A version of this article appeared at Nepal’s national daily Myrepublica
A leadership that does not prepare cannot govern. The importance of preparing was realized when we rushed to Teaching Hospital less than 30 minutes after the massive quake of 7.8 richter scale at 11:56 am in Nepal. Everyone and everything seemed to be in utter chaos.
During a calamity of this size, BibekSheel Nepali party had built a clear protocol. It states that the first thing any BibekSheel Nepali party member is expected to do after checking upon their families is to go to the nearest hospital and help the authorities there manage the chaos. We did what we had been taught to do. We immediately set up a help desk to handle the rush of thousands of injured and panicked citizens.
We started helping the doctors and nurses ferry the ones still fighting for their lives and the dead. There was an immediate shortage of emergency medicines so right there and then, we started raising money. Every Nepali we asked gave! None held back. With the nearly Rs 100,000 raised, we opened up closed medical shops, bought the medicines which the medical practitioners used to save lives. The hospital garden soon became a big ‘open sky’ hospital. The doctors, nurses, police and army people and citizen volunteers relentlessly working were our ‘heroes’ on those fateful days and the days to come.
At a time of a disaster of this size, the job of any leadership is to build a positive network connecting those who want to save lives to those who needed help. While the political leadership proved utterly incapable of arranging this, Nepali citizens opened their hearts. They were desperate to help in any way they could. So realizing this gap in governance, we started connecting with them to give all these noble hearts better chances of saving Nepali lives immediately.
The lessons here was that those who wanted to help just need an assurance that their government was behind them 100 percent while they helped their fellow citizens. In the last two weeks, we connected thousands of wonderful kind-hearted, ordinary men and women from around the world together to bring relief to millions of Nepali. We ourselves managed to send immediate help to 300+ areas in 17 districts. And we know, thousands of other teams have similarly worked to get relief to the neediest.
Leadership is all about managing and creating hope for those around you, even when you yourself are in shock. As Nepalis reached out on social media assuring millions of Nepalis inside and outside the country that they were safe and working together to save Nepali lives, this created a virtuous cycle of hope. And along with thousands of independent efforts, this cycle of hope has perhaps created the single largest outpouring of love and empathy from the world ever for Nepal!
Leadership is also about building trust by innovating when citizens are most vulnerable. We started a 24-hour hotline even though we only had a mobile phone number with unstable internet. We must have responded to thousands of immediate help requests over Facebook alone. Hundreds poured in to get help from our physical help desks that we opened in Teaching Hospital, Bir Hospital and Bhaktapur Hospital! Clean up campaigns have started out of nowhere from unknown citizens. We connected all the tools we had using friends all over the world to reply to desperate cries of help.
Leadership is also about filling in the gaps in governance. When citizens needed paal (tarpaulins) we rushed to Dhangadhi in the far west to bring back three tons in a truck. When another group requested urgent help to bring shelter to the Chepang villages in Makwanpur, we dropped some of the paal on the way. Every Nepali deserves saving. There is no our people vs your people at such a time.
Leadership is all about helping citizens become responsible. When residents of Tsum valley chartered a helicopter, we helped them with tarps and rice sacks. It’s not always that we took the initiative; it’s mostly been Nepali citizens themselves. We just enabled them to their highest potential. When citizens of Sindhupalchowk came with their painfully collected relief materials, we arranged our volunteers to give them security and transportation. When doctors and nurses came to help, we gave them information and medicines to support in their own life saving missions.
A government that doesn’t go local doesn’t act. When people simply do not trust their elected government with their donations, it concerns us greatly. We felt the acute need of elected local governance in every level of our rescue and relief missions in the 17 districts we made it to; there was a chronic absence of local authority!
Leadership trusts and opens its arms and lets go of suspicions at times of calamities. We were full of doubt when people we had never heard of offered help and that too in amounts and quantities that scared us. But we came to a decision to eventually accept the help of anyone who wanted to help save Nepali lives because in the end, that is all that matters. We got the help of Bangladeshi doctors to European volunteers to Buddhist monks to American disaster fighters. We learnt a painful lesson: Opening our heart is more important than doubting intentions when humanity seeks to share our pains. In the end, leadership is about saving lives. Each Nepali deserves to be saved and the ones who carry the most responsibility are political leaders and political parties who are in the business of saving Nepali lives whether they are in power or not.