(May 8, 2015)

Centenary's Nepalese community grapples with earthquake aftermath

SHREVEPORT, LA — It was a natural disaster that scientists saw coming for years. Seismologists and geo-physicists have long acknowledged the possibility of a quake in the Himalayan belt, an area where an active Indian tectonic plate is pushing up against the Tibetan tectonic plate at upwards of 4 centimeters annually. But the magnitude of the disaster was shocking nonetheless.

Kathmandu, famous for its Buddhist monasteries and ancient temples, is the place of origin of ancient civilizations. A heavy blend of tradition and modernity makes this city one of most spiritual and powerful Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world.

The entire world was dazed on April 25 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, a country about the size of Louisiana that is home to Mount Everest, Buddhist monasteries, and ancient temples. But two members of the Centenary family were particularly stunned.

"I found out about the earthquake from a friend's phone call at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning," said Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics Dr. Chandra Pokhrel. "There was so much news on the internet. It was devastating and very painful to see. Everything I saw was destroyed. Not only that, but people were buried under the rubble. I cried three or four times that weekend."

Nepalese native Pokhrel grew up in western Nepal and earned his B.Ed. at Kathmandu University in Dhulikhel, a city just 40 minutes east of Kathmandu, the country's capital and earthquake's epicenter. He joined Centenary's faculty in August 2014.

"My family is okay, but Nepal is completely devastated, and there is so much damage," said Pokhrel. "I called everyone in Nepal—friends and relatives—and they all told their story. One said they were putting up a tent and it was raining. They don't have any food. They don't have anything."

Pokhrel's mother and uncle in Nepal

First-year student Aakriti Bhandari of Kathmandu was also blown away by the devastation. She woke up to missed calls and text messages on Saturday morning from friends around the country, Centenary faculty and staff, and President Rowe's family informing her and sharing in the sorrow of the shattering moments that literally crumbled her community back home.

"At first I felt really guilty because (my family and friends) were suffering and I was here," said Bhandari. "I looked on Facebook, and it was horrible. I felt hopeless, like I couldn't do anything."

Bhandari tried to call her family but could not get in touch with them for days because of the high demand for telephone service in the Nepal area.

"It was terrifying," said Bhandari. "I finally got in touch with my brother who texted and said how bad it was. He said my mom was fine, but unless I could hear her voice, I wasn't satisfied."

After three days she finally got the chance to hear from her mother. Bhandari stayed strong for her while on the phone, but after hanging up, cried tears of relief and sorrow.

Bhandari attends Centenary by way of the Little Sister's Fund, a program that provides long-term scholarships for hardworking, intelligent, and economically disadvantaged girls in Asia. Unfortunately, Bhandari will not be able to visit her home until next summer—two years after arriving in the United States for the first time.

"I really feel like I want to go home right now, but everything is not possible," said Bhandari.

Nepal is home to Mount Everest and features some of the world's most breathtaking views

Both Pokhrel and Bhandari have an overwhelming feeling of helplessness since the disaster, but also note that the Nepalese are tough and resilient.

"We have to be strong," said Pokhrel. "People will stand up again. We cannot fight against nature but we can help other people. That's how life moves on. People are helping each other, and this earthquake is uniting us around the world."

Bhandari worries about the ancient temples that were destroyed, but more importantly the thousands of lives that were taken.

"These archeological and religious monuments—they're our identity," said Bhandari. "If we don't have them, I don't know what we're going to do. And thousands of people died, and thousands more are homeless. I know we can't get all the lives back, but I think we can build our country like we can rebuild all those monuments. Maybe things might not go back to what it was like, but we can still start something."

Throughout the nightmare of the weekend and the days that followed, Pokhrel and Bhandari were surrounded by support from members of the Centenary community by way of phone calls, emails, text messages, and encouraging faces. These sentiments helped the duo feel less like foreigners and more like family.

AP Photo/A Nepalese man cries as he walks through the earthquake debris in Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, April 26, 2015

"I want to thank everyone at Centenary for their support, specifically Dr. Ward and Dr. Rowe who sent me an email and asked about my situation and family," said Pokhrel. "Everyone was so concerned and kept us in their thoughts and prayers."

Bhandari felt fortunate to have a group of college friends who provided genuine interest in her and her family's wellbeing—even when Bhandari attempted to bury her anxiety in studying for finals, which Bhandari admits, "didn't actually work." For now, the biochemistry major just hopes that people will give where there is such a tremendous need.

"This beautiful country needs your help," said Bhandari quietly. "I just don't want to feel helpless and hopeless. I want our country to be something."

Bhandari, Pokhrel, and the Office of Global Engagement invite the greater Centenary community to give in support of these individuals, their families, and their country. Global Engagement compiled a list of accredited charities accepting donations to assist in Nepal relief efforts:

  • Little Sisters Fund, Inc. - Funds will be dispersed in accordance with need by an oversight team of local Nepali Little Sisters Fund Administrators and School Coordinators. The Little Sisters Fund network in Nepal covers 19 districts, including the majority of those most affected by the quake. This support will be very directed at where it is needed most.
  • Oxfam America - Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working worldwide to find solutions to poverty.
  • Nepal Red Cross Society - NRCS has grown to be the largest humanitarian organization in Nepal, with its network of District Chapters extended in each of the 75 districts of the country.
  • Save the Children Federation - The Save the Children Fund is an international NGO that promotes children's rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries.
  • UMCOR - The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to alleviating human suffering around the globe.
  • United States Fund for UNICEF - The United Nations Children's Fund is a United Nations Program that provides long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.