Nepal Students Share Quake Stories

Sunday, February 21, 2016
Hanover — Nepali students of Upper Valley institutions spoke of the challenges they faced in the aftermath of an earthquake in their home country last year on Saturday, the third day of a Nepal Earthquake Summit at Dartmouth College.

Some said they found it difficult to balance the desire to help their friends and family at home with the day-to-day demands of their studies. Others said they were able to raise money to send to Nepal, but struggled to decide where to direct the funds.

“We are engaged in a lot of homework and we have a lot of activities on campus here and then suddenly there’s things in the world that you’re supposed to engage with,” said Pawan Dhakal, a Dartmouth College senior from Nepal. “But it seems like there’s kind of a disconnect.”

At one point, Dhakal said, he wrote an email to a professor saying he might not be able to do the homework for the next class and the professor wrote back, saying, “ ‘No. You should really try to.’ ”

“What am I supposed to do with that?” Dhakal said.

Dartmouth Assistant Provost for Academic Initiatives Laurel Stavis said administrators work very hard to protect students when they are on campus, but they cannot protect them from disasters that occur elsewhere.

“When disasters strike far away that directly affect students that sense of safety is violated in a very real way, a very tangible way,” she said. “How can we respond in a tangible, compassionate way when these things happen because these things are always going to be happening?”

Colby-Sawyer College graduate Sukriti Raut, now a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center employee, spoke of the fundraising efforts she and others at the New London school pursued in the wake of April’s magnitude-7.8 earthquake, which killed and displaced thousands. Reconstruction and aid was slowed by political crisis and problems along the border with India.

Rather than simply asking for money for the earthquake victims, Raut said the students sold pottery, sang and danced.

“We wanted to … show that you’re not just giving us money, you’re investing in the culture,” Raut said.

Once the students raised several thousand dollars, they sought to determine which groups to direct the money to, she said. At first they sent funds to well-known, established groups such as Oxfam and the Red Cross, but later they directed money to smaller groups such as Rotaract Club of Pashupati — a Rotary Club affiliate — where they could more easily see the impact of their donations.

Raut also spoke of the guilt she and other Nepalese students felt because they were comfortable in the U.S. while their families were surviving in waterlogged tents.

During a Colby-Sawyer visit to Nepal, student Prithul Karki said they encountered people who were frustrated because, while aid workers visited with people, asked questions and took pictures, the aid itself was slow in coming.

“No one was doing anything for them,” he said.

During her visit to Nepal in the wake of the April earthquake, Dartmouth student Kripa Dongol said she vividly remembers the sound of hammers on nails when she visited one village where the inhabitants weren’t waiting for aid, “at least not for shelter.”

Dongol also noted that while the earthquake caused a lot of destruction, perhaps more significantly it highlighted vulnerabilities in the country’s public health system, schools and government.

Ashish Khemka, of Sam Houston State University, said that, in the wake of the earthquake, people struggled to replace schools that had been destroyed. He said they often did not have time to make them earthquake resistant. Such destruction highlights the need to consider consolidation, Khemka said.

“Does each municipality need its own school?” he asked.

Kathryn March, of the Cornell Nepal Earthquake Recovery Partnership, said one challenge faced by those in rural communities where buildings were destroyed was finding a way to store their crops.

To find solutions to such problems, March, a Cornell professor of anthropology, said she and the other members of the partnership view their role as being consultants, facilitators and sources of information.

“We know that unless local communities take ownership of projects and programs, they fail,” March said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.