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Asia

Nepal's isolated Chepang minority need support

When Nepal's massive earthquake struck last week, student Milena Rabe was in the country's south working with one of the region's most marginalized minorities. She says the Chepang people are still waiting for help.

Deutsche Welle: Can you tell us where you are and what the situation is there?

Milena Rabe: I am in the Terai, the southern plains of Nepal, and I'm working here in the Navodaya School. It's a Christian, free school for children from the Chepang minority, an indigenous people in Nepal. The Chepang are very poor - the government considers them the poorest of the poor.

We also felt the earthquake very strongly in the Terai. We were with the children on the school's second floor when suddenly the whole building started to shake. And then I thought: "This could be it, right now." Luckily the buildings held firm, and no one was injured. But many of the houses of families in the nearby mountain villages collapsed. They have huts made of mud and stone, and these have now been reduced to rubble. Many of the schoolchildren traveled to their homes on Sunday to help rebuild. Some of them said: "We'd rather die with our families than stay here." At the same time, the situation with supplies here at the school is quite good.

Have aid workers also travelled to the Chepang mountain villages?

That's the problem. Most of the organizations spread themselves between Kathmandu and other large cities that can be more easily reached. But some of the Chepang villages are a six hour walk away from the nearest road. Even we, now, are facing the problem of how we can best help people. Tomorrow some of us are traveling to a village that isn't so far away. But most of the communities are just very isolated.

What has the government in Kathmandu been doing to help the Chepang?

I don't know whether I can give an answer that is 100 percent accurate. But from what I've seen, Kathmandu and Gorkha get most of the help. Helicopters are deployed there first to fly people out. As far as I can tell, the Chepang have received hardly any support - because it is also difficult.

How do you think the Chepang will fare as rebuilding after the earthquake begins?

Milena Rabe and a school boy in Nepal

Milena Rabe wants to stay in Nepal to raise money for earthquake relief

I'm concerned that help will only make it to places where the streets are reasonably well developed. We're in touch with field workers and collect personal donations when we can. A Swiss woman I know here drove to a village to distribute tents. Small individual groups are trying to help. But over such a large area? I can't imagine how it will turn out.

How long do you plan to stay in Nepal?

I'm staying until mid-June. Of course, because of the geographical situation, Nepal isn't the best place to be right now. There are also fears that a much more serious earthquake is still to come. I want to stay here, and I hope that the children come back when school opens again on Sunday. I want to make it possible for the kids to have a daily routine. Receiving a good education, free of charge, is something extraordinary here.

Besides that, I want to keep fundraising. I'm trying to convince people that every little bit helps. At least when I'm doing it myself there's the certainty that no money will end up going into administrative costs, like it might for an NGO, or staying with the government. When the kids come back and we know their exact needs, we'll work with the school board to put together an aid plan.

Milena Rabe, 22, is a cultural studies student at the University of Koblenz in western Germany. She is currently teaching English to Chepang children at the Navodaya School in the Terai, Nepal.

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