When the April 25, 2015 earthquake hit Nepal, I was here in the Bay Area feeling helpless and watching thousands of buildings crumble on the news. The earthquake claimed over 8,000 lives and injured at least 15,000 more.
Amidst this heartbreak, we were in the process of planning the 2015 Himalayan Film Festival, which became an organizing force for the Himalayan diaspora community to raise funds and provide solace to each other while our families in Nepal were still sleeping on the ground in open fields.
In May of 2015, I left for Nepal, leaving behind my responsibility as a nurse practitioner in East Oakland, to be in the midst of shattered lives in my home country.
Exactly a year ago Thursday, I was in Nepal on my way to provide relief materials to new mothers on the outskirts of Kathmandu when I heard hundreds of people yelling and screaming: “Where is my son, where is my daughter?!” Mothers and fathers left their belongings and ran away from the big cement building next to us. I heard loud rattling noises and people nearby saying, “It’s here again, it’s here again!” It was another earthquake.
Questions of who to help and how to help became a recurring chatter in my head, while constant tremors of aftershocks kept reminding me to harness my breath and find peace, despite my fears. I slept outside, just in case another quake came.
Shortly after my arrival in Nepal, I met Chewan Rai, who represents Youth Thinkers' Society (YTS) an organization for young people in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu.
He was leading youth-based relief efforts in the most remote regions of earthquake-damaged Nepal with over 500 volunteers. These youth were the warriors of the earthquake, risking their lives to reach out to the most vulnerable areas. My fear of being alone in this journey slowly dissipated when I met Rai and these young people. Their armor of courage, compassion and commitment astounded me.
I, along with several board members of Sahayeta, a Bay Area Nepali alliance, resigned from my job here in Bay Area to serve as a volunteer in the rebuilding efforts in Nepal. Through Sahayeta, we have been able to serve more than 20,000 people with temporary housing, food and warm blankets. More importantly, we are now working on long-term reconstruction by supporting youth groups with their ideas for sustainable reconstruction of infrastructure and the economy.
Recent political turmoil, an unofficial embargo from India, and a slow rebuilding policy has halted the process. The rubble of the earthquake has been replaced by thousands of temporary shelters made with zinc roofs which do nothing to stop the cold wind. The pouring rain seeps right in, making this type of shelter uninhabitable. Most of the temporary learning centers at schools are unable to give students safety from rain and cold weather.
I arrived back in the Bay Area from Nepal three weeks ago to prepare for this year's film festival. This year the festival highlights the suffering and opportunities following the disaster. It is dedicated to the resilience of the Nepalese people and youth involvement in the relief and reconstruction effort.
Rai is drinking tea in my living room along with Kshitiz Bhattaria, co-founder of Youth Thinkers' Society. They arrived last week to sit on a festival Q&A panel. A year after the earthquake, I am hopeful, angry and sad when I think about the rebuilding process in Nepal, but the smiles on these youths' faces reminds me that perhaps destruction can be a new beginning.
The fourth annual Himalayan Film Festival runs May 13-14 at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center in San Francisco. For tickets and more information visit himalayanfilmfest.com.