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Rebuilding Nepal From Near and Afar

Posted on: May 15, 2015


Destruction in Nepal after the April 25 earthquake. [Photo] Sumit Joshi

[In the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake disaster, writer Pema Sherpa reports on the efforts of local Nepalis and the Nepali diaspora to provide aid to mountain villages.—Ed.]

It is an old story, one that has been repeated time and time again all over the world. In the face of systemic corruption and a general lack of educational and economic opportunities, young, bright and capable people leave their homeland in pursuit of a better life in developed nations. So has been the case for an entire generation of young Nepali people. They have migrated to the United States, Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea and other countries, enrolled in colleges and worked to send money back to their families and communities. Many have settled down in these places, started businesses, established careers for themselves, and stayed connected with each other and Nepal through social media. They are now using their networks and entrepreneurial spirit to help Nepal cope in the aftermath of the April 25 disaster. They are rallying to provide urgent aid to friends and family members living in Nepal who have been affected by the catastrophic earthquakes that have devastated communities and shattered lives.

As a Nepali who has settled in Bend, Oregon, I have been personally impacted as well. On the evening of April 27, I came across a Facebook post from a Sherpa friend in the UK stating that my cousin's grandpa in Helambu, Nepal, was injured in the earthquake, along with three other elderly neighbors. He was in desperate need of a rescue. Panicked, I immediately informed my cousin, who had just returned to visit family in Kathmandu after working in Korea for the last three years. He and his family in Kathmandu had no idea of their grandpa's situation. From a phone conversation with another cousin from Helambu, I learned that when the villagers begged local authorities for a helicopter to rescue the injured, the authorities told them to contact government officers and to have $1,500 ready to pay for a helicopter fee. For poor people whose existence had just been upended by the disaster, the officials might as well have demanded a solid gold brick. Bribes for services are commonplace in Nepal. Transparency International ranks Nepal 29th out of 100 on a corruption index scale in which zero is the worst. Fortunately for the four elders, an American friend who is part of a world disaster relief team in Nepal was able to respond to the remote village without having to pay a fee or bribe.

Meanwhile, Tashi Sherpa, owner of Sherpa Adventure Gear, was in Kathmandu at the time of the quake. He and his team started to sew tents and blankets to aid the other survivors. According to Tashi:

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"....being busy and involving oneself in work and helping others is going to be very therapeutic for our people. The need of the hour is still tents, blankets and food. Since yesterday, with a thin very skeletal crew (since almost all have gone back to their villages) the studio Sherpa team in Nepal has started making as many tents and blankets as we can and as fast as we can. These will go to all over the country once we are done."

Sherpa Gear launched a fundraising campaign on the website crowdrise.com. The company's initial goal was to raise $75,000, which they surpassed on May 15 by raising a total of $120,118. Currently they are pursuing the goal of raising $150,000 for the relief effort.

Our twenty-four-year-old cousin Nima Gelbu Sherpa and couple of his friends just started a soap charity that is using Facebook to reach a mass audience; they are collecting soap donations in Thamel (a tourist quarter of Kathmandu serving trekkers) to help prevent the spread of diseases during the upcoming monsoon season. Along with their soap distribution effort, they are educating the people on the importance of hygiene after such a disaster. With the monsoon and hot weather arriving soon, infectious diseases, such as cholera and dysentery, could wreak havoc, especially in the areas where clean water and sanitation are virtually nonexistent. Nima Gelbu Sherpa, a young, smart and helpful kid, connected with villagers to find efficient ways to get the donated items to earthquake victims while circumventing government posts and officials where bribes might be needed, a sort of "thief's trail" for assisting people in Nepal.

The Northwest Sherpa Association based in Washington State, is currently working to raise funds to provide immediate relief to earthquake survivors and making plans to help rebuild Nepal. This impressive group of Sherpas includes climbers who have spent their careers scaling the highest peaks in the world, as well as outdoor gear manufacturers, trekking company owners, nannies and landscapers all committed to putting their kids through college in the US. Now the skilled leaders and their talented children with degrees in engineering, public health and business are hoping to partner with Architects Without Borders and other organizations to help Nepal rebuild. Northwest Sherpa Association is also using Twitter and Facebook to reach larger audiences to gather donations to help victims of the earthquake.

[Photo] Sumit Joshi

Unfortunately, many Nepalis have little faith in their government. There was no substantive action from Nepal's leaders for days after the earthquake. This lag resulted in deep frustration and anger among numerous Nepali people. Furthermore, the government decided that all the relief funds must be routed through the "Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Fund," unless the recipient agency in Nepal was already a registered NGO prior to the earthquake. The government states that their new measure is to "keep track of donations and to prevent misuse." But some citizens suspect the motivation is otherwise. A YouTube video circulating on Facebook appeared to show a Nepali man fighting to get officials to give a tent donated by the Red Cross to the victim instead of letting the officials or their relatives keep the tent in their backyard next to their car in case they might need it in the future (The video has since been taken down.)

Nepalis in the earthquake-affected areas need help immediately, both local residents and Nepalis all over the world are working hard to get aid to them. We are also very fortunate to get assistance from many foreign countries, and we appreciate the teams of Nepalis and foreigners working tirelessly to rescue survivors trapped in the wreckage. This is the most difficult time that Nepal has faced in our generation. Unfortunately, the government restrictions imposed at the custom gates, and those mandated on relief funds coming into the country, highlight the bureaucratic challenges confronting the average citizen and organizations who would like to assist in relief and reconstruction effort. And at regional levels, the influence of politics on the distribution of assistance has occasionally taken ugly turns. The Kathmandu Post has reported that some local leaders and politicians have tried to direct funds intended for other areas to their own constituencies, regardless of where assistance is most needed.

Nepalis are sensible people, and we understand that this is a massive natural disaster that no one could have been fully prepared for and we are not blaming the Nepali government for all its shortcomings. However, at this juncture, the best that the Nepali government could do to help building the nation is to allow NGOs to get in and do the work of disaster relief in which they specialize. We would also like to request the politicians to aside politics for a while, and not get in the way of well-meaning Nepalis and donor agencies. Nepal needs to learn from the mistakes made in Haiti, and follow some very simple guidelines, as articulated by Nixon Boumba in The Washington Post: "listen to local people," put funds in the hands of accountable local residents, "reach the most vulnerable," "invest in infrastructure now to prevent larger disasters in the future," and finally, make sure that aid is "coordinated, efficient and transparent."

The silver lining on this tragedy has been the unprecedented level of response that has come from the new generation of Nepalis living both in Nepal and abroad. Members of every facet of the community have responded in droves and worked day and night to assist fellow Nepalis in all conceivable ways; whether it's digging out survivors with their bare hands, or loading supplies and driving to the most remote regions of Nepal to provide relief supplies, fundraising door to door in both Nepal and the rest of the world, or reaching thousands of people via social media. This level of response from the Nepali diaspora has never been witnessed in history before. As we gradually phase into rebuilding our nation, our hope is that this enthusiasm will not subside, and we will work together to rebuild this nation stronger and better than it was before so much of it came crumbling down.

Author Note: According to the UN, eight million people have been affected by the earthquake. This is an enormous tragedy, and Nepal definitely needs help from outside. There are many impressive nonprofits. Below are four groups that are making an enormous and immediate impact on Nepal right now.

The dZi Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization, which has been assisting 25,000 people in a remote and resource limited region of Nepal. Currently, it's also providing immediate relief supplies as medicine, tarp and food to the earthquake affected areas in Nepal. For more details on dZi and make donations, please go to:

American Himalayan Foundation has started an Earthquake Recovery Fund with 100% of donations going to relief and long-term recovery in Nepal.

Sherpa Adventure Gear is currently providing relief supplies including tents and food directly to the victims of earthquake.

K2 Women Climbers helping Nepal: The three female climbers from Nepal who summited K2 last year have put aside their climbing aspirations and they are instead focusing on immediate humanitarian work helping the earthquake victims. Their efforts are updated daily.

Sources: How Not to Rebuild Nepal: Lessons from Haiti Five Years after Its Earthquake (The Washington Post), Aid and corruption in Nepal: Low Road Through the Himalayas, Transparency International (The Economist), Corruption by Country or Territory, (transparency.org), The price of politicking: Earthquake Victims Demand Decency from their Leaders. Politicians Should Rise above Local Politics and Listen to Them (ekantipur.com).

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