like most Nepali people living outside of Nepal, in the initial few days after the earthquake were rocked by shock and helplessness as we waited to hear news of our family and friends.
Driven to act, we set up a Facebook community called Friends of Nepal and ran a fundraising appeal from our living room. Leveraging our corporate and personal networks we raised more than $0.5 million for the emergency humanitarian appeal.
But more than 800,000 homes and thousands of schools have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquakes. To give you an idea, in my village of 5000 houses, 80% have been destroyed.
Where do you start to respond to such a crisis?
In the words of our friend Paul Pholeros, it may be as simple as placing one safe stone at a time.
So what’s the plan?
In the last months FONA has been developing a strategy to respond to the earthquake, collaborating with some of the best minds to shed light on solutions.
Our biggest fear was how do we ensure that Nepal did not turn into a corrugated iron, shanty town landscape like we have seen happen after disasters elsewhere in the world.
We were not interested in a third world solution. We wanted to bring the best knowledge and innovation in the earthquake engineering arena to solve the problem.
Our first initiative was to work with architects and earthquake specialists to come up with a solution for rebuilding safer houses that were affordable and culturally appropriate, and would preserve the traditional beauty of Nepal.
We are excited to be working with an Australian award-winning organisation, Health Habitat. Together, our plan is to roll out a program in 2016 introducing new earthquake safe designs to help villages rebuild their homes. We will provide targeted subsidies to help families pay the cost of the additional materials and methods required to make their houses safer. For as little as $1,000 we can buy the materials and deliver the training to build a family’s house back safely.
Though this work, our aim is to influence safe construction across Nepal. We are playing a leadership role to provide strategic direction, bring innovation and offer actionable and scalable solutions.
Personally, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to have the benefit of a quality education in Australia.
It is our simple belief that everyone regardless of where they live has the right to a quality education.
Our initial vision was to develop a state-of-the-art education centre to deliver high quality education with an emphasis on applied learning. Our aim was to bring world class architecture and innovation to inspire a rural community of the possibilities and opportunities that come through education, to drive growth in local economies and shape future leaders and entrepreneurs.
In partnership with the University of Melbourne, we are developing a sustainably designed education centre which addresses the educational, social and ecological needs of the community. This is a very exciting step for a rural community, the centre will be one-of-a-kind in the region.
I’m delighted to introduce Angelica Rojas Gracia, and thank her for helping us bring this vision to life. Angelica has won international awards for sustainably designed schools, we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her.
The first education will be built in the small village where I was born. Though this centre, we will engage at a local and leadership level in Nepal to convert the concept into a model school that can be replicated at scale across Nepal.
- Heritage Monument
We are working to help Nepal preserve and restore its ancient cultural heritage. FONA is leading negotiations between the Australian and Nepalese Governments to restore one of the oldest and most important heritage sites, Changu Narayan temple. Changu Narayan is a 5thcentury temple and one of seven world heritage listed sites in Kathmandu Valley.
Thanks to our friend Rod Horan from Sydney Institute of TAFE, we have delivered the architectural drawings of Changu Narayan that will form the basis of the reconstruction. We hope the Australian connection to this special site will continue for a long time. Rod couldn’t here tonight but we would like to thank his wife Cathy Horan who is in the audience tonight.
In this endeavour we have received strong encouragement and support from the highest level of government in Nepal and Australia, and as a result we are now in the process of putting a formal proposal to the Australian Government to support Nepal in this initiative.
Looking back on the past 6 months it would be fair to say we have been busy.
Later this month, FONA is heading to Nepal to kick off some of our initiatives with the local community and broader stakeholders.
2016 is going to be a big year for us. We move from strategic planning and foundation setting to first stage implementation.
Our long term aim is to be advocates for positive social and economic transformation in Nepal.
One key challenge is how to ensure that funds raised during the appeal are deployed where they are most needed. We need to promote big picture thinking rather than have a charity mindset or focus on pet projects.
What started out of our living room is now an internationally recognised organisation with more than 5,000 members (at last count!). We now need to think about how we can meaningfully engage this growing membership base.
Our aim is to deploy 100% of the funds that we raise to our projects. We want to show people where funds are deployed and help people connect to the personal stories of the impact that we are having.
How can you help?
The greatest way you can help us is to share your ideas. The most invaluable source of support we have received to date has been the introductions made by people in our network. These introductions have opened up doors to us that have made this journey possible.
We have a number of events planned in 2016. There will be a gala dinner in early March and running a trekking expedition in Nepal over Easter. We are taking a group to hike the stunningly pristine Manaslu Circuit in the Himalayas and visit the villages to see our projects in progress.
We welcome your support and ideas to help us on this journey. Your engagement with an organisation like FONA has the potential to inspire a lifelong relationship with a community, one family and one village at a time.
We hope you can join us. Thank you.