Orphans step up to help Singapore-led rescuers

Dressed in yellow polos, yellow vests and yellow hard hats, a group of young people were helping to keep the curious crowds back as rescuers from three countries, including Singapore, entered a partially demolished building on Thursday to recover a dead body.

"Nobody asked us to keep the people back, but we saw the Singapore team come in to pull a body out of a damaged building and many people were gathering and walking about, so we helped," said Ms Arpana Nagarkoti, 20, a student who is doing her diploma in fashion design.

She is part of a 20-person team which was helping to clear rubble in the village of Harisiddhi in Lalitpur district south of Kathmandu when the Singapore-led search and rescue contingent rolled in.

But the young people, ranging in age from 14 to 28, are no ordinary volunteers: they are all orphans who grew up at the Happy Children Trust, an orphanage in Godawari village, about 5km away from Harisiddhi.

And their coordinated golden-yellow gear was not bought but donated by a bakery.

Since last Saturday's earthquake, many schools in Nepal have declared a two-week holiday in order to recover from its effects.

Rather than stay home during the break, the youth from Happy Children Trust have mobilised themselves to help their nearby communities.

"We've been providing first aid, mineral water and dry food to affected families in Jamal, Bungamati and Harisiddhi today," said Ms Nagarkoti, referring to villages around the orphanage.

The orphan-volunteers, who number 60 in total, have also helped to clear bricks and rubble from heritage sites devastated by the earthquake, such as the historic Patan Durbar Square, said Mr Ashik Raut, 22. He is currently reading for a bachelor's degree in business.

At some risk to themselves, the volunteers also entered affected houses to retrieve items such as beds, fridges and food.

"A lot of the people living here are farmers, so we want to save their valuables so they don't have to buy them again," said Mr Raut.

Both Ms Nagarkoti and Mr Raut are hoping that their ground-up volunteerism will prove infectious.

"When a disaster happens, people become concerned only about themselves," said Mr Raut. "We want to show them you can contribute to the nation by caring a little for someone else."

yanliang@sph.com.sg