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Hudson Valley News

Area Students Help With Nepal Earthquake Relief Efforts

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Courtesy of the American Red Cross
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College students and community members throughout the country are coming together to organize and support relief efforts following Saturday's Nepal earthquake. The earthquake has claimed at least 5,500 lives. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne looks at a few of the efforts from Nepali students at colleges in New York.

Colleen Flynn Thapalia, director of international programs at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, has lived in Nepal on and off, as a United Nations volunteer and later as a study abroad coordinator for another school. It’s where she met her husband. Thapalia says Saint Rose has four students from Nepal, and all have heard that their families there are OK.

“Right now I would say that most information is coming to us through social media. People are posting pictures. People are checking in online to let us know that they’re okay. It’s much more quick and effective than waiting for telephone calls,” says Thapalia. “At the same time, the major telephone carriers are providing free telephone calls right now in and out of Nepal.”

She says no Saint Rose students are studying in Nepal. Thapalia says the international student organization at the college is looking at ways to raise money to send to Nepal and that it’s the rural regions with great need.

“Well, the political situation in Nepal is not extremely stable so the rebuilding phase will be very difficult. Coordination will take a lot of time and effort on the part of not only the Nepali government and nonprofits but the international governments and nonprofits,” says Thapalia. “There’s always a fear in a situation like this that aid will get skimmed off the top. And so when people want to help it’s best to go through very reputable organizations in order to make sure that the funds get to the rural areas where they’re really needed. One of the things that’s going to be needed pretty soon is a lot more helicopters than Nepal currently has. Many parts of Nepal are not accessible by road. And at the end of those hiking trails may be very good-sized villages where people need assistance that cannot come in any other way but by air.”

Subarcha Pant, a Saint Rose graduate student in computer science who is from Kathmandu, also worries about the inaccessibility to rural villages.

“Me and my family members, they have created a fundraising account so that my brother who is a doctor, he’s leaving for Nepal on May 5, so we are expecting to raise some funds so that we can buy stuff,” says Pant.

Stuff like medicine and masks. Her brother is a doctor in Nepal who was in the U.S. for family reasons. Rupak Gautam is a Saint Rose MBA student from Kathmandu. 

“The first thing I did was I called my parents back home when I heard about the news because they were traveling outside the city, so they were all safe. And then I called my sister and they were all safe as well,” says Gautum. “But the thing is because of there are so many aftershocks so they are living outside the house in open grounds right now.”

He says he would like to bring about even small changes to his economically unstable country.

“I am one of the youth from the country, right?  So seeing this I feel like going back home and then looking at the political situation back home, you don’t really trust the government right now,” says Gautum. “So after my education here I would definitely want to go back home and then do something for the country because I feel bad for my country itself.”

He, like Pant, will graduate in 2016.

Laura Kunreuther is associate professor of anthropology at Annandale-on-Hudson-based Bard College. She has conducted extensive research in Kathmandu. And she met with Nepali students at Bard earlier this week about coordinating relief efforts.

“They have organized their own gofund funding site,” says Kunreuther. “And they are most interested in the structural issues and the rebuilding process that’s long term.”

She says the students will send the information to both the Bard and Hudson Valley communities. And though most of the focus will be on long-term rebuilding projects, Kunreuther says students are aiming to meet immediate needs.

“And their idea is that they will take a certain percentage of the funds right now to make immediate donations to American Red Cross and Oxfam, who they have heard through their Nepali relatives and friends, and we all have been consulting about this, are right now most on the ground and reaching out to the affected populations.”

She says the students will visit Nepal over the summer and research organizations before deciding on any for donations. Kunreuther says there is also a community of Nepali alumni becoming involved in relief efforts.

At Poughkeepsie-based Vassar College, Nepali students, with support from the South Asian Students Alliance and administrators, held a vigil Wednesday evening. One Nepali student at Vassar, along with two other students, has launched an online crowd-funding campaign for her mother's organization. Her mother is a social worker who suffered a broken arm in the earthquake. The funds will help coordinate relief efforts in the areas in which she was already involved.

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