A life saved, a favour returned

While climbing a mountain in Nepal, Mr Kow hurt his back in an accident and had to be airlifted to hospital. He credits his guides with saving his life as they cleared a spot for the helicopter to land and carried him to the aircraft. Nepalis taking
Nepalis taking a break from building a school. Financial aid from the Singapore Red Cross helped the Manaslu Foundation fund the construction of three schools and a healthcare centre.PHOTO: COURTESY OF NIGEL KOW
While climbing a mountain in Nepal, Mr Kow hurt his back in an accident and had to be airlifted to hospital. He credits his guides with saving his life as they cleared a spot for the helicopter to land and carried him to the aircraft. Nepalis taking
Mr Kow (second from right) in Nepal in December 2014. Mr Ash Bahadur Gurung (third from left), a local guide, died when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25 last year.PHOTO: COURTESY OF NIGEL KOW
While climbing a mountain in Nepal, Mr Kow hurt his back in an accident and had to be airlifted to hospital. He credits his guides with saving his life as they cleared a spot for the helicopter to land and carried him to the aircraft. Nepalis taking
While climbing a mountain in Nepal, Mr Kow hurt his back in an accident and had to be airlifted to hospital. He credits his guides with saving his life as they cleared a spot for the helicopter to land and carried him to the aircraft.PHOTO: COURTESY OF NIGEL KOW
A school being built with funding from the SRC. The building can withstand quakes of up to 8.5-magnitude. Mr Kow started the Manaslu Foundation to provide aid to villages affected by last year's earthquake.
A school being built with funding from the SRC. The building can withstand quakes of up to 8.5-magnitude. Mr Kow started the Manaslu Foundation to provide aid to villages affected by last year's earthquake.PHOTO: COURTESY OF NIGEL KOW

In gratitude to mountain guides for saving his life, Nigel Kow set up an NGO to help Nepali quake victims

Mr Nigel Kow had a bad scare on a mountain in Nepal two years ago.

"Part of my rope slipped off a rock and I swung away from the cliff face, and then crashed back into it," said Mr Kow, who suffered a slipped disc as a result.

A National University of Singapore student at that time, he was attending a mountaineering course in Langtang, Nepal, with the NUS mountaineering club. He continued with the climb and made it to the peak. But the next day, when he woke up, he was unable to move his lower back and had to be airlifted to a hospital.

"Our three Nepal mountain guides dug out a helicopter landing pad by clearing the rocks and evening out the snow," said Mr Kow. "Without them, my life would have been in grave danger."

When Mr Kow, now 26 and a statistical analysis engineer, heard of the death of one of these guides in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 last year, he was seized with a desire to repay his benefactors.

This led him to start a non-governmental organisation (NGO), named Manaslu Foundation after the mountain range at the epicentre of the earthquake, to help Nepalis affected by the disaster.

The guide who died, Mr Ash Bahadur Gurung, 35, was leading a trek in the Gorkha region - the epicentre of the earthquake - when an avalanche struck. The guides are from Laprak, a village of 6,000 people, 2,100m above sea level.

The quake toppled buildings in the village and paths were blocked by boulders and rocks. More than 90 per cent of the villagers lost their homes and 24 of them died.

Mr Kow raised $8,000 for tarpaulin, rice and food items and 1km of water piping and flew to Gorka about two weeks after the quake.

"The stuff was transported by porters or donkeys, and we set up a new village higher up the mountain, 2,700m above ground," he said. Solar-powered generators and water pipes were also set up. Mr Kow got the local guides to trek into the mountains and identify which villages needed help most urgently.

Back in Singapore, he secured another $30,000, which was sent to Nepal to procure about 90,000kg of rice and basic foodstuffs such as oil, salt and sugar. These were sent to three villages, Khorla Besi, Khani Gaun and Kerauja, which required a five-day trek to reach.

During the monsoon season last year, Mr Kow flew to Nepal again, this time with $4,000 to get medicine for Laprak's health centre, solar-powered lamps and electric mosquito repellents.

He approached the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) for financial aid for the remote villages. "They said they would like to help, but couldn't transfer funds to me as I was just an individual. So I had to either join a Nepal NGO or start my own. I decided to start my own," he said.

He did so with two mountain guides - Mr Tul Singh Gurung, 33, the foundation's president, and his cousin, Mr Pur Bahadur Gurung, 28, the project manager.

"We signed a memorandum of understanding with them on Sept 29 last year for about $1 million to build three schools and a healthcare centre," Mr Kow said.

The money was from the $11 million in public donations that the SRC had collected after the earthquake to help in the recovery of the affected communities.

SRC secretary-general Benjamin William said Mr Kow had an intimate knowledge of the local community and understood its needs. The foundation also showed "a high standard of governance, financial management and accountability".

Work on the schools and healthcare centre began in December. The locals had to break rocks along the mountains to form bricks. They also had to flatten the ground to prepare for construction, without tractors or excavators.

"From December to June, we completed almost 99 per cent of the project. We are only left with electrical wiring and painting. The buildings are earthquake-proof and can sustain up to 8.5-magnitude (quakes)," Mr Kow said.

Mr Kishore Dev Pant, former president of the Nepalese Society Singapore, said he was very impressed with Mr Kow and his team. "They have been able to complete the tasks that even some big organisations can't. Furthermore, they utilised the local resources," he said.

But Mr Kow said their work is not finished. For example, the schools need to have resources to function properly in the long term. "The village elders told us to prioritise schools for the children. They can work a few extra years to afford their own houses, but they wanted education for the children," he said.

For Mr Kow, his efforts are worth it. "These people saved my life. Nothing I do for them will ever be enough to repay this debt."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 02, 2016, with the headline 'A life saved, a favour returned'. Print Edition | Subscribe