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Nepal earthquake 2015

Meet the talented Nepalis who are bringing cheer to their people and tourists to their country

Thaneswar Guragai, a multiple Guinness record breaker, and Phurba Tenzing Sherpa, who has climbed Everest 10 times, are in Hong Kong to boost much-needed tourism in their beleaguered nation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 5:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 1:21pm

In the three months after a devastating earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015 and claimed about 8,700 lives, injured at least 22,200 and made hundreds of thousands of people homeless, Thaneswar Guragai did what he knew best: show off his quirky talents at spinning basketballs and balancing objects on various body parts.

It may sound trivial but his skills, which have earned him 13 fun Guinness World Records to date, was able to bring cheer to the Nepalis during a dark time. Many villages were destroyed, and today, many who lost their homes still live in makeshift tents.

“The children are in trauma and crying all the time, and they have nothing to do. I wanted to make them happy. I went to the tents and performed for them,” says Thaneswar, 26, who was born in the far-eastern district of Sankhuwasava and moved to the capital Kathmandu in 2006.

Recently, Thaneswar made his first trip to Hong Kong to showcase his talents for another cause: strengthening and promoting tourism in Nepal.

On the morning of Sunday July 24, in front of the Central Harbourfront Observation Wheel, Thaneswar spun a basketball on his elbow for 6.62 seconds, beating the previous Guinness World Record of 6.14 seconds set in the UK in 2012.

Then, Thaneswar set off with about 300 others on Hike for Nepal, a 13km charity hike from the Harbourfront to Repulse Bay, led by compatriot Phurba Tenzing Sherpa, a highly-regarded mountaineer who has climbed Everest 10 times.

“I’m here to spread the message, ‘We Will Rise’,” said Phurba, 27, in an interview with the Post before the hike. “I’m here to inform the world that Nepal will certainly rise up again and to tell the international community that Nepal is safe, our mountains are safe and foreigners should visit Nepal. Nepal is based on tourism; without tourists, there is no life for Nepalis.”

On his 10th Everest ascent on May 20 this year, Phurba planted the flag of the We Will Rise Foundation atop the 8,848-metre peak. The foundation, a charity launched soon after the earthquakes struck, has taken part in social activities to foster and strengthen the cooperative spirit of Nepalis at home and abroad to help rebuild.

The foundation had collaborated with the Miteree Service Committee Pokhara Hong Kong to organise the Hike for Nepal. With each hiker required to contribute a minimum of HK$200 to participate, nearly HK$46,000 was raised through the event to support the earthquake survivors in Nepal, according to Nirmal Shrestha, founder director of We Will Rise Foundation. Nirmal says the foundation works in organising different kinds of motivational activities, as well as building schools and houses for the earthquake victims.

While donations of money, clothing and food are appreciated and certainly help, Phurba says the biggest way people can help Nepal is by visiting the country. With few tourists, business in Nepal is quiet and many Nepalis have nothing to do. With little engagement and interaction, spirits are low.

The impact of the earthquake on Nepalese’ mental health has been termed the “invisible disaster” by reports. The World Health Organisation noted a rise in mental health problems in Nepal in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

In an article published in the Nepal Journal of Epidemiology in December 2015, Kiran Thapa, a public health student at the Institute of Medicine in Kathmandu, noted: “The magnitude of the mental health problems might not show due to the prevailing stigma in the community, which stops many from discussing their mental issues.”

According to Thapa, the only mental healthy policy in Nepal is from 1996, which focuses extensively on community-based rehabilitation. Nepal has one of the world’s weakest mental health systems, with only 0.08 per cent of its health budget spent on mental health, with fewer than two psychiatrists per million people and even fewer clinical psychologists.

Phurba himself was badly affected mentally for about three months after the quake struck. He had been at base camp that day taking a rest day in the middle of leading an Everest expedition. He suffered physical injuries from the avalanche but was fit enough to help with the rescue efforts.

Phurba’s mountaineering company had lost some US$200,000 in equipment and gear, and in the aftermath, there was zero business as nobody dared to climb Everest. For two months he slept by the roadside.

“It was not easy to survive,” says Phurba, who comes from a family of Sherpas and whose father was part of the legendary Tenzing and Hillary expedition. “But I feel normal again now. This is life - we have to challenge many things and we could die anytime.”

Thaneswar, a manager with a Nepal mountaineering company, was in the sixth floor of a cinema watching a film with a few friends when the quake hit. He says he never ran so quickly before; within seconds he was out of the building. Fortunately his home in Kathmandu, about 10 minutes’ walk from Phurba’s, was not affected and neither were his family in Sankhuwasava.

Thaneswar says many Nepalese people still have the earthquake on the back of their minds. “The people have changed emotionally – everyone is so nice and controlled towards each other because they know they could die any moment.”

He suggests September, October and November are the best time for tourists to visit Nepal. “It’s not rainy, not so cold, the weather is clear so you have a great view of the mountains.”