FOR SIX YEARS, NEPAL FREED HAD MADE GREAT STRIDES IN PROVIDING BETTER EDUCATION TO THE CHILDREN OF NEPAL. IN MAY 2015, EVERYTHING CHANGED WHEN TWO DEVASTATING EARTHQUAKES HIT NEPAL.
With the exception of my wife and children, most of my family still lives in Nepal. In the days following the first earthquake I received news of the death of two of my cousins in the collapse of a building in the capital city, Kathmandu. I also learned of the destruction of the schools that we had worked so hard to build.
I immediately coordinated with members of my foundation living in Nepal, and within a week I was on a plane bound for Kathmandu. After a sleepless 14 hours flight, I arrived at Kathmandu international airport, where my wife's nephew picked me up. As we drove into the city, I saw buildings leaning at dangerous angles and rubble spilling into streets. Nothing seemed to have escaped entirely unscathed. We combed the city for a hotel. Most of the surviving ones were full and it was 10 pm before we found a room. When I lay down in bed I saw fresh cracks across the ceiling. I was frightened but there was no where else to go. I couldn't sleep that night. Even when I closed my eyes I still saw the cracks, and I felt haunted by the cousins I'd lost in a building just like this.
The next day I was up at dawn. I had arranged for myself and members of my foundation to pick up provisions from a local vendor which we would distribute in the regions northeast of Kathmandu. Due to the general chaos in Kathmandu following the earthquake, combined with difficulties at the bank, it took us an entire day to obtain what we needed.
Early the next morning we set out to Bhalche, the village where I grew up, about five hours northeast of Kathmandu. We were crammed into four trucks loaded with oil, salt, and 800 bags of rice. The dirty road was muddyand full of debris and potholes which entrenched our tires and caused frequent delays. The closer we got the more afraid I became of what I would find. We passed though other villages along the way. These had already had supplies delivered to them by another relief organization the previous week. We saw crumbled buildings and families gathered in makeshift shelters. In light of the tremendous devastation, the help we were able to provide seemed insignificant. I tried not to think about all the other, more remote villages that would receive no help at all.
Before Bhalche, we stopped in the town of Nuchet, which had not received any relief. Our arrival had been announced and hundreds of people were lined up in anticipation of the supplies. To each family we distributed 1 bag of rice, 1 kilogram of salt and 1 kilogram of oil, enough to last them for several weeks. In the early afternoon we arrived in Bhalche and repeated the process, but this time I found it much more difficult. My village is changed forever. The landscape itself seems drastically altered by the earthquakes. The mountains overlooking the village have become unstable. In the rainy season, the loose rocks may tumble down into the village and the river below it.
Shorty after we arrived two aftershocks hit the village, feeling much like turbulence on an airplane. I can't imagine how I would have felt to experience the two main earthquakes. It was struck by a terrible thought that our work here might be pointless, that the world around me was unstable and even greater devastation might lay ahead.
The following day I toured the destroyed houses and talked with the families who had lived in them. I visited the remains of one of the schools I'd built through Nepal FREED. It had taken years of struggle to realize my dream of building that school, and now nothing is left of it. Even worse than the loss of the building, I learned that five children had died when it collapsed. The school was supposed to the beginning of their stories, not the end.
Lastly, I went to visit the home where I was born and raised. There was nothing left but crumbled stones, upon which lay the single sheet of tin that had been the roof. Thankfully, my parents had survived and were living in a tent in Kathmandu. But still, seeing my destroyed house, the place where I made all the memories I hold most dear, was the saddest moment of my life. I stood a long time by the crumbled stones and, for the first time since I'd arrived in Nepal, I cried.
Duty distracted me from my grief. For the next two days driving back and forth, I delivered more food to other remote villages. On the second day, I drove five and a half hours to deliver medical supplies to doctors stationed in “Bara Kilo” at the epicenter of the quake.
Overwhelmed by sleeplessness and depression, I became very sick, and spent several days in Kathmandu recovering. I then did an interview with a Kathmandu news station about the efforts of my foundation. The next day I left for the USA, another sleepless flight.
We have suffered a huge setback, but I am determined to rebuild what has been destroyed and pursue my dream of education for Nepal. Now more than ever they need my help, and yours.