Pragyi Shrestha (24) and Suruchi Nepal (27) are both from Kathmandu, Nepal, and study in Groningen.
Both women had trouble contacting their families during the first eight hours after the earthquakes hit their home country.
Suruchi Nepal was in shock for days. She couldn’t eat or sleep for four nights in a row.
According to Pragyi and Suruchi, the country’s rural areas faced the most damage, while numerous historical landmarks and temples collapsed in more urban areas.
The earthquakes that hit Nepal have weakened the already feeble economy. The government wasn’t prepared for the disaster.
Both felt the need to help their fellow countrymen by initiating a fundraiser. So far, they collected about 5,500 euros for the victims in Nepal.
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‘At first, I thought it might be a joke’, Pragyi Shrestha recalls. ‘I checked the news on the Internet, and it was true. I vainly tried to contact my family. There was no phone connection. I didn’t know if they were alive or dead. I was really scared and hopeless.’
Pragyi, a 24-year-old RUG master’s student in the medical and pharmaceutical drug innovation program, is from Kathmandu, Nepal. She finally managed to talk with her parents eight hours after the first earthquake hit. She says that those eight hours of unawareness were a nightmare for her.
‘When we finally spoke on the phone, my mother told me that everyone was safe, but I could still hear the fear in her voice’, Pragyi says.
Pragyi’s friend, Suruchi Nepal, is 27 years old and also from Kathmandu. She is currently a PhD student in medical microbiology at the University of Groningen, and she went through a similar situation.
‘I was in shock. I remember that I couldn’t sleep or eat for four nights in a row. How could I eat when I didn’t know my family’s situation? I felt helpless and alone’, Suruchi says.
Suruchi and Pragyi said that Nepal’s rural areas faced the most damage. The majority of those areas’ houses are made from mud and stone, so it is unlikely that they could have withstood such a strong earthquake. Both in the capitol and outside of it, numerous historical landmarks and temples collapsed.
‘The most depressing thing is that we lost our people. But also, in one moment, our whole history turned into dust’, Pragyi says.
‘Our economy was already weak before the earthquake. Now, it is devastated. It was mostly relying on tourism and on our unique architecture. The earthquake struck both of them. We are a poor nation and now we have nothing. Our people just want to survive’, Suruchi says.
Nepal’s natural disaster didn’t end after the first earthquake. Several aftershocks followed, and a 5.7 magnitude earthquake occurred several days ago.
Process of losing
‘People had just started going back to their normal lives before the second earthquake. It was overwhelming for them. Now, fear is deep inside our heart every day. We lost so many things. It’s hard to accept it and the saddest thing is that we are still in the process of losing’, Suruchi says.
Nepal’s government was not prepared for such a disaster, Pragyi explains. People are disappointed with the way their leaders have dealt with the situation. Nevertheless, they are both proud of Nepal’s police and army. Those people risked their own lives and entered dangerous zones in order to help; some have even died in doing so.
The two girls thought that they also had the obligation to help.
‘Every time I would close my eyes, I would recall all those people crying for help. I knew I should do something. Going there wouldn’t be of any value, I have no skills or money to help the situation’, Pragyi says. They thought the best way to help from the Netherlands would be to initiate a fundraiser and use their own personal network to collect as much money as possible for the victims.
‘Our professors Jan Maarten van Dijl and Han Moshage helped us to organize it. We placed Nepalese lunch in the hospital’s canteen in exchange for donations. Aat Wartena, who is responsible for the canteen, agreed to place it in the menu and everything went according to the plan. Thanks to those people, we felt like we are not alone anymore. We had moral support; they could feel what we were going through’, Suruchi says.
‘We designed a brochure, Call for HELP, and shared it through the Internet in order to collect funds. We use the people we know to spread our message. We are planning to send the money to two associations in Nepal and help them cover the basic needs of the victims. So far, we have collected around 5,500 euros’, Pragyi says.
As time goes by, people in Nepal are facing new fears. Monsoon rains will hit Nepal in June and July and make things worse for both the victims and the volunteers.
‘Sometimes, it rains for a whole week. Imagine people sleeping outdoors without even a tent. We are also afraid of an epidemic disease right now’, Pragyi says.
‘Lack of wood makes it even harder for people to burn the bodies, and this can also contribute to a disease’s spread. Even when they bury the bodies, they are very careful because they are afraid of polluting the water. The situation is very bad’, Suruchi adds.
Both young women just hope that the country will recover soon. They are glad that people from all over the world immediately travelled to Nepal to volunteer.
‘I am thankful for all the support and positive energy I have received, especially from people here who are trying to help in every possible way’, Suruchi says.
‘I hope we will remain united as a nation in the next years. We are brave, and we will find a way to deal with it’, Pragyi concludes.
If you would like to contribute to Suruchi and Pragyi’s fundraiser, contact Suruchi at email@example.com.
An unforgettable experience
After finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, RUG alumnus Alka Tiessink decided to travel for a year before beginning a master’s degree. While visiting the city of Pokhara in Nepal about a month ago, she faced the most frightening experience of her life.
‘We were meditating and suddenly, everything started to move. I didn’t know what was happening. It took me a lot of time to realize it was an earthquake. Although it was around one minute, I felt it like ten.’
After the earthquake, she found a safe spot and informed her father that she was fine. She was able to be in constant contact with her parents and they were often her only source for updates.
The days following the initial earthquake were also tense. ‘We were sleeping with the light on, doors open, and even wearing our shoes so that we would be ready to jump in and run. We practiced our way out day and night with shoes or flip-flops. I was constantly wearing my money belt with all my money, passport and insurance papers inside’, she recalls.
Alka tried to help as much as possible while she was there. She signed up as a volunteer at several hospitals, but by then, they were not looking for any volunteers. Despite her willingness to stay and help, her family pleaded for her to return to the Netherlands – six days after the earthquake, she abandoned her initial plan to stay for an entire month.
She and four other Dutch people who were also in Nepal stayed up all night and organized their trip back home. In the morning, they left all of their belongings for the locals and took a taxi to the airport.
Although they asked the taxi driver not to drive through the city centre, he overlooked their request and gave them a ride downtown. ‘He wanted to make us realise that we need to help them’, Alka says. ‘It was heart breaking to see him trying his best to keep us there. We saw everything you see on TV, but I felt happy that I saw what exactly happened. It feels like you leave those people, who can’t leave Nepal since it’s their home, with nothing.’
Today, Alka is safe in the Netherlands, but her thoughts are still with Nepal. She organised her own small-scale fund raising to help: she is sending the money directly to the people that she met there.
‘After a week of being home, I am slowly getting out of survival mode’, she says. ‘My body wants to sleep, but my mind is still awake. However, when things are shaking, with every kind of vibration, my eyes open wide. That’s something I still have.’
If you would like to contribute to Alka’s fundraiser, contact Christiana van Lammeren at firstname.lastname@example.org.