Jun 3, 2015

Emergency Period Report


Though IsraAID's activities in Nepal continue, the time has come for the organization to begin shifting its focus to longer term holistic rehabilitation. For more details please visit - https://goto.gg/20617 


Teams of Search and Rescue (SAR) and Medical Emergency Relief (MER) were dispatched to Nepal within days of the earthquake to respond to needs as they arise, and assist the Nepalese government and international actors in the short- and long-term recovery plans. With construction codes unfollowed, and population density extremely high, injuries are plenty, and already feeble national medical services continue to struggle to deal with the extent of injuries. Traditional medical facilities are overrun, while a need has been identified for mobile clinics to reach difficult of access areas.

Search and Rescue (SAR): A 15 member team was in Nepal for 9 days retrieving bodies, and even against all odds rescuing a survivor after 5 days stuck under the rubble. The team focused on the worst hit areas of Gongabu in Kathmandu (where 12 people were buried alive), and Sindupalchok district. The team collaborated closely with the Nepalese army and armed police, as well as with international teams from Mexico, Korea, Poland, France, Noway, and India. Following a request from the Nepalese government, all SAR teams left the country by the end of the following week.

Within days, a Medical Emergency Relief (MER) teamheaded by Prof. Mick Elkan, an epidemiologist expert, was sent to support and strengthen existing hospitals, clinics and medical institutions.

Focusing on IsraAIDs ability to reach difficult of access areas, the team coordinated with UN agencies and the Nepalese Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) to identify far-flung villages with high damage reports that were unlikely to receive medical attention quickly. The team then walked, drove, and took helicopters to reach 5 different areas (Melamchi, Uhiya, Bungamati, and Ganeshtan) across the most affected districts of Sindupalchok, Nuwakot, Gorkha, and Dhading in Nepal.

To date, over 1,000 people have been treated by IsraAIDs MER team, with 2 critical patients, including an infant baby, requiring airlifts to Kathmandu. In addition, drawing on expertise unavailable in these areas, several more severe cases were treated by IsraAIDs orthopedic doctor: 5 people were in need of casts, one of them was an 8 year old boy with a femur fraction who was anesthetized to receive reduction and cast.

In addition, the team has been providing on-going support to local hospitals in the capital in the areas of pediatrics, internal medicine and neonatal care. After the second earthquake on May 12th, the team mobilized within minutes and saved all 7 babies from the neonatal ward of the Grande International hospital’s neonatal unit by rushing to set up a temporary ward outside after the building was deemed unsafe. The ward was home to both Nepalese and foreign premature neonates, including 4 Israeli ones.


PsychoSocial Services (PSS)

The psychological effects of the earthquake on the population, their families, communities, and the emergency responders are wide ranging and long lasting. The need to provide psychosocial support (PSS) to people during this time is critical to building resilience to enable them to develop long-term coping strategies to counteract the stresses brought about by the earthquake, , and regain a sense of normalcy.  In Nepal, IsraAID is collaborating both with the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) and the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), and has recently been designated by UNICEF Nepal as a key technical expert on Mental Health and PsychoSocial Services (MHPSS), effectively recommending IsraAID take a lead role in developing the capacity of the over 50 partners involved in the MHPSS national response strategy.


The training program being developed targets social workers, mental health clinicians, and outreach staff (of local and international NGOs) from the most affected districts, and provides training on Psychological First Aid (PFA), resilience building, diversifying coping mechanism, gender-based violence, grief care, and self-care. The ultimate purpose of these activities is to prevent long-term trauma related disorders, create resilience and social connection for children and adults living in communities heavily affected by the 2015 earthquake, and to encourage the reintegration of child and adult survivors and the processing of grief for those who have lost family or friends. Finally, the training will also enable service-providers to avoid burnout and vicarious (secondary) trauma through self-care modules.

To date, IsraAID has conducted workshops for over 100 social work professionals and students, focusing first and foremost on PSS activities to meet immediate needs before engaging in long-term training programs. Following the national response strategy, these efforts have targeted Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) and the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps.


May 9, 2015

Yotam Polizer Head of Mission Blogs - 3

Gongabu area - now known as the "Israeli site"
Gongabu area - now known as the "Israeli site"

Nothing can prepare you for that moment you meet a survivor trapped under the rubble.

Five days after the earth shook the capital of Nepal and its outskirts, I found myself deep inside the wreckage of what was once a modest guesthouse.

In fact, IsraAID’s entire Search and Rescue (SAR) team has been working on the ground, or more accurately, under the ground, for the last few days in the heart of the devastated Gongabu district of Kathmandu, now referred to by locals and internationals as simply, ‘the IsraAID site’.

Looking back, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster with highs and lows as well as a complicated mix of the two. As I’ve come to realize from Prabad, a 14 year old boy we met searching for his family, the discovery of a body in the wreckage, even if it is your little sister’s, is actually both a high and a low (see 2nd Blog Report).

Working around the clock, it’s easy to lose all track of time. Although every disaster is so vastly different and unique, there is still one principle that guides all IsraAID relief missions – the respect, dignity and the crucial involvement of the local community.

I’m aware this sounds great ‘on paper’ but, having worked with IsraAID teams in places like the Philippines, Japan, Sierra Leone and most recently in Vanuatu, this does make all the difference.

During our daily debriefing sessions in Nepal, we recognize our ability to adapt quickly to the reality on the ground, and having travelled ‘light,’ (in favour of accessing resources locally), allowed for greater flexibility and speed in this impossible race against time.

But there’s still more to this story.

We know we cannot do this alone. Although we are newcomers here, we take the time to get to know our neighbours. We learn not only the names, but also the stories of all 22 people buried under the vast pile of rubble in and around the ‘IsraAID site’.

And so, we set out on the gruesome task of trying to search and rescue any remaining survivors and bodies. Five days on, I admit, I wasn’t feeling very optimistic.

But there was something about Sumi, a 16 year old resident of one of the collapsed buildings that gave us hope. In her vibrant pink jacket, she described how her beloved uncle was one of the 22 still missing.

Sumi stayed close, helped out, offered drinks and chit chatted with the team. She was anxious, concerned and still very much in shock.

Speaking to the residents, it’s clear that the need for emotional and psychological support is critical as the impact of this disaster begins to sink in. Basic food, water, clothing and shelter are not the only urgent needs right now. Returning home, gathering personal belongings and parting with the past, is a crucial part of the long term recovery of an individual and community following such a disaster.

IsraAID continues to work around the world providing psycho-social support to communities years after a disaster has hit. We work in places like Haiti, Japan, Philippines, Iraq, Jordan, Western Africa and South Sudan and our plans are to do so here as well.

Yet, with regular aftershocks, the return home in this densely populated urban setting, is even more difficult and dangerous. Eran Magen, IsraAID’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team leader assesses the structural damages to Sumi’s building. We then accompany her as she scrambles to find a few of her most precious belongings. Some family photos, school books and a childhood teddy bear.

All the while, our team continues to work a few feet below us.

We’re suddenly told that a sound was heard coming from under the rubble. Is it real or imagined?

We all gather to listen.

I yell out in Nepalese, “Is anyone there?”

We hear a faint sound.

We realize, someone may be alive and trapped inside.

We immediately call for additional support and for the next 5 hours we work into the night, leading and coordinating an incredible team of over 130 international Search and Rescue experts in cooperation with the local authorities. A group from Mexico and Norway work closely with us. A French team joins in and brings a ‘life scanner’. We are amazed to find, it detects a heartbeat!

We continued manipulating mangled wires, broken pipes and concrete slabs. We carefully remove stone after stone with the help of hundreds of local volunteers. Our neighbours come together and bring tools, buckets and boxes, anything to help expedite the process of clearing a safe path.

IThe community comes together to assist.

An outpour of support is shown as a constant flow of people bring food, snacks and water. People who have just lost everything, still living under tarpaulins on the streets, are incredibly generous.

As the treacherous work continues, we think we hear breathing.

I call out again, “Is anyone there?”

“Duka cha.”

I am utterly stunned to hear a woman’s voice cry back, “I’m hurt.”

At that moment, any ounce of skepticism I’ve ever had completely dissipates. Clearly, miracles do happen.

I immediately try to reassure the woman. I ask her to try and stay calm and very still. We had cleared a deep path in the wreckage in order to reach her, but one wrong move and the reinforcements could buckle, causing the fragile layers above to collapse on all of us.

Eran continues to direct the work while crawling deeper inside the ruins. He finds a body of a man obstructing the way.

We work carefully to remove the body and wonder who it is we just recovered. His body clearly saved the woman we’re trying to reach below by cushioning the blow of the massive impact and creating a life-saving air pocket.

A family member identifies the body. We’re told the man is Sumi’s dear uncle.

It’s a critical moment, and our team must work quickly. We finally get a glimpse of a young woman. We call for a medic who carefully inserts an IV to help rehydrate and stabilize her condition.

I wait a few minutes and then ask her name. She answers, “Krishna”.

We quickly learn that Krishna Devi is 24 and was working at the local guesthouse when the earthquake struck.

SAR Team member Inbal Bustan, who is also 24, stayed by Krishna’s side for the next few hours, reassuring her that everything would be over soon.

It was a long and intense rescue operation, but I’ll never forget the camaraderie formed among the hundreds of people who joined in. Donned in different clad and colours, from places near and far, it was an incredible moment of unity. All of us coming together to save a life.

As our team prepared for the final stage of the rescue operation, we simultaneously coordinate and count down in Hebrew, Nepalese and English.

That moment we saved Krishna Devi from under the rubble.

Sumi, 16 years old.
Sumi, 16 years old.
Returning home to gather precious belongings.
Returning home to gather precious belongings.
IsraAID Search and Rescue Team
IsraAID Search and Rescue Team
Coming together to assist.
Coming together to assist.
The team after the rescue
The team after the rescue


May 7, 2015

Yotam Polizer Head of Mission Blogs - 2

Hero of the Day, Prabad
Hero of the Day, Prabad

Meet Prabad.

I met Prabad on the streets of Gongabu, one of the most densely populated and destroyed areas of Kathmandu. With toppled temples, twisted building and piles of rubble, the familiar streets I remember from my three and half years of living in Nepal, suddenly seemed so foreign.

Prabad noticed the bright orange shirts of our IsraAID team assessing the damages and quickly ran up to tell us that his mother and two sisters were buried somewhere under the rubble. When he realized I spoke Nepalese, he continued to explain that hadn’t left the site since the earthquake and was still very hopeful. He stuck by our side and was with out question, the most passionate and persuasive 14 year old that I have ever met.

We saw more people on the same block sifting through debris with their bare hands. They told us that many family members were still trapped as well. Exactly 22, in fact. One by one we were told the names of each missing loved one.

Luckily, IsraAID’s team has grown in the last 36 hours to include 15 Search and Rescue (SAR) experts from Israel. An eclectic mix of trained and talented men and women who dropped everything – for one purpose – ‘to lend a hand’. Within moments of landing, the entire team headed from the tarmac straight to the field.

Eran Magen, Head of IsraAID’s SAR team, with over 20 years of experience, shared some of the tricks of the trade. He reminded everyone of the dangers and the necessary safety precautions. There was painstaking work ahead of us, but the team was clearly up for the challenge, including Prabad, who jumped in to help.

In close coordination with the local authorities, a community of volunteers quickly grew to 100 solid workers. Each person, an important link in the human chain, helped clear away buckets of debris and rubble from the wreckage. At least 200 more people gathered around us, patiently waiting for any sign of life- missing relatives, friends and neighbours.

A sponeous community of local volunteers assists with the clearing of rubble.

A sponeous community of local volunteers assists with the clearing of rubble.

But suddenly, everything stops.

The pick, shovels and drills are laid to rest. Eran’s technique switches to one of a skilled archaeologist, carefully chiseling and delicately brushing away the dirt and dust.

We found the body of Prabad’s 9 year old little sister, Maya.

Shocked and shaken, Prabad ran to his father nearby, embraced him and sobbed.

“Yo Mero Manchhe Ho!’ he tells him. “It’s our family member!”

This is a moment I will never forget.

And then, several minutes later, with his chin held high, Prabad returned as though to console us. He insisted that although his family’s hope was lost, they were still one of the lucky few who now had some closure. They could begin an important spiritual processes of mourning.

Prabad was my hero of the day.


On the ride back to our home base, exhausted and drained from another difficult day, I thought of only Maya.

Maya, such a popular name back in Israel with Hindu and Hebrew origins.

Maya, an ‘illusion’ and Goddess from Hindu mythology, a ‘spring’ or ‘brook’ derived from the Hebrew word ‘Maayan’.

Maya, Maya, the soft chorus of a classic Hebrew song about a father’s sweet lullaby for his sleeping daughter.

Sweet dreams little Maya.

Everything Stops. Tools are laid to rest...
Everything Stops. Tools are laid to rest...
The slow and skillful search and rescue techniques
The slow and skillful search and rescue techniques
A sad discovery
A sad discovery
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