International aid efforts for Nepal draw upswell of support, compassion

On April 25, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, flattening large parts of the capital Kathmandu and causing devastation across the impoverished country.

For Prajwal “PJ” Singh Shah, the stability of his family’s home and his home country of Nepal were relatively unquestioned and secure. However, for a split second after the large-scale earthquake that rocked the country last month, Shah wasn’t so certain.

“I have my whole family there, my mom and my dad,” said Shah, a Kathmandu native. “I got a text from a friend of mine asking me if my family was OK,” Shah said. “I checked out BBC. I tried to get in contact with my family. I was scared.”

More than 6,000 perished in the 7.8 magnitude quake on April 25, which left 3 million more people in need of food and clean water, according to the United Nations.

Around 130,000 homes tumbled in the quake, and 24,000 Nepali are camping out in the cities and rural areas that were leveled in the disaster with survivors being pulled from rubble and building remnants as late as last week.

In the wake of the destruction, relief efforts have rallied and united individuals worldwide who hope to help Nepal and the surrounding area recover in any way possible.

"The response to the earthquake in Nepal has been a tremendous global effort," said Niki Clark, Spokesperson for the International Services division of the American Red Cross. "Across the Red Cross network, there are currently 150 disaster specialists from 19 countries, ranging from the American Red Cross which has eight specialists on the ground in Nepal plus an additional specialist supporting from Geneva to the Japanese Red Cross who are helping to lead medical emergency relief efforts to  working in Nepal following the earthquake."

Stateside, Shah, who was able to speak with his parents since the quake, recognizes how fortunate his family is to still have their lives and their family home, but still plans to offer support and aid from across the miles.

 “When you are here, all you can do is call them, reassure them and send them money,” Shah said.

"You feel depressed and helpless (that) you’re not there to provide proper support. Not being able to be with my parents with a situation like this, I’m not happy.”

Shah and his friends are presently collecting donations to send to Nepal.

“That’s one of the few things we can do,” Shah said. “Not being able to go there, you read about stuff like this disaster happening at an epic proportion.”

According to Clark, each national Red Cross has different areas of specialty — whether it be medical, shelter, logistics or others — and after a disaster of such a large scale, we all come together as one Red Cross.

The Maryland-based section Handicap International has also made efforts to aid Nepal and the Nepali people following the quake. Recently, the nonprofit sent a team of 60 to provide emergency relief and triage care for patients in the four main hospitals in Kathmandu.

“We have a permanent staff of 50 people in Nepal,” said Jeff Meer, executive director of the Takoma Park, Md., arm of the international federation based in Lyon, France.

Meer, who received word of the massive quake shortly after it happened, only knew that there had been a large-scale earthquake that affected Kathmandu, but that was mostly all he knew as news developed.

“We’ve been advising the leadership in the hospitals, clinics and schools on how to make those facilities safer in the case of an earthquake,” Meer said.

Coincidentally, Handicap International has worked on disaster preparedness in Nepal the past 15 years, covering everything from medical injury protocol and building safety to dealing with post-traumatic stress and mental health following disasters.

“It’s a different type of treatment, different set of therapy that follows,” Meer said.

“The type of injury you see following an earthquake typically requires a long-term follow up. It’s not just setting a bone or giving stitches.”

More than 11 countries are assisting in the rescue of Nepal’s 27 million people, two-thirds of whom are farmers.

Similar to Meer, Lacey and Jena Bennett of Cleburne, Texas received a phone call at 5:02 a.m. April 25 informing them there was massive earthquake in Nepal where their 18-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, is on a mission trip.

“I panicked. The call came in at 5:02 a.m. I’ll never forget that,” Jena Bennett said. “It was just a moment of panic.”

Caitlyn Bennett graduated from high school in 2014 and chose to forgo college momentarily and go on a mission trip to help people in impoverished countries and witness to them about God.

She’s been in Nepal about seven weeks with her group from Youth With A Mission. The group remained in Kathmandu for a majority of their stay.

Two weeks ago, the group left for Pokhara, about four hours away.

“We left for Chirkin a few days after arriving in Pokhara to teach the young believers more about God and on the last day as we were about to leave the earthquake hit,” Caitlyn said. “We were sitting in the church and my first thought was, ‘Why the heck is the roof moving?!’ And then I ran out the door because the houses and buildings here are not made well.”

She said that her group was not in the heart of where the destruction occurred.

In the time since the quake, Caitlyn and her group, like many other Americans both stateside and abroad, have pitched in to join relief efforts in support of Nepal and its road to rebuilding.

Scheduled to return to the United States next week, Caitlyn and Youth With A Mission are now trying to raise funds to buy food, water, blankets and all the necessities to send to the villages they’ve traveled to that were hit the hardest.

“I would like to tell everyone back home that there is hope here,” she said. “There’s brokenness; no doubt about that, but there is hope. There are people here that need your help and want your help as well.”

In the meantime, Youth With A Mission have partnered with another U.S.- based outreach group, 360 Maine, to set up a website where people can donate funds for supplies and aid.

In addition to its traditional aid efforts, the Red Cross also is providing remote mapping and information management support to obtain a more accurate assessment of the earthquake’s destruction and is providing roughly 19,000 non-food relief kits available in Nepal which include clothing, kitchen sets, tarpaulins, mosquito nets and personal hygiene items for victims of the earthquake.

The organization is also working with the NRCS and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to reunite families separated by the natural disaster.

"The American Red Cross has been in Nepal since 1999 and the Nepal Red Cross is a strong fixture in country and has a vast amount of experience of both responding to and recovering from disasters," said Clark. "No matter the amount of time, the global Red Cross will be there as long as we are needed."

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