“There were nine schools, including one high school, three middle schools and five elementary schools … they are all destroyed,” says Raj Shrestha, an instructor in the University of Washington’s Department of Physics, explaining the total devastation of his hometown in Nepal.
Shrestha is from Simjung, a small town northwest of the capital, Kathmandu. It is one of a group of villages closest to the epicenter of the recent 7.8 earthquake that killed more than 7,500 people (a death toll that is still rising).
According to Shrestha, about 40 people are reported dead in Simjung. In addition, he says almost every building has been leveled or damaged. His own family is safe but sleeping outdoors in a single tent.
In response, Shrestha, along with the University of Washington’s small community of Nepali students and faculty, have banded together to help rebuild Simjung — one hard-earned donation at a time.
“This has been a way of dealing with that feeling of helplessness. … That is why all of us have been so motivated,” says graduate student Prerak Pradhan, standing under a soggy tent on the university’s Red Square where he and other members of the Nepalese Student Association are attempting to collect cash from passers-by, “Motivated to stand out here in the rain,” he adds, chuckling.
Between the donation tent, which has been up for almost two weeks now, and an online campaign via the fundraising site Indiegogo, their efforts have raised well over $15,000. It’s impressive but still significantly shy of their goal of $50,000 — the estimated amount needed in Simjung for emergency relief and to help with long-term rebuilding.
And while the fundraisers are impressed by how generous the university community has been so far (the acting president of the university even encouraged donating to their campaign through a campus-wide email), they say they know they’re racing against time and diminishing interest.
“This kind of news — it goes down exponentially,” says graduate student Sachita Shrestha (no relation to Raj), who is particularly concerned that earthquake victims are given adequate shelter before the rapidly approaching monsoon season in Nepal. “When it happens, it is everywhere in the media but after one or two weeks, it goes down, so we should think of some strategies for keeping people aware.”
Those strategies include regular and detailed updates on how funds are being spent in Simjung, fundraising events and partnerships with other on-campus organizations that might engage their memberships in the effort.
But for now, the students are still hitting the bricks of Red Square, hoping to drum up cash.
One woman does stop, sucked in by laminated photos of toppled homes and the flapping red and blue triangles of the Nepalese flag.
“Where do the funds go?” she asks before taking down the address of the online campaign (like many on Red Square, she didn’t have cash on her).
This is a point of particular pride for the campaign. All the donations will be directed to the “Bhume Welfare Society,” a Kathmandu-based nonprofit founded (with the help of Raj Shrestha) more than 15 years ago to help aid Simjung’s remote population.
“We don’t want to be collecting money and not telling people what we are doing, we want to be very transparent,” says Nihit Pokhrel, a member of the Nepalese Student Association, explaining that they are planning to publish formal reports connected to all of their donations.
In addition to transparency, the students and faculty hope that their funds will be used to build a better, more earthquake-ready Simjung.
“Earthquakes will happen, there’s no stopping that,” says Pradhan, but the casualties and the destruction, “there might be [a way to stop] that.”
Raj Shrestha is eager to see the town where he grew up restored.
“I am desperate to rebuild my high school myself,” he says, sitting by a white, bare-walled Physics/Astronomy Building office. “There will be a lot of rebuilding needs, and it would be nice if we could do part of it.”
If you’d like to be a part of it, visit The Nepalese Student Association at: seati.ms/1P4KI9c.