We often describe failures in business as ‘disasters’ or ‘catastrophes’, as such there are few words that could possibly do justice to the utter devastation experienced by the residents of Nepal following last year’s earthquake. How does one recover from such an event? And can entrepreneurship offer a form of salvation to those impacted by natural disasters?
The 2015 earthquake in Nepal had a devastating effect on the country, and many villages were razed to the ground.
Bridim was one such village that was destroyed.
I was privileged to visit it before the earthquake, the first TV or radio reporter to be taken to this remote and often inhospitable spot in the Himalayan peaks just by the Chinese Tibetan-Nepal border.
I got to it after a three hour trek up a steep and rocky path, often needing a hand up at near-vertical points to help me maintain my balance and make sure I didn’t fall topple over while holding my mic and recorder.
Along the way my guide, Dawa Lama, a former ethnic Tibetan monk, and I met the odd goat, the bells around its neck tinkling in the fresh crisp air.
We passed a tiny empty wooden rest house for travellers, and larger dwellings. We climbed higher, passing a gurgling stream, a colourful prayer bell and thin ethnic Tibetans wearing full traditional costume. I wondered how people could live and function at such high and distant altitudes.
As we rounded steep corner after corner it felt as though Bridim might be a mythical village I would never find, part of some Tibetan fable, and that we would soon return to my comfortable guest house four hours’ drive away from the sheer drop below me. I asked Dawa again and again when we were likely to arrive, like a child on a long journey. "Up the next set of rocks," he would reply stoically, clearly playing me like an indulgent parent to make sure I kept going.
At last, after rounding a final sharp corner, I found a welcome party of ethnic Tibetan villagers waiting to greet me with a white scarf and a flask of tea. Among them was Dawa’s brother, Tsering Lama. He pointed behind him into the distance. I could see the homes of Bridim village, gently laid out on flat steps at different levels in a misty cloud winding around the mountainside. It looked magical.
The wooden and stone homes with their sloping roofs were dotted among fields of green farmland. Over the coming days I would get to know each one of them. There was a community building, an ancient temple, and the houses decorated in traditional ethnic Tibetan fashion where you sat and ate on the floor or on benches. Beds were wooden but comfortable, and my guest room was cosy, with a lamp, with a flushing toilet and a shower just next door. Many of Bridim’s 180 or so inhabitants are related to Dawa and his brother Tsering, who had granted my access. One of his female relatives sat and wove on her porch and another was in a refugee camp up the road.
Tsering is the son of an ethnic Tibetan refugee who escaped from China at the same time as the Dalai Lama.
Bridim was one of the villages closest to the border that sprang up at that time; a convenient place where the ethnic Tibetan escapees, who, as my BBC radio report proves, have no status in their new country, can support each other and keep their cultural traditions alive.
The main occupations in the village were subsistence farming, portering and providing the odd trekker with a homestay. Most younger Bridim villagers left for the capital, Kathmandu, seduced by its bright lights and the notion of work The work may be official or unofficial. Many of them turn to drink and drugs as city life is particularly hard for them.
In an effort to keep the Bridim community alive and functioning, Tsering, who had worked for the top tour and trekking companies in Nepal, decided to organise eco tours to his own village of Bridim with the help of UK charity Dolma Foundation. His tours are called Dolma Ecotourism. He painstakingly installed flush toilets, showers and made his village a place trekkers could come to. It brought a little sustenance to the impoverished villagers. Many of them are related to him. Trekkers and guests are provided with delicious, home cooked ethnic Tibetan village food. The ingredients are brought up from the nearest roadside stores or delivered by helicopter.
Dolma Ecotourism was established in partnership with British Charity, Dolma Foundation, which was founded by British businessman Tim Gocher. He lives in Kathmandu with his Nepali wife and young family.
Business was going quite well and when I visited, Tsering told me of his plans to develop Bridim to accommodate tourists and trekkers seeking a higher level of accommodation. To that end, he brought an architect to the village and was hopeful and excited.
Then the catastrophe happened. April 25th 2015, an earthquake shook the region - it was felt in India and Pakistan - and brought the country to its knees.
Bridim came crashing down, almost everyone lost their homes; there was injury, loss, shock and dismay. The problem was compounded because in this place, cut off from most of Nepal, no one cared about or even counted its people.
Immediately, once Tsering and Tim had told their loved ones abroad that they were alive and OK, the task was to check on Bridim. But aftershocks meant that both Tsering and Tim’s movements were restricted; both have young families to protect and keep safe.
Once word got to them about Bridim and the surrounding areas, it didn’t look good. Bridim had been flattened.
They mobilised resources in Nepal and abroad. Getting across from the capital into the mountains meant negotiating a landslide –prone road and leveraging a helicopter at a time when everybody needed one.
Tsering led the charge. He rounded up his friends and got together experts to rebuild his village. Tim Gocher and Dolma chief finance officer Carla Teixeira Alvares Kaspar have done their utmost to help raise funds for support are there often, but it is Tsering who has gone at his rebuilding mission with a vengeance, seemingly determined to never again allow the forces of nature to destroy his home village.
All the funding has come from private and foreign donors, he has not relied on the government.
He needn’t have done this. The villagers could have relocated or dispersed. But Tsering is driven, and is using the best of his entrepreneurial spirit to have a phoenix rise from the ashes.
He sent me a document, the last quarterly report of the 'Bridim Village Rebuilding Project' which clearly sets out the objectives, accomplishments, challenges and targets.
Scrupulous attention is being given to the structure, design and materials being used in the reconstruction. Reinforced concrete and wire to support dry stones will make the buildings more earthquake resistant. All aspects, risks and threats are covered in this plan.
It is an honest appraisal and shows that even when rebuilding after a crisis or tragedy, entrepreneurs have to be clinically systematic and organised in order to succeed.
Tsering is so focused on his mission that he mainly posts photos and updates these days, there is not much time for talk. But entrepreneurs have to be focused and single minded, for as in this case, lives may depend on it.
I know Tsering will succeed in his noble mission.