By Judith van Berkom –
The April 2015 Nepal earthquake killed more than 8,800 people and injured more than 23,000. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless with entire villages flattened across many districts of the country.
Kitchissippi resident and USC Canada’s Asia Program Manager, Kate Green, spoke about the rescue efforts being done in Nepal at a fundraising event on June 21 at The West End Well – a coop promoting local economies and sustainable food systems.
USC (Unitarian Service Committee) celebrates their 70th anniversary this year as Canada’s oldest registered international development agency.
Connections to the Unitarian Congregation were made when Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990) arrived in Canada in 1945 as a Czech refugee, sponsored by the Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. Working originally as a journalist, she quickly founded USC Canada, first working with post-war refugees and reconstruction efforts in Europe and later initiating programs worldwide.
In 1977, Hitschmanova established orphanage and scholarship programs in Nepal. Over the years, USC Canada has built relationships with communities and government in the country.
Today, USC Canada’s core program is Seeds of Survival. Working in 11 countries around the globe, Seeds of Survival supports farmers to stay on their land and grow healthy food for their families and communities. Programs also aim to preserve the environment and enhance valuable biodiversity.
Green has been working for over a decade as USC Canada’s Asia Program Manager. She travels several times a year, and was in Nepal two weeks before the earthquake hit in April 2015. She’s leaving for Bangledesh and East Timor in July.
“We work as a team with local colleagues. Hitschmanova strongly believed that local people should take leadership roles,” explains Green. “We don’t have any Canadians posted overseas.”
Green describes her work as very challenging, and it shifts every few months from small and local to big international issues.
The Seeds of Survival program was borne out of the massive famine which occurred in Ethiopia in the 1980s. Ethiopia approached USC, having heard about their work in sustainable development with farmers in Canada.
“Even after so many years, I’m still learning about organic agriculture and local seed issues,” says Green. “It’s all about growing enough food where you are. That’s what really matters, and is important around the world.”
USC Canada is working in remote, rural areas of Nepal that were deeply affected by the earthquake to restore livestock and animal populations through animal coops, and good breeding practices. There are often no roads into the high areas of Nepal. The Rasuwa district, for example, where USC Canada has worked for many years, is only accessible by plane or a 10-day walk.
Two Nepali districts that were badly affected by the earthquake had their grains (seeds) for next year’s food supply destroyed.
“People store their grain in their homes in plastic, clay, or wooden storage bins,” explains Green. During the earthquake, roofs collapsed, storage bins were destroyed or cracked, and two days of heavy rains followed, which caused the seeds to get wet and lose their viability. By connecting to other community seed banks, USC Canada worked to borrow or buy seeds for those areas of Nepal where seeds were lost.
“You need the right kind of seed in the right place at the right time,” explains Green.
The event at West End Well, which included a Nepali buffet of rice, lentils and vegetables, and the sale of fresh lemonade, raised $1650 for the Seeds of Survival program and Nepal’s long-term recovery.
For more information about USC Canada, go to usc-canada.org.