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Helping to rebuild Nepal

24 July 2015, Voices from the Field

In The Daily Telegraph, Save the Children's Ambassador Luke Arnold talks about his recent trip to Nepal and reveals what life is really like for children three months since earthquakes devastated the country.

In the mountains of Nepal, children welcome me into their class to sing, dance and play. This is Sindhupalchowk and it is the most picturesque location for a school I have ever seen.

Surrounded by misty valleys and lush rainforests, we take shelter from the rain in a temporary classroom built by Save the Children.

The former school is a pile of rubble. Every permanent structure has been flattened, or is marked with a large red circle meaning "unsafe".

On April 25, a catastrophic earthquake rocked this beautiful country causing landslides, avalanches, buildings to collapse and roads to split. Weeks later a second devastating quake followed.

The quakes killed over 8,600 people. The impact, however, has been felt by 8 million people including 3.2 million children.

More than 750,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, including 66,000 in the Sindhupalchowk district alone – equivalent to about 75 per cent of homes in the City of Sydney.

Since then, the Nepali people have come a long way in rebuilding their spirits, if not their livelihoods.

I visited a number of Save the Children's "Child Friendly Spaces" – havens where kids can feel safe to play, share their stories and begin the journey to normal life.

Here I learned the children were quiet and nervous after the earthquake, scared that at any moment the world could crash down around them again.

Over the weeks they have begun to open up about their experiences and find some solace in each other's company. They are beginning to smile, laugh, and feel like children again.

Sadly when they leave this safe space and return home, the devastation is still an everyday reality. Menita, a mother with two-year-old twins, told me that a loud noise or strong breeze can revive terrible fear in her children, scared of the disaster's return.

Most families in the district now live in temporary tarpaulin shelters. This inadequate shelter won't protect them from the current monsoon rains, nor the harsh winter ahead when the need for assistance will be even greater.

Beneath the rubble of their homes are all their belongings. A young girl told me her school materials – bag, textbooks, stationery – are all gone. Like most children in the community she relies on outside assistance to continue her education.

The tourism industry, a major source of income for the economy, has taken a battering too and this hinders the pace of recovery.

Meanwhile, in the large cities as well as hard to reach villages, Save the Children works tirelessly to help children and families rebuild their lives.

The beautiful people of Nepal are so hospitable, sociable and full of smiles that they often belie how serious their situation still is.

Emergency assistance from the international community so far has made a huge difference in meeting the immediate needs of those affected.

But the sad truth is that we have only been able to provide enough for the next three to six months and more must be done to get Nepal back on its feet.

As a wealthy nation, Australia must increase its comparatively paltry assistance in the wake of this terrible disaster.

Compared to other countries we are falling behind in our responsibilities – little wonder when Australia has slashed its aid budget by $1 billion this year alone.

For example, Canada, whose economy is similar in size to Australia's, has pledged almost four times as much as our government.

With continued aftershocks, landslides, floods and winter just around the corner, we must all pledge our continued support to these brave and beautiful people in a truly horrific time.

Luke Arnold is an Australian actor and ambassador of Save the Children. An edited version of this opinion piece was published in The Daily Telegraph on 24 July 2015.

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