Dartmouth to Host Nepal Aid Summit

Monday, January 25, 2016
Hanover — Dartmouth College will host a summit next month on the rebuilding of Nepal after a devastating earthquake last year that killed and displaced thousands.

From Feb. 18 to 20, scholars, aid providers, doctors and photographers will share their experiences in the mountainous country and plan their response to the humanitarian crisis that unfolded there in April after a magnitude 7.8 temblor rocked the area around the capital, Kathmandu, killing at least 8,000. Since that time, the Nepalese government’s efforts to rebuild homes and medical infrastructure have been paralyzed by a political crisis and problems along the border with India that have slowed the flow of supplies and aid workers.

Now, winter has come to the Himalayan foothills, and many people are in need of shelter, according to Dartmouth associate professor Sienna Craig, an anthropologist who has worked in Nepal for decades and helped to organize the conference.

“The earthquake summit comes at a moment when official reconstruction, just of last week, has been officially announced,” she said in an interview Thursday, “but many communities are already (suffering from) cold and hunger and exposure, or being dislocated because of the slowness of the construction.”

Craig was one of several people from the college and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to travel to Nepal on aid missions; Nepalese undergraduates, graduate students and medical students also have visited to help .

Dartmouth for Nepal, a grassroots student aid group, has raised $10,000 and, according to its website, has built 34 shelters, conducted six health camps and delivered supplies to 150 families across two villages.

Bhola Pandey, co-owner of Base Camp Cafe in Hanover, has been contributing to the reconstruction in another way — through a community organization called Hamro Foundation Nepal, or “Our” Foundation, in Nepalese.

Pandey comes from a village near Kathmandu that was nearly leveled in the quake. In an interview Thursday, he said his family had been living in temporary shelters since April but were planning to build houses in the coming months.

Finding people shelter is especially important now, he said, because political turmoil has made the government “pretty much nonexistent” in terms of aid. There have been snowstorms in Nepal in recent weeks, he said, and people are “living on the ground, barely in a tent in this cold weather.”

“People hardly got any medical aid from the government,” he said. “It’s all private.”

Complicating matters are tensions between Nepal and India, its neighbor to the south. Shortly after Nepal adopted a new constitution in September opposed by India, traffic headed northbound into Nepal was subjected to searches and numerous delays — actions that Nepalese officials characterized as a blockade and attributed to India’s unhappiness with the constitution, according to a New York Times report at the time.

After the conference, Pandey and his brother plan to return to Nepal to help build homes and schools. So far he has found it difficult to raise as little as $7,000 toward the cause, and he said he was looking forward to building a better network of support at the conference, which is expected to bring Nepalese here from all around the Northeast.

The February summit is taking place under the auspices of Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding, and Kenneth Bauer, Craig’s husband and a program manager at the Dickey Center, helped organize the event.

Bauer is bringing Nepalis to the summit from all over the country — from Massachusetts, Vermont, Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey — and Colby-Sawyer College has a bus coming with 35 Nepalese students who are attending the school under a partnership.

On the final day of the conference, former Nepalese government official Swarnim Wagle, who helped plan the country’s reconstruction, will conduct a town hall that will be streamed live on the Internet for Nepalese everywhere to join in.

Another government minister, Mahendra Shrestha, is slated to discuss his leadership of Nepal’s rebuilding of its health infrastructure.

“I’m excited about the kinds of people that are coming,” Bauer said. “I’m excited about the way it’s galvanized the Nepalese community regionally, and I’m excited to give Dartmouth students a broad palate of what to think about ... what kinds of things you can do to find a response to global problems.”

During the conference, the Hood Museum of Art also will display photos of Nepal from James Nachtwey, a Dartmouth alumnus, and Kevin Bubriski, who has spent much of his career in the Himalayan country.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.