It is heartbreaking to see the extreme human suffering and economic devastation that Covid-19 has brought to India and Nepal. As is the case in many parts of the world, those who rely on tourism have had no work since the pandemic hit. In India and Nepal, the lack of government support has left many seasonal/freelance staff without any income – particularly in rural areas where alternative work is hard to come by.
Karma Sherpa, MD, Exodus’ local partner in Nepal.
“Already three trekking seasons in Nepal have been cancelled due to the pandemic – there has been no work. Most of the staff are freelance and on a daily wage. Unfortunately, we have no government help here in Nepal. I have advised as many staff as possible to go back to their villages if they can but many are struggling to pay rent and for water, electricity, and food. Quite a few of our trekking staff or members of their families have the virus.”
To make matters worse, new variant strains of the virus have seen infection rates escalate at an alarming rate in India and Nepal and they are now facing a public health crisis. A number of trekking staff and their family members have been ill with the virus and now face healthcare bills. Furthermore, in the absence of government support, a lockdown means that those who have found work can’t afford to adhere to the stay-at-home rules.
In response to this crisis, the Exodus Foundation recently launched a Covid Emergency Relief Appeal. The money raised is providing food and health packs for over 100 trekking staff in Ladakh (Northern India) and Nepal. Each parcel will feed a member of staff and their family as well as equipping them with hygiene products such as hand sanitiser, which is considered a relative luxury.
There has already been a terrific response to the appeal and we thank all donors for their incredible generosity. It is our hope that with your continued support we will be able to extend the scheme to provide food & health packs for additional months or to reach additional people.
Exodus Product Managers for India and Nepal, Kashka Lantis and Jenny Cox, have been speaking with our local partners to gain further insight into what these packs mean to the staff who receive them.
Johnny, trek cook from South India
“I travel from my home to work in Ladakh so my daughters can study. There is no work in my home. I have a very small house and one field. I miss my work and have had no income since summer 2019. The extra food parcel is good for me. I have many friends in Exodus who have gone trekking with me many times and feels like family to me. I hope to see them again soon.”
On treks in Ladakh, porterage is by ponies. The ‘pony men’ need to look after and feed their animals year-round regardless of whether they have had work or not:
Stanzin, pony man from Rumbak, Ladakh, India
“I have worked for more than 25 years with my ponies and earning money for my family. I have a mother, wife, brothers, sister, and children. My ponies have worked hard for me and I care for them. Now there are no tourists coming to Ladakh and it is hard for us. We used our income to educate our children and now we are suffering because of covid. My house is a homestay and tourist groups came to stay with us. Now our village is silent. With the food parcels, we can provide extra for our families.”
Many Nepali staff who usually lived in cities have returned to their villages to evade expensive city rents and so that in lieu of income, they can work the land and grow some produce to eat. In addition, many staff in Nepal were just getting back on their feet after the 2015 earthquake:
Saroj Tamang, Exodus Guide in Nepal
“I usually use my money I earn from trekking to send my children to school. For a long time, we have no work and life is difficult. We just finished building a small house as our old one was destroyed in the earthquake so all our money went on that the last few years. My wife can grow vegetables but we cannot grow rice where I live so have to buy it. We are so happy you remember us and help us. I am hoping we can trekking again soon as it has been my life for so long now.”
In Nepal, Exodus Guide, Hari Khadka, and his wife were unfortunate enough to catch covid-19 but have thankfully now recovered:
Hari Khadka, Exodus Guide in Nepal
“Our country and its people are suffering. There is a lack of medical treatments, medicines, even people are helpless to find beds at the hospital at the minute. It is devastating to witness these things. The support which you are providing means very much to me. I would like to thank each one of you.”
The people of India and Nepal are mustering all their strength to get through this crisis but they need the world to stand with them. When one of our India partners was asked about how people are coping, he sent us this quote:
“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed” Author – Doe Zantamata.
This certainly sums up what we know of the incredible Indian and Nepalese spirit.
You can read more about the Exodus Foundation and donate to the Emergency Appeal by clicking here.