As the climbing season begins to ramp up in the Himalayas once more, many are reminded of the tragic events that occurred on the 25th of April last year when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal.
In a bid to commemorate those lost to the disaster, while also providing sustained relief to a country that continues to suffer in its wake, Sydney-based photojournalist Tony Sernack has launched a book of images that captures a glimpse of Nepal’s people and culture just one week before the earthquake hit.
For Sernack, the images contained within the book were captured with no knowledge of the impending devastation, and it was only afterwards that he he chose to see if the images might be useful to the people of Nepal.
“I was in India shooting for my partner’s travel business and we did a side trip to Nepal. I had never been there before and as it happened there was the celebration of the New Year. That was unexpected. We broke away from the group that we were there with and I tried to capture the celebrations and the people.
“When I got home, I realised I had a collection of images of Nepali people and historic places that were devastated exactly one week later,” said Sernack. “They reflected not just the culture of the place but a happy, joyous time in a country that has had more than its share of difficulties. I wanted to see if these photographs could be used to help. I talked with friends and that led me to the Australian Himalayan Foundation and putting together the book.”
“I found the Nepalese people really open, friendly and generous in that personal sense,” he told Wild in interview. “It was also very clear that Nepal had suffered over a long period. Tyranny, exploitation, religious persecution and civil war. The everyday people have borne the brunt of corruption and a poor economy. Yet they are hardy, hard working and can smile and share what they have.”
Despite feeling the effects of the earthquake from 700 kilometres away after returning to India, Sernack says the greatest impact the event had was when he “saw the images in the papers and on TV”.
“We recognised the same spots in Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. They were now just rubble. The immediate thought was, ‘How many of those people that I’d I photographed, talked to or exchanged a smile with, were now lost, hurt or homeless?'”
Purely a humanitarian publication, all proceeds from sales of One Week Before (AHF, $50) will be put towards the Australian Himalayan Foundation’s Nepal Earthquake Recovery Appeal.
Founded in 1992 by a handful of Australians who wished to make a positive contribution to the people of Nepal, Bhutan and the Indian Himalaya regions, the original members include Greg Mortimer (OAM), Simon Balderstone (AM), Christine Gee (AM) and Gary Weare. In 2010, Andrew Lock (OAM) joined the AHF as an ambassador and, when the earthquake hit, he immediately left his home in Australia to lend his assistance.
“Together with another volunteer, I spent a month in really remote parts of the country distributing emergency clothing, shelter and supplies, and evacuating victims as needed,” Lock said. “We also reported back on the damage and destruction, specifically with regard to the schools in the villages. It soon became apparent that the construction techniques used in those schools rendered them highly unstable and susceptible to earthquake damage.
“The second earthquake, which we experienced while we were there, caused even greater damage to the AHF’s area of operation in Nepal, as the epicentre was much closer to the Solu Khumbu region.”
A year on, Lock is continuing to find ways to generate interest in supporting the people of Nepal, and is currently helping get the word out regarding Sernack’s book.
“Once the emergency response phase of the disaster had passed, the AHF instigated a program of constructing temporary learning centres, in order to maintain the kid’s education and to try to reintroduce a degree of normality to traumatised children’s lives. Simultaneously, the AHF engaged two Australian companies with expertise in architectural design and engineering to design and commence construction of cost-effective, earthquake-resistant classrooms that would replace the temporary learning centres and provide ongoing, positive learning environments for the foreseeable future.
“All of that costs money and while the Australian public were exceedingly generous at the time of the earthquake, the ongoing funding needs for the school reconstruction project will be significant, which is where this book becomes so critical to the campaign,” Lock explained.
One Week Before includes a foreword by the son of Sir Edmund Hillary, Peter Hillary, a brief, contemporary history of Nepal provided by author and adventurer, Judy Tenzin, as well as an account of the events immediately after the earthquake as experienced by Andrew Lock. All production and printing costs are donated so as to maximise the value of donations to the AHF’s projects in the region.