Charis Chan recounts her journey to Nepal as part of Singapore Red Cross's three-man advance team.
On May 12, Nepal was struck by yet another massive earthquake, following one that shook the country three weeks earlier.
Four days after the first devastating earthquake struck Nepal, Charis Chan headed there as part of the Singapore Red Cross’s three-man advance team.
Uncertainty lurked as the team made their way to Kathmandu on April 29. Equipped with tents and sleeping bags, the team was prepared to accommodate themselves by the streets as buildings were deemed unsafe to live in.
“The cracks of buildings stretched from the third floor down,” said Charis, as she wistfully painted a picture of her initial impression of Kathmandu.
Saying that the trip was met with difficulties is an understatement. Imagine travelling mid-air for five hours, only to be greeted with an announcement that the plane may have to turn back to Singapore, due to congestion in the single runway airport.
After an eventual landing, Charis’s luggage was then mistook for medical supplies and extracted out from the cargo pile.
“I was wearing the same clothes from Wednesday to Friday,” said Charis, who only received her luggage two days later.
The jovial 26-year-old political science graduate, who joined the Singapore Red Cross in 2012 out of a passion to help others, is no stranger to overseas relief efforts.
As part of the advance team, Charis focused on liaising and coordination. She was responsible for advising and securing logistics matters, such as accommodation and transport, for the medical team that will be arriving two days later.
During her stay, Charis found it challenging to secure lodging as most guest houses were left structurally unstable after the earthquake. Thankfully, Charis came across helpful locals who went an extra mile to provide accommodation and share useful information about the imminent aftershocks.
Despite prior experiences to aftershocks in the Philippines two years ago, Charis recounted how these jolts still posed as a source of spine-tingles and frenzy.
Whenever the grounds shook, those in the lower floors of the guest house would scramble out to safety, while occupants of the higher levels hurried under stable furniture. While asleep on the fourth storey, Charis recounted how she was awoken by the jolts twice.
“I woke up thinking that someone was fiddling with my door,” shared Charis, who soon realised that it was the aftershock that violently shook the bedroom’s door. “If you’re on the bed, (you should) take a pillow and cover your head,” she added.
After hearing about the earthquake that struck Nepal yesterday, Charis immediately contacted her colleagues who are currently stationed there. Fortunately, no one was hurt as the clinic was located at an open space, allowing it to remain open.
When asked if she had to return soon, Charis said: “I might be deployed again in the coming weeks, not only to monitor the medical teams, but also to identify recovery and reconstruction programmes.”
Responders like Charis are often placed in life-threatening situations when they embark on relief efforts. Undoubtedly, it takes courage and heart to partake in such efforts to help those in need. Perhaps Nepal’s crises serve as another reminder for us to not take whatever we have for granted.
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