Nepal earthquake relief experience gives new perspective on life in Australia

Not badWollongong man Theo Sinkovits has returned to the Illawarra after more than four months working on the earthquake relief effort in Nepal with a new outlook on life in Australia.

After spending months working with displaced Nepalese people in Kathmandu to help provide basics like food, water and shelter, Wollongong engineer Mr Sinkovits has an important message for his fellow Australians.
“In Australia, there’s a lot of money and time to be spent on things that to Nepalese people in their current condition is nonsense,” he said.

“They’re fighting for light and shelter and we’re talking about the latest phone. The money required to get those things in Australia is so significant over there and you can make huge differences with it.

“My biggest realisation is something you get held up with in Australia isn’t worth wasting your time on.”

It is the kind of perspective many Australians get when they leave the country, but working at the forefront of the humanitarian relief effort in Nepal has delivered it profoundly.

Caught in the earthquake

What started as a motorbike holiday turned into an aid mission when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck while Mr Sinkovits was in Kathmandu.

“We got sick of sitting around doing nothing, so we started doing some reconnaissance and there were gaps [of need] outside of Kathmandu,” he said.

“We branched out and then raised money through friends back home and worked out where to spend it.”
With limited funds, the group chose to spend a large portion of the money on buying and installing solar powered public lighting for people living in camps.

With much of Kathmandu’s infrastructure devastated, many living areas were left without electricity.

“I was working with people in camps, so I was well aware of what they needed, and no emergency sectors were responsible for that [lighting], so I figured that was a good avenue for us to fill in.”

Why the recovery effort has stalled

When Mr Sinkovits left Nepal, the country was moving from the emergency phase to recovery.

However, domestic political issues and relations with neighbouring India have meant the country is running low on fuel, and trucks are having trouble getting into the country to deliver supplies.

“It’s a long term process — the International Organisation for Migration has applied for funding for about three years to rebuild homes and communities,” he said.

“With a new constitution and diplomatic relations with India, a lot of response is hindered by that.

“It’s taking a long time for everything to happen, and organisations are there with funding and waiting to take action.”
Returning to Nepal

Mr Sinkovits said he hoped to return to Kathmandu before April.

His partner is still in the country working for charity organisation Mercy Corps, and he receives regular updates on how Nepal is progressing.

“It’s amazing to be back in Australia and it’s very different, but it’s quite sad to have left,” he said.

“It’s a job left undone, and I would’ve happily stayed if I had work.

“It’s a beautiful place and there are wonderful people there who are happy regardless of their situation, and it’s nice to be around that.”