I am working on a film project in Jumla, Nepal. You can follow progress of the project on
Shakti Pictures blog. We started shooting in November 2011 and returned to Jumla for the second shoot in March 2012. And two further two shoots in 2013. We are now in post-production.

Continuing to work on the project, I now divide my time between Nepal, the UK & the US... and anywhere else I can find an excuse to go in the interim. This blog is a place for some stories of my adventures along the way.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Post quake: so, what now?

Time has passed and the earthquake is old news - except here where the new challenges on the horizon for the thousands of displaced are dealing with the impending monsoon.

After being away for two weeks, and continuing to receive donations while I was gone, the first order of the day up my return was to assess and establish where we (my little band of spontaneous relief workers) were with the various projects. I feel a massive responsibility to those who have entrusted me with their money to make sure it goes to valid and valuable efforts, however small they might be in the grand scheme of things.

We gathered for a meeting around my kitchen table to discuss what had been going on in my absence and what the plan going forward should be. A sizeable sum had come through while I was gone from a few different sources, so we again have money to put to good use.

We have now raised over $56,000.

You can look at previous posts to see how we initially distributed funds that were being sent to us. There were various missions to some of the worst hit districts, usually people we knew going to their villages with support for their own communities.

To Da Loo and Helter Shelter are projects that started during the aftermath of the quake. There was a huge need for immediate toilets in areas where makeshift refugee camps had sprung up - to stave of the risk of disease due to lack of sanitation. And so groups of volunteers (in the early days there were close to 100) set about digging holes around the valley for people to shit in - and To Da Loo was born.

Helter Shelter was initially just a joke name since we decided to channel resources that were being directed our way into simply buying and distributing tarps to those in need. It seemed like a simple way of helping without doing work that conflicted with anyone else's projects.

All of this is in conjunction with Prakriti Ko Ghar (PKG) an NGO here in Kathmandu run by Kishor that works towards sustainable living and building. Their ongoing project is an orphanage and library (still under construction) that is currently being used to house people displaced from the earthquake. Both To Da Loo and Helter Shelter are now being run under the umbrella of PKG.


To Da Loo lives on. We have designed long lasting steel plates to use for the toilets. Support for the project has been tremendous and production is now underway for 100 steel toilet plates. Another 100 will be ordered after this batch has been approved and utilised. The vision is to continue building toilets post emergency, in rural areas in need, in a longer term sustainable way.

Helter Shelter has a remaining batch of tarps (500) that were ordered by some monks who then pulled out without paying! So we are subsidizing the price of them and offering them for sale at Rs 900 (original cost is Rs 1500). Please check the fb page for contact details if you need tarps.

Meanwhile, we are also looking into different shelter building options - short and long term. We are very excited about earthbag technology, a relatively new and innovative way of building structures using local materials, that are durable through earthquakes. However, these need more time to build than is available before monsoon, so plans are underway for longer term projects using that technology later in the year. In the interim, shorter term structures built using bamboo and local materials along with corrugated galvanised iron (GI) sheets for roofs are being built. These sheets can then be used down the line for more permanent structures. These buildings only need a few days to be built so will house people through monsoon.

Most of these building projects area actually being executed by various independent groups or organisations who have their own specific goals. Helter Shelter's role has become one of connecting people, resources, materials and technology to aid people's efforts.

Bode Resettlement Camp is currently the home of more than 1000 people from the district of Sindhupalchok. Look at the previous blog post below to find out more.


And that is it for now. Monsoon is on our tails and everyone is doing what they can to prepare.

The need is so great it is almost incomprehensible. The government is going around camps and the worst hit areas doing assessments - how badly in need are people? Red, yellow or green. And giving out cash to help in the rebuilding process. But it isn't enough - I know one person who was given Rs 15000 (about $150) to rebuild his house.

Big aid agencies like Red Cross and Unicef have their work cut out for them as they undertake big rebuilding and regeneration projects. And the smaller organisation or groups of individuals that have banded together (ourselves included) continue with their more personal projects to help and prepare for the coming months.

That all said, there is a feeling of hope amongst the desperation of the situation here. This is a resilient nation and as the slogans say - Nepal will rise.

Bode Resettlement Camp

It was heart-wrenching and heart-warming all at the same time to go to the camp at Bode to see for myself what my team had been up to and what the situation was like there .

The camp houses 1104 displaced people from Sindhupalchok - a district north east of Kathmandu bordering China and one of the worst hit in the quakes. These people have all lost their homes and the area is under serious threat from landslides when the monsoon comes. So it is not safe for people to stay there.

Kishor had some contacts in Sindhupalchok in the Bhairabkunda Youth Club and Chamber of Commerce. They contacted him for help explaining there were 1500 people who needed shelter. The Youth Club found the land near Bhaktapur and transportation was organised to get them all to the site. The China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation donated 100 large tents and so sprung up the Bode Resettlement Camp. Various other friends and organisations have helped in setting up the camp. Helping Hands donated materials for the kitchens and our teams built. Bring Thoughts to Action donated galvanized sheets for the roofs of the classrooms and a member on the board of PKG donated money for bamboo.

at the entrance a small boy opens the gate for someone coming in...

This tent houses three families, a total of 11 people. What struck me was how, even in cramped conditions, these people were smiling and relaxing.

It is a classic example of the Nepali spirit - in spite of hardships and setbacks, at the very least, they are still smiling.

Some people have used tarps to add shady porches to the outsides of their tents.

I was surprised to learn there is electricity and each tent is wired with an LED light so people aren't sitting around in the dark after sunset.

There are 16 community kitchens scattered around the site - some more kitted out than others.

People store their food in their tents and take it to the kitchens to prepare their meals on the stoves provided.

One tent is currently being used as a classroom while the classrooms are still under construction.

Of the 368 children, 190 of the older kids go to the local government school. Classrooms are being for the young kids.

(In fact, since I was there a few days ago, some of the classrooms have been built - pics up on the fb page ).

Young volunteers from the community who are living there are helping to run the site.

In the office, where they have wifi and power so people can come and charge their phones, they are also monitoring different areas on the security cameras! Also provided by the Chinese organisation, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.

It was quite moving to see the camp up close and get a sense of what life is like for the people there. Of the initial 1500 who arrived the first day, some moved on, finding friends or relatives or other situations. But the people left will be there for the monsoon and months beyond, until they are able to go home and start rebuilding their lives.

This camp is a better situation than many other locations housing the displaced in and around the Kathmandu valley. These people are fortunate because their are facilities available. They have toilets (more being built by To Da Loo), they have water (more tanks are being set up also), they even have electricity. There will be a school and library for the children. It's a safe environment on the edge of a very picturesque forest. The location itself is quite attractive.

Walking around, taking pictures and smiling at the residents really brought home to me how desperate the situation is here in Nepal in the post-quake aftermath. This situation is 'good', yet tents are still full with 10-12 people (2-3 families) all sharing a space.

The people here are smiling and clearly resigned to this being their home for the coming months but they are still refugees, living in temporary conditions. 

And these are the 'lucky' ones. They are alive and they have shelter for the coming monsoon. Going there and seeing it, really puts in perspective the magnitude of the situation. Especially for those who aren't so lucky.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Subject: rebuilding Nepal


    Subject:     rebuilding Nepal
    Date:     20 May 2015 10:03:02 GMT+05:45


My global community has been commending me and my renegade team for the work we are doing, but to be honest, pretty much everyone I know here in Nepal is doing everything they can to help bring relief to those in need - from small NGOs to independent groups of people. There are so many missions and projects being born out of this disaster. In the face of such devastation, people are doing what they can. And no matter how big or small the endeavour, every effort does make a difference to the people it reaches.

For me, for us, my amazing and motley group of friends that have come together and inadvertently become this renegade team, things are still developing. Initially the funds we raised were used to support various missions to different VDCs to distribute supplies to those in dire need. After the initial burst of supporting these short term solutions, we focused our efforts on the shelter and sanitation needs that were ongoing:

Between us, we've now raised over $40,ooo - although the flurry of small donations has subsided, there are many people - friends, friends of friends, or even random connections who have been told that their donations are well directed to us - who are raising money in their communities, holding events and coming up with larger amounts to send to us towards our ongoing efforts.
We've distributed 3500 tarps to give shelter to thousands of people.
We have built close to 150 toilets across the valley.

what now?

Our two projects Helter Shelter and To Da Loo are evolving as the need is shifting.

Helter Shelter
We are moving into an exciting new stage of our shelter project. We've distributed over 3500 tarps for immediate and temporary shelter throughout the crucial crisis time.- either directly donating to people, subsidizing and passing them on for less than cost or simply distributing to people who have the funds but were struggling to find supplies.
Now we are moving into more sustainable shelter ideas and our research, budgeting and planning are coming to fruition. We are collaborating with a number of people to build affordable, sustainable, and earthquake resistant structures using the earthbag technique. We are going to build our first prototype house in the coming weeks. There is a big group forming of people interested in this innovative technology and everyone is coming together to work more efficiently and collaboratively.

To Da Loo
With so many people displaced after the quakes here in Nepal, people are sleeping in makeshift camps across the valley and throughout the affected districts. Access to sanitary toilets was a top priority to stave off the risk of disease. Our teams have built close to 150 toilets so far and although the number of volunteers has dwindled as people have gone or need to return to their lives, we still have a number of teams working who continue to go out into communities to build toilets, getting the local people to help. As we start our longer term shelter building projects, To Da Loo will work in conjunction, building toilets alongside houses.

Both schemes have proved very popular with the people we are serving and our donors as they are simple and effective. We are working in conjunction with more and more people as we pool resources and ideas about how to start rebuilding Nepal for the future. The devastation of so many rural areas is heartbreaking. Stories of whole villages in ruins are too many to even comprehend. The magnitude of the work ahead is staggering. What is heartening is the amount of people diligently working to rebuild their country. We are simply a small part of that movement and the donations we are receiving will go to exactly that.

Thank you once again to all who have supported our efforts. Your donations are not going to me or Michael or Kishor - they are going to Nepal.



PayPal: mirandamortonyap@gmail.com
UK & US residents can donate directly to UK or US accounts - email mirandamortonyap@gmail.com for deets
(donations sent to either account are currently not incurring transaction fees)
DK residents can donate directly to this bank account: 5033-7704121

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Kathmandu Calling...



On 5 May 2015, at 09:40, ~ miranda ~ wrote:

greetings friends,

finally dusting off the old mailing list... been a long time and i've been meaning to write and update the blogs but didn't feel i had much to write about... until now.

as many of you will already know through facebook, a motley group of my renegade friends and i have been doing guerilla relief work here in Nepal in the wake of last week's quake. the response from our friends and connections around the world has been tremendous and almost overwhelming - now combining forces, we have raised nearly Rs 30 lakh (around $30,000). SO FAR...

initially, we gave out our personal details for donations because we hadn't discerned where the best place was to send money getting it into the hands of people locally. we had friends with very real, immediate plights and we were able to help them spring into action rather than waiting for aid to trickle to them. and it has just grown from there.


Nepal is no longer headline news. the world has moved on and the donations have slowed down. but there is still just as much need.

plan going forward

we have two projects that are simple and effective, less prone to logistical complications and less in conflict with other aid initiatives.

To Da Loo
our toilet empire is taking volunteers and going out to locations around the KTM valley where people are displaced, living in shelters and have no access to toilet facilities. we are building pit latrines and we have so far built 43 toilet in 5 communities (Sankhu, Bhaktapur, Godavari, Battedanda & Khokana (Lalitpur). this is going to be an ongoing and expanding venture as we train more people on how to build these simple toilets to help stave off the risk of disease spreading from lack of sanitation. we are now coordinating with the local Red Cross who are putting up shelters for people, so we can build the toilets at the same locations.

Helter Shelter
there is a massive need for tents across the country (300,000). we had 350 shelters made to send to Sindapalchowk and Nuwakot and are now getting constant requests for more tents. Helter Shelter is simply a distribution idea. we are taking orders from people who need tents, regardless of how much money they have, and we are facilitating the manufacturing or shipping of them. we are able to buy a surplus ourselves so we can supply those who need them no matter if they can pay or not. this project is still in its early formation but even though there is now an influx of tents through aid agencies arriving in the country, there is still a huge unmet need on the ground. in the scale of big aid organistaions, our numbers don't even touch the sides but for the families we are able to provide shelter, we are making a world of difference.

brief summary of where the money has gone so far:

$3000 to Thuman village in Langtang where helicopters have now successfully delivered the supplies we paid for
$2400 to Gorkha (Ghampesal, Nareswor, Deurell & Nayasagu), tarps, food & cooking utensils, medical supplies
$4200 spent on manufacturing 350 tents distributed in Sindalpalchowk and Nuwakot
$3500 to Sindapalchowk at 2 locations (Sipaghat & Kunchowk) paying for the transportation (5-6 hrs), food, medical supplies
$1000 to Seven Women, a local NGO taking supplies to Gorkha and Nuwakot
$460 towards a team going to Nuwakot - contributing towards supplies
$800 to Dahachok for food and shelter for 280 people in a village where 95 houses are collapsed
and nearly $2k towards our toilet empire, now named To Da Loo (see below for more details)

we are continuing to help friends who are working tirelessly to bring aid to their homes and familes. the devastation from this quake is mind-boggling.
and the road to recovery, rebuilding the country, is going to be a long journey.

please feel free to get in touch if you want to help or have any questions.

blog updates coming soon too as i do have news about the film also!


miranda x

PayPal: mirandamortonyap@gmail.com
UK & US residents, you can donate directly to UK or US accounts - email mirandamortonyap@gmail.com for deets
(donations sent to either account area currently not incurring transaction fees)
DK residents, you can donate directly to this bank account: 5033-7704121

Monday, June 16, 2014

Once around again - a pictorial summary of six months



It is in the autumn that the full glory of the Annapurna mountain range can be seen from Pokhara.



Swayambhu from afar


Corona del Mar

Big Sur



Point Reyes
Oakland sunset

Bay Bridge light show - San Francisco


Newport Beach - Balboa Pier

Hummingbird babies nesting in Mum's garden

MARCH 2014

New York City

Silhouette of new world trade building
 APRIL 2014

Newark Airport

flight back to Asia


my owls (mero ouluharu) - who live outside my bedroom window each spring

Swayambhu from closer

hazy Kathmandu

another petrol shortage

Bhakatpur for Nepali new year - 2070

MAY 2014


morning walk view
my bhadaini, Savyata marriage to Harish

accident on the road between Pokhara and KTM

 JUNE 2014

Boudha on a rainy day

typical KTM traffic clusterf**k

In the air

English summer sky

the Pergola, Hampstead

swans at the bird sanctuary, Hampstead Heath

summer days on the bank, Hampstead Heath

back on the bus

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What's Going On : Last Few Months in Nepal

Bishnu Lodge, Khahare, Pokhara

My time in Nepal this year is drawing rapidly to a close. The months so easily slip by and now I find myself looking back on what I have achieved as well as what has been going on around me.


August saw me privileged to explore Upper Mustang with my intrepid shooting partner Sophie - an exciting project she is working on for her company, Horsefly Films' Rare Equine Trust series. What a stunning place to have the opportunity to explore a little, and fascinating to see the horse culture there, that Soph's project is examining. That adventure, not least all the journeys involved in it, was an exacting, high-altitude and often bumpy challenge, from not long after we set off from Pokhara, until the moment we returned.

Mustang was closely followed by our return to Jumla for the final shoot of our documentary project. By now, so familiar to us, we slipped right back into village life, settled into our rooms, and faced the inevitable challenges that came up (power, transport) without batting an eyelid. Shooting itself, with our team, has become like spinning a well oiled wheel. We bounce around the village, up the mountain, knowing exactly what we need and how to do it. We shot the magnificent change in scenery, the lush and green post-monsoon Jumla - a stark contrast to the winter landscape; we shot the apple harvest and apples, apples, apples everywhere; we shot the colouful women's festival Teej - a fitting closing ceremony for our two years. It was a poignant moment when we shot the last shot, and called it a wrap on Sophie and Soraj's last day in Jumla. It was a relief at the same time as a fearful moment. Once again shifting into new territory: post-production, just when we had gotten the production thing down to a tee!

Nisha and I returned to Kathmandu a week after Sophie and Soraj had left Jumla. This autumn I made the decision to relocate for the season, to where it all began, my home in Khahare (north Lakeside) at Bishnu Lodge with my family here. After losing a few weeks to life, a cold, the edge of a typhoon and general acclimatisation in KTM, I gathered the belongings I wanted or needed around me and moved back to Pokhara. 

It is from my room downstairs, adjacent to my family's living quarters, that I have set up my life and routine for these past months. It is a nice, relaxed location with the lake a stone's throw away. I have been working on the footage, developing the story, studying Nepali and also doing some work for Empowering Women of Nepal (without whom I would never have gone to Jumla in the first place and none of this would have even begun). 

It is from here that I have observed history in the making. And tried to make sense of it.

PART II - NEPAL : Reflections on the Election

I have a limited understanding of the political situation in Nepal in spite of having been affected by it on a regular basis for the last three years. What I do know, is on the 19th November 2013 (or Mangshir 4, 2070 - Nepali calendar) Nepal held its second election for its Constituent Assembly (CA) since the end of the insurgency. The first was in 2008. For five years the multi-party coalition shambles that had been voted in, attempted to draw up the Constitution.

I have mentioned before, the bandh's or strikes, that so often cripple the daily workings of the nation. Any party, union, group, organisation, or so it seems, that has a cause/complaint/issue can call a 'strike' locally or nationally. This does not mean that the people calling the strike are striking from their jobs as we think of it. It means that EVERYONE is supposed to stop whatever it is they do. Transport is banned, shops, businesses, schools are closed. Depending on their cause, region and support, dictates how seriously the strike is adhered to. But essentially it is the threat of potential violence that stops people from spurning the bandh.

In the last five years, there have been multiple 'deadlines' for the Constitution. As a deadline approaches different political, social, ethnic groups have bombarded the country with a frenzy of bandhs. It is a means of making your 'point' known, wanting their issue to be in consideration. Due to the fact that there are so many different parties within the government itself, the process of creating the aforementioned document is seemingly endless. At each deadline, when it had not been completed, another deadline was set, until eventually, after five years, someone said 'enough' and the government was dissolved! Throughout this time, the country has continued to live in political upheaval with the prime ministers changing almost as often as the seasons it seems.

All year, there has been speculation from an understandably sceptical population as to whether this election would actually happen. And this is where I really do start to get confused. There are multiple parties, the three primary being Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-M (Maoist). There is also a faction that splintered off from the UCPN-M, the CPN-Maoists. They, along with the so-called '30 party alliance' were opposing the election on grounds that it was not legitimate due to the lack of proper process or something. This is where it gets hazy for me.

Either way, the anti-poll campaign called a bandh in the 10 days leading up to the election. This was strategically only a transport strike which meant businesses and shops could stay open, and goods were still being delivered. But all public and private transportation was halted. This meant that the thousands of people who needed to travel back to their districts to vote, could not travel. In Nepal, you cannot absentee vote. I thought it ridiculous that everyone had to go home, often to far and difficult to get to mountain villages to vote, but I found out later that Nepalis can transfer their registered location. This however, is a whole process of getting a migration notice from your home district to transfer to your current residence. And it seems that most people, unsurprisingly, haven't done this.

What resulted during the fraught days leading up to the election, was a combination of things. Young people in Kathmandu took to the streets to protest the anti-vote campaign saying they had a right to vote. But in some regions, there was support for the shutdown, vehicles where torched, bombs were found in places. There was a general fear at not knowing what this slightly more renegade political group might do. Negotiations floundered.  The 33 party alliance slowly diminished in size and reduced, I was told to 13 parties. Everyone was confused. Would there be an election? Would there be bombs on polling day? Would it be fair considering how many people weren't going to be able to vote? And would the results be accepted by everyone?

The election day arrived, and it is customary that there is a bandh on that day too. People have to walk to their local polling station - apparently this is to avoid people trying to cheat and vote in multiple locations. When you vote in Nepal, you get a black streak made across your thumb, but I am told there are techniques of getting rid of it.

My family set off early in the morning in the hope of avoiding the crowds, but they had still had to wait hours to vote.  I heard somewhere, there was a 70% turnout. I'm not quite sure how accurate that is considering how many people don't live in their home districts and how many would have been prevented from returning to their home districts to vote due to the bandh. Nonetheless, there was a discernible air of excitement and trepidation as the day unfolded.

The days following the election were all about the numbers coming in. Televisions around the place had the 'First Past the Post' (FPTP) figures as different districts results came through. And now the dust has settled with Nepali Congress and UML coming in first and second and the Maoists significantly trailing in third. They are saying that this was likely caused by their party split, which I'm sure had a bearing. But nonetheless, it seems people were quite surprised at how much the Maoists (UCPN-M) popularity has waned. In 2008 they won the majority of seats.

In the week following the election while the votes were still being counted, the Maoists claimed voter fraud and said they wouldn't join the CA until an independent probe had been done. I think negotiations have simmered that... although it is hard to keep up.

I guess years of upheaval and a growing perception that no matter what party people are from, the whole government system and process is massively flawed has left many people in Nepal disillusioned and disinterested in the political situation. There is also, unsurprisingly, no trust in officials as corruption is rife. Some young people told me they didn't 'like' politics as their reason not to vote.

So what now? The new CA is potentially meeting in December, and with the two major parties having the most control, people are hoping that they will finally be able to draw up the long-awaited constitution. We'll have to wait and see if this election was the first step towards a new future for Nepal or if it was just a continuation of the tribulations this country faces.

Almost two weeks after polling day, you can still see traces of the mark of someone who voted. It is as though these people are symbolically marked by their participation in this historic election. The club of people whose voice was heard.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mustang : Journey to Lo Manthang in pictures

Here is a selection of photos of Mustang - mostly taken from a moving vehicle - as we travelled up past Kagbeni to Lo Manthang in early August 2013.

The diversity of the scenery was remarkable... coming up and over a ridge to find a different, yet equally dramatic landscape. The bare, starkness of the terrain invokes respect for those who exist there. I can only imagine how bleak the winters must be.

There is a magic to Upper Mustang that is almost indescribable. An element of other-worldliness steeped in ancient traditions. It was surreal and mystical and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this stunning part of Nepal.