Who called Facebook a productivity-sapping, soul-baring, self-indulgent time waster?
That, however, was before meeting Simran Khadka. Khadka is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a native of Kathmandu. Without Facebook, she told me on Friday, thousands of Nepalese citizens in other countries would have no way of knowing if their family members and friends were alive or dead, buried beneath the tons of rubble resulting from the recent earthquake and aftershocks.
“Facebook,” she said, “is a great way to communicate with our families. The country has no electricity, but if you have 3G, you can connect... Facebook allowed people to mark themselves ‘safe,’” alleviating worry for thousands of people in other countries.
More than 6,000 people have been confirmed dead, thousands more are missing and thousands more are still unsafe, which is why a couple dozen people of various nationalities gathered for a vigil Friday evening in front of Duke Chapel to sing Nepalese songs and pray Nepalese prayers for those still there.
Two Duke University students, Pratikshya Sharma and Sunam Bajgain, were scheduled to leave yesterday to return to Nepal to help.
Through a www.Gofundme.com account, they’d raised more than $25,000 by Friday for the trip and supplies.
Of her family, Khadka, a public health major from Kathmandu, said “Everyone’s okay, but I’m really worried about the next three months.”
That’s when, she said, the monsoon season begins and people who are already exposed to the elements will become even more vulnerable to them.
Why not, I asked Pratikshya Sharma as she tried to light a candle against an uncooperative, chilly wind, just raise money and send a check with which to purchase supplies? Wouldn’t that spare her teammate and her a 20-hour flight from RDU to New York to Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu?
Yes, Sharma said, but that wouldn’t satisfy her desire to get personally involved.
“I feel guilty, and helpless to some extent,” she said, “that I am not on the ground, that I was not able to do something when my country needed it.”
Helping remote villages
Another reason for wanting to personally deliver the food, tents, water and medicine, she said, is that some areas are not getting the aid they need.
“The conditions are heartbreaking. I’ve been in touch with people there on Facebook and talking to my friends and family and hearing about the loss and destruction. That is how I know that some areas have not had relief aid yet. One factor is that Kathmandu is hit so badly. When people go to Nepal, where they land first is in Kathmandu. They see the need there and it’s more likely for aid workers to start there. Another factor is that because they’re remote, some areas are being neglected,” she said. “I think we can provide immediate relief to at least one village.”
Chandra Giri, a Duke professor who is also a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is working on a way to make those remote villages less remote. Giri, who was at the Duke Chapel vigil, said he is coordinating a group of 100 volunteers that is using technology to help pinpoint small villages on maps.
Giri, who said he is a “remote sensing expert,” said his group has already found one, “a small village where all of the houses have been destroyed.”
Sharma, the Duke student who is going to help her country and family, said “My cousin texted me. She said ‘We’ve had 52 aftershocks, we’re sleeping outside, but we’re doing fine.’”
Saunders: 919-836-2811 or firstname.lastname@example.org