Sherab Gyaltsen: At the Forefront of Earthquake Relief 

By CHANG CHUAN   2016-11-25 11:38:22

By CHANG CHUAN

After the earthquake, Sherab (right) asks villagers about their living conditions in the temporary settlement. Eight-month-old Sangye Tsering and her aunt at the relocation site. WE first met Sherab Gyaltsen, director of the Xuebugang Neighborhood Committee of Zham Town in Nyalam County, in Zham Community in Xigaze, Tibet. At that time, the township leading group was about to complete its term of office. Sherab and the village committee members were hence carrying out statistical work on voter information.

Zham Community formerly housed staff of the Xigaze Municipal Party Committee, but after the earthquake in Nepal last year, the committee decided it should be used to re-house those affected by the quake. Now, more than 300 families from Xuebugang live in the spacious and secure houses in Zham Community.

On April 25, 2015, a massive, 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, affecting 19 counties and districts in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Neighboring Nepal, Nyalam County and Gyirong County were the hardest hit areas. Despite bearing the loss of four family members, Sherab organized the work to transfer and re-house the victims.

Father Will Never Give up on You

Recalling the disaster, Sherab’s speech slowed and his brows furrowed.

A few days before the earthquake, a storm had blown down a big tree that blocked the way to a pasture. At noon on April 25, after a meeting with the neighborhood committee, Sherab decided to go to the pasture to check out the situation in spite of the rain. 

Upon leaving home, the ground started to shake and rumble, and the massif near the village collapsed instantly. The rolling rocks and breaking trees churned up soil and dust. Narrowly missing falling debris, Sherab stumbled back to his home only to find that a huge rock had smashed the roof and crashed into the office building of the neighborhood committee on the other side of the road.

His wife, granddaughter, grandson, and their nanny had been killed by the impact. He heard his daughter, Tsering Chozin, crying for help.

“Don’t be afraid, dad’s here,” Sherab shouted, desperately digging away at the rubble to save his daughter. But as soon as he had cleared away the rocks, more would tumble down in their place. His house was buried by falling rocks.

His daughter had suffered multiple fractures in her legs and had no feeling in her lower body.

Eventually, Sherab dug his daughter free, hoisted her onto his back, and ran downhill to the border checkpoint, where there were already more than 200 people. All around he could see the faces of traumatized victims and the cracked and tumbledown buildings where his home once stood. Sherab proposed to Nyima Dhondup, Party secretary of Xuebugang neighborhood committee, the transfer of all the victims to Lixin Village, which was much safer.   

Shared Loss

“The doctor will take care of you here. I need to take the others to Lixin Village,” Sherab told his daughter as she slipped in and out of consciousness. Then he beckoned everyone to follow him. After more than three hours of walking, over 270 locals arrived in Lixin Village. All the houses in Xuebugang had collapsed and were razed to the ground. And Sherab had left behind his severely injured daughter and departed relatives amongst the ruins.

The time from April 25 to 29 might well have been the longest four days in the lives of thousands of people in Zham Town. Hideous megaliths on the cliff could engulf everything at any time, and the next aftershock could send precarious structures crashing down in an instant.

Despite deep sorrow at losing his loved ones, Sherab carried out the rescue work in minimal time, kept the survivors calm, carried goods and materials to and fro, and arranged accommodation for those in need.

Because of its position on the mountain, Zham Town was no longer a safe place to live after the earthquake. A decision was made to evacuate everyone at once. Sherab and other CPC members called on every household to pack up and get ready to leave.

Several old people in the pasture were reluctant to leave, but Sherab knew the dangers of staying there so he and Nyima went to the pasture to appeal to the residents there to go downhill as soon as possible.

“Sherab is a capable person and he was the first CPC member in our village. The locals hold him in high esteem so villagers generally comply with what he says,” said Nyima.

At 9 pm on April 29, the last group of people left the town. It was only then that Sherab noticed that his clothes and shoes were worn out and that he hadn’t even brought one thing with him from his home.

“As the head of our neighborhood committee, I could not think of only my family and ignore the safety of other people,” Sherab said.

Seek Help

Sherab made sure he was available for people who needed him at the relocation sites in Lhaze County, patrolling the tents equipped with a walkie-talkie.

“In Lhaze, Sherab was very active in solving our problems. He comforted us and asked householders to look out for us,” said one villager, Dawa, who regardeds Sherab as a good director who always has people’s interests at heart. 

When Dawa wanted to build a house, it was Sherab who negotiated with the town government and helped him clear away hill stones behind his old house to make way for the new one. When villager Sangnu was seriously ill, it was Sherab and other cadres who raised funds for her medical treatment in Lhasa. It was also Sherab who helped a young couple find a place to hold their wedding ceremony.

One week after the earthquake, Sherab finally had time to visit his daughter in Xigaze. She had just had an operation. “Where is my mom? Where are my children?” she asked in tears. Sherab could say nothing but bow his head silently in tears.

Sherab was a victim of the earthquake, but he is also a CPC member. “This is the choice of a Party member,” he said.

“Now, people are living in new settlement buildings and finding jobs. Since most of them were tradesmen, the local government set up stalls for them in the market, and everyone receives a RMB 15 subsidy each day and a total allowance of RMB 5,000 each year,” said Sherab.

Those affected by the quake have resumed their daily life. Sherab continues his efforts to seek benefits and strive for development opportunities for local people. 

CHANG CHUAN is a reporter at Tibet Daily.

Donations of TVs and satellite dishes were made to quake victims in efforts to ease their plight. Penpa Tsering is shown above with the TV he has just received. devotion

Those affected by the quake have resumed their daily life. Sherab continues his efforts to seek benefits and strive for development opportunities for local people.

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