SA men pitch in to build homes in Nepalese village

10 May 2015 - 02:00 By MATTHEW SAVIDES

Gareth Pickering is not what you would call a handyman - in fact, he had not built much more than a sandcastle before this week.

But in the wake of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, he has been involved in constructing more than 20 homes for people who have lost everything - and has raised more than R160000 in aid.

After selling his business, Durban-born Pickering has spent the past year travelling in Europe and western Asia. Since October he and a friend, fellow Durbanite Simon Lawrence, have been based in Nepal, where they have done various treks, including to Everest Base Camp.

Pickering and Lawrence, both in their 30s, were 100m from their hotel when the earthquake struck. Debris fell around them as the ground shook violently, though neither was harmed.

Over the course of the next few days, the reality of the devastation began to hit home. The men felt they could not stand by and do nothing.

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"Nepal has been good to us. The people are absolutely amazing. We've been able to do and see such wonderful things. We needed to do something," said Pickering.

He said the first few days were "haphazard" - they would buy food, water and goods for people who asked for help. Then the owner of the youth hostel they were staying in put them in touch with volunteers in Ramkot, a village on the outskirts of the capital.

"Ramkot was the worst we had seen. People lost everything. And their situation is compounded by the fact that the monsoons are coming," said Pickering.

"We started building temporary houses for people. There were six teams of about four people each. At first it was just manual labour. There were huge piles of rubble that we had to move, and while we were doing that locals were going through the rubble to try and salvage anything that was left," said Pickering.

Pickering once owned his own marketing company and Lawrence's background is in IT programming.

"Someone asked me, 'What are your skills?' I replied, 'Excel and Microsoft Word.' They just handed me a shovel," said Pickering, laughing.

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As the days passed they grew more efficient. Each team can finish at least one house a day .

The houses are dome-shaped bamboo structures, made waterproof by thick plastic covers that are draped over the top and secured to the sides. They are basic, but they should be enough to at least survive the monsoon season.

Pickering and Lawrence have been picking up much of the bill for the materials they need.

"Thanks to friends and family and via our Facebook group, we have received about $14000 [R168600] in donations. We are using that to buy food, shelter, blankets, water ... just about anything people need. As long as people continue donating, we have a commitment to see this through," said Pickering.

Lawrence flew back to South Africa on Wednesday for a wedding where he is the best man. He might cancel plans to go to South America and end up back in Nepal to help.

If he does go back, there is a good chance he will find Pickering there, building homes.

To follow their work, join the "Make a difference in Nepal" Facebook page.

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