Nepali UW students and faculty fundraise to rebuild quake-impacted Simjung

Krishna Rizal, at left, and Prerak Pradhan hang a Nepali flag at their fundraising booth on Red Square at the University of Washington on Tuesday May 5, 2015. Students and faculty on the UW campus are challenging themselves to raise $50,000 to go directly to rebuilding Simjung which was the town closest to last week's earthquake in Nepal
Krishna Rizal, at left, and Prerak Pradhan hang a Nepali flag at their fundraising booth on Red Square at the University of Washington on Tuesday May 5, 2015. Students and faculty on the UW campus are challenging themselves to raise $50,000 to go directly to rebuilding Simjung which was the town closest to last week’s earthquake in Nepal. (Photo by Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times)

“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.

Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.
Sarah Stuteville

3 Comments

  1. Simjung was one of the model village of Nepal in Gorkha District but the devastating 7.8M tremor ruined it.
    Thank you Nepalese and other fellows for the initiation to rebuild Simjung.

    Sarah, I will be grateful to read the update about the current situation report of the initiation along with transparency.

  2. Its been so good to see that Nepalese and friends of Nepal are working and helping to such extents, which is obviously bringing positive impacts in the scenario of Nepal.

  3. Glad to see that everyone is contributing from across the globe and despite of not being physically present, Nepali diaspora is doing what they can to help the country bounce back.

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