UNL Nepalese students rally in wake of massive quake

UNL Nepalese students rally in wake of massive quake
Candlelight vigil planned for April 30 near Broyhill Fountain

After a stunned weekend spent scrolling through Facebook looking for earthquake survivors’ names, Nepalese students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have mobilized to help their stricken homeland.

Their plans include a candlelight vigil to honor the thousands who died as well as raising money for the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund through the American Red Cross. The candlelight vigil is set for 7:30 p.m. April 30 near Broyhill Fountain. Members of the Nepalese Student Association also will take turns working at donation booths at the Nebraska Union and East Campus Union from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every day this week. They will raise money for the Nepalese Earthquake Relief Fund set up by the American Red Cross, as well as for students whose families lost everything but their lives in the disaster.

Though it appears no immediate family members died in the massive quake that struck Nepal on April 25, none of the 35 to 40 Nepalese people who study or work at UNL were untouched, said Prabhakar Shrestha, a UNL staffer who is serving as the group’s unofficial spokesman.

“There is not even one person who has not been affected,” he said.

The families of at least two students lost everything they owned, Shrestha said. The families of the others are sleeping in tents miles from their homes because it’s too dangerous to return.

Shrestha, who is UNL’s sustainability coordinator, and his wife, Pinky Giri, are from Nepal. Their parents and siblings are safe, but the fate of other more distant relatives is unknown.

Most of the Nepalese students are undergraduates, including two students in the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction who live in Omaha. The students have final examinations next week but none can concentrate, he said.

Pranav Shakya, a graduate student in civil engineering and president-elect of the Nepalese Students Association, said his parents and other family members are safe. Their home is still standing, though it will need repairs.

“I want to go home right now, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea,” he said. “People are already suffering with food and water shortages. They’re living in tents. The aftershocks are still going on. They’re still scared.”

Shakya said he hopes he can quickly finish his degree so he can return home to help rebuild.

“We feel helpless being here and we want to help people back home,” he said. “Programs like this are the only thing we can do, sitting here halfway across the world.”

Communication with Nepal is intermittent because of damaged infrastructure. Shrestha has not been able to speak to his family for more than a minute at a time. Viber calls and the Internet have been the only way to get through. Shakya spent an hour before he could connect with his parents, but was able to talk only long enough to learn they were safe.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Saturday afternoon that its Safety Check service was enabling those in the earthquake zone to let their Facebook friends know they were OK.

Shrestha and his wife spent hours over the weekend comforting students. They are urging students to fight despair by working together, instead of lingering over their Facebook feed hoping names will pop up.

“When you work together as a community, there is strength and support,” he said. “We have no control over what’s happening back home. But we can spend a few hours to raise funds and to talk to people."

For more information, those interested can contact Shrestha at 402-472-1126 or pshrestha3@unl.edu, or Shakya at 402-516-2348.