Tuesday, June 16, 2015

[490] MTSU community won’t forget ongoing Nepal crisis weeks after earthquake

MURFREESBORO — Other events have captured the headlines since Nepal endured major earthquakes April 26 and May 12, killing 8,676 people, but the crisis is far from over.

The United Nations estimates that 100,000 people in the country’s northern mountains still have received no help because of extensive damage to the infrastructure. The U.N.’s World Food Program is recruiting workers to carry food and supplies on their backs to remote areas that have been isolated further by the damage.

Hari Garbharran, an MTSU professor of global studies and cultural geography, is co-founder of Humans in Crisis, a nonprofit organization that has assisted the Women’s Foundation in Nepal for years, selling silk scarves hand-woven by women living in domestic violence centers.

He has learned that, while the foundation offices and shelters in Boudha survived, two children were seriously injured, the foundation’s organic farm in Bhaktapur was demolished and its livestock perished.

“Right now, families are lacking food and safe drinking water, camping under sheets without safe and secure shelter, and at risk of cold, hunger and disease,” said Garbharran. “Vulnerable women and their children are amongst the worst affected.”

For MTSU’s Nepali students, the tragedy is even more personal.

Bam Paneru, a doctoral candidate in molecular biosciences, says the quake shook up his plans for the future, as well as his native country.

“The problem right now is that economics are too bad,” Paneru said. “You can’t get a job there, especially if you have a Ph.D. You’ve become overqualified. So I don’t know if I should go back or stay over here.”

On a personal level, a student Paneru taught when he was a biology instructor at a pharmacy school in Nepal died in the quake. Paneru’s own father was missing for three days in Katmandu, making it impossible for him to concentrate on his studies.

“I didn’t sleep for two days,” Paneru said. “I didn’t go to school. One of my cousins is in Malaysia. He was able to call one of our neighbors immediately after impact, but then the phone was disconnected.”

Eventually, word came through Paneru’s sister that their father was alive and unhurt.

Vijay Koju, a graduate student majoring in computational science, has determined that his parents and his wife’s parents are all right, but his brother told him that some of his relatives have died.

“A lot of neighbors and relatives’ houses have been damaged, and a lot of them have even collapsed,” said Koju.

Koju is from Bhaktapur, one of the most affected cities in the Katmandu Valley, about 50 to 60 miles from the quake’s epicenter. He said he found out about the original April 26 tremor when one of his wife’s cousins called him at 3:30 a.m. Koju rolled over and went back to sleep because earthquakes are not unusual in Nepal.

It was only when a friend called a few hours later that he was made aware of the magnitude of the catastrophe.

“I tried to contact my parents, but it was hard at that time because the telephone lines were damaged,” Koju said.

Now phone companies and Google Voice are offering free or low-cost international calls to Nepal, but communication is still sketchy.

Through its support of the Women’s Foundation and its partnership with Rural Assistance Nepal, Humans in Crisis has contacts on the ground in Nepal that are equipped to navigate the rough terrain.

If you would like to help, go to www.humansincrisis.org and click on “Make a Gift.”

To contact Garbharran, send an email to hari.garbharran@mtsu.edu.

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