May 7, 2015 5:13 AM

Portuguese travelers turn into aid agency after Nepal quake

The Associated Press

ICHANGU NARAYAN, Nepal (AP) They arrived in Nepal as backpackers a day before a deadly earthquake that flattened large swaths of this impoverished Himalayan nation. In the days since the disaster, they've transformed themselves into a two-man amateur aid agency.

Using funds pledged through a Facebook appeal, Pedro Queiros and Lourenco Macedo Santos are taking food and bedding to needy Nepalis made homeless by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck outside Kathmandu shortly before noon on Apr. 25.

In a country where dozens of the world's biggest aid agencies are now active, the two Portuguese men, both in their mid-30s, say their work shows there is room for ordinary people to make a difference. So far they estimate they've helped around 15,000 people.

Earlier this week, they arrived at the devastated village of Ichangu Narayan near Kathmandu, where anxious residents lined up to receive supply bundles, including rice, oil and other staples, designed to feed a family for about 15 days.

Amid the wrecked buildings of the tiny farming village, the atmosphere was almost festive as sacks of food were distributed to representatives of the village's 130 families.

"These people are grateful to you all. Thank you," headman N.K. Prasai told the two men.

They started small until Queiros posted an appeal and his bank details on his Facebook page. Since then, thousands of euros (dollars) have poured in from ordinary Portuguese moved by the suffering of tens of thousands of Nepalis.

The money helped them to move beyond scraping together a little rice and bananas for a few individuals. Now they're closer to a small grassroots organization, hiring taxis to cart sacks of food to some of the worst-hit villages.

They estimate they've spent around 10,000 euros ($11,360) on supplies so far.

When the earth first shook, their impulse was to leave Nepal but they couldn't get on a plane. And they saw snaking lines of people lining up for food.

"We made a difference," said Santos. "We couldn't turn our backs to the people because we could do something for them. We had the money. We had two arms and one brain so we choose to stay."

The men are aware that some may think they are hucksters, using a tragedy to make money. They say they are keeping all the receipts of the money they've spent.

"If there's any kind of suspicion about the money, I can guarantee you that nothing is going to happen," said Queiros. "We're going to make detailed reports about what we collect, about want we spend and we are doing that on a daily basis".

"We are ambassadors for Portugal," Queiros added. "We're going to make them proud."

They have been helped in their work by one of Nepal's most prominent businesswomen, Ambica Shrestha. From a backpacker hostel they were staying in before the quake, the two men got invited to stay for free at a high-end hotel owned by Shrestha. She has enlisted a group of other businesswomen to help pack the supplies the men are purchasing and distributing.

"They are crazy. Can I tell you something? They buy things themselves," said architect Neelima Basnet, who also has been helping them. "They buy, they carry. They come here, they do everything."

On Tuesday, the people of Ichangu Narayan were only the first quake-hit community the two Portuguese helped. After their truck pulled out, they went to two more villages, working late into the night.



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