On April 25th, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, about 50km northwest of Kathmandu. Two weeks later, Nepal was struck again with a magnitude 7.3 earthquake. Over 8,000 have died and thousands more have been injured. Nepal’s infrastructure, cultural centers and spirit have been devastated. I am heartbroken.
Last summer, I spent five weeks in Kathmandu conducting research. The friends I had made are all safe. Nonetheless, I grieve for the warm, beautiful Nepali people seeing their nation in shambles. Not only has it killed, injured and displaced countless people; it has leveled ancient cultural landmarks and monuments. The New York Times posted a unique interactive feature comparing historic sites before and after the quake, revealing the haunting consequences of this disaster. Kathmandu Durbar square, one of the historic sites in the feature, has been reduced to rubble. It was one of my favorite places I had visited during my time there. I remember strolling into the square on a gray afternoon, admiring the intricacies of the former palace, showcasing a uniquely Nepali architecture style. I marveled at how ancient the structures were, and I mourn that it cannot give others the same wonder anymore.
My homestay brother and dear friend from Kathmandu, Maaz Ashraf, offered to share his experience. He is studying in the United Kingdom at the moment and said that, “the whole situation kind of made me feel a bit helpless…yes, I donated but was it really going to the right place? I don’t know”. He explained to me how his perception of the disaster hinged on the exaggerated tales spread throughout social media and how that kept surging his concern for family and friends.
His thoughts as a Nepali resonate with my own troubles regarding the disaster. In the days following the quake, I noticed a surge of news and social media coverage and sympathy. However, even a week later media coverage has moved on and with it support for humanitarian aid. Why have headlines and social media coverage changed just days later, particularly here in the USA? What is the best way to help?
These questions troubling me funnel into Northwestern’s response to this disaster – what is being done on campus to assist humanitarian efforts? Shortly following the quake, President Morton Schapiro sent an email urging the Northwestern community to “extend [their] sympathy” and provided information about how to best “support the international relief efforts”. In addition, a student organization, NU Stands with Nepal materialized, in an effort to “mobilize NU students to support the Nepal earthquake relief efforts” because of the belief that everyone has “personal ties to everyone affected by this disaster through our shared humanity”. Their model of aid is based on an organized and methodical three-step response: raising money to donate to GlobalGiving (a non-profit that connects donors with grassroots projects), telling human stories and sharing their efforts. Another student organization, Alpha Iota Omicron, Northwestern’s South Asian Interest Fraternity held a fundraiser and in addition, was offering the opportunity for the Northwestern community to “write letters of encouragement for children in Nepali orphanages”. TEDxNorthwesternU decided to donate 50% of the ticket proceeds from their conference on May 9th to disaster relief in Nepal.
To add to all these efforts, various departments in the humanities came together to present “Humanities for Nepal” on May 28th, an event that brought to light cultural elements of Nepal while providing a medium for donation. It included presentations from Professor Sarah Jacoby, Northwestern’s resident ‘buddhologist’, Rob Linrothe, professor of art history, and Kritish Rajbhandari, a graduate student in the comparative literature studies department.
I was concerned about the response to the disaster in the news and social media, however, I am thankful that the Northwestern community is assisting the disaster in the way that they are. I believe that the humanitarian efforts on campus have made informed and well-researched decisions. They are supported by nationally respected global health organizations like GlobeMed, and funds raised will go to non-profits, such as GlobalGiving. Furthermore, many on-campus efforts are providing alternative options to help besides monetary support. While Northwestern is certainly playing its part in extending to the global community and assisting Nepal in its time of need, we must remember that the implications of this disaster will endure for years and Northwestern’s engagement and support must also continue.