Help MIT Students Raise Donations and Awareness for Nepal Earthquake

by Jay London on May 6, 2015 · 2 comments

in Events, In the News, Public Service, Student Life

Images of Kathmandu, Nepal, before and after the April 2015 earthquake. The Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations and has raised more than $26,000 as of May 5. More info: http://miteri.scripts.mit.edu/web/.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2009 (left) and shortly after the April 25, 2015, earthquake. Photos: Bigyan Raj Bista (left) and Nirjal Stha via Wikimedia Commons (right)

Around 3:15 a.m. on Saturday, April 25, MIT graduate student Bigyan R. Bista was awoken by a phone call from a friend in his hometown of Kathmandu, Nepal.

“There’s been an earthquake,” his friend told him. “You need to call on your parents.”

For the next five hours, Bista frantically tried to reach his parents without success. At around 8:00 a.m., his phone rang again. It was his father. His parents were safe but their home had been damaged.

“It was frantic,” he says. “A non-stop feeling of fear overwhelmed me until I finally heard from them. Unfortunately, many others were not so lucky.”

The April 25 earthquake measured in magnitude at 7.8 and killed more than 7,000, injured more than 15,000, and left tens of thousands lacking food, shelter, and water.

To assist in the rescue and recovery efforts on the ground, the Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations from the MIT community. The group has raised more than $26,000 for Help Nepal Network (HeNN) USA, a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization that has provided humanitarian services in Nepal since 1999. The website also includes links to relief effort information and real-time mapping data that documents the damage.

The Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations and has raised more than $26,000. Visit their website for more information.: http://miteri.scripts.mit.edu/web/.

The Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations and has raised more than $26,000. Visit their website for more information.

“Our goal is to provide basic necessities to the hardest hit areas,” Bista says. “We want to help the people who have no roof, food, shelter, or sanitation.”

In addition to the monetary donations, MITeri and the MIT Media Lab co-hosted a Hack-for-Nepal Buildathon led by Associate Professor Ramesh Raskar and Nikhil Naik SM ’12 on May 1. More than 40 volunteers signed up for projects that could aid mapping data, analyze satellite imagery, and build mobile applications and medical devices.

“We want to leverage all of MIT’s resources, which go beyond money,” Bista says. “The media will forget this disaster soon. Our goal is to keep this platform updated so that we can engage the MIT community in helping rehabilitate, reconstruct, and rebuild of Nepal.”

MIT senior Uddhav Sharma’s hometown of Solukhumbu, near Mt. Everest, was also severely damaged and his family’s home was destroyed. His nieces, who attend school in Kathmandu, barely escaped before the schoolhouse collapsed.

“My parents were planning to attend my MIT graduation next month but that’s not happening,” Sharma says. “Right now, they’re living in a tent. They need to focus on building a new home, especially since Monsoon season starts in June and runs through August.”

The Nepali and Nepali-American community at MIT is a small, close-knit community. The Alumni Association’s directory lists about 30 MIT alumni who were born in Nepal and a dozen alumni whose company is located there. On campus, there are about 15 current graduate and undergraduate students and all have contributed to the relief effort.

“We’ve all been active and the diaspora of Nepali in Boston has contributed as well,” Sharma says. “We need all the help we can get. Some in Nepal will be homeless for years and many areas will never be rebuilt.”

Visit the MITeri website or email miteri@mit.edu to make a donation and find more information on relief efforts.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen May 6, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Once the immediate situation has been responded to, many members of MITeri will be trying to bring attention and support to a very special school, Bloom Nepal (http://bloomn.org), started by an MIT alumnus, Ram K. Rijal, ’12. Rijal had (and still has) big dreams for this school, wanting to grow it over the next two decades so that it has 8 campuses spread across the country. Now the school is struggling to recover, needing to construct a new temporary building to replace the collapsed one so that the students’ school year is not too severely disrupted. Watch for more information about this in the fall.

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Nikita June 29, 2015 at 6:25 pm

A very unfortunate aspect of the events and aftermath in Nepal, unfortunately, also relates to decisions in Bhutan in the late 1990s to 2002. What was then, also offers an opportunity for current day Nepal.

Following an analysis of the transportation and economic “situation” in Bhutan, which has many similarities to Nepal, Bhutan was offered the opportunity to establish a fleet of about 15 medium and heavy lift, high altitude helicopters to bypass the very costly and laborious process of road construction in the mountains, particularly in the east-west direction. The basic idea was to use the helicopters for combined freight and personal transportation use, with emphasis on the former to promote “high value” economic products.

One offshoot of this, however, was to be the ability of the “host country” (Bhutan) to provide assistance to neighboring or nearby countries in the event of earthquakes, or to the south, tidal weaves and tsunami, or to the north, the expected eventual glacial dam collapses. At the time, only the earthquakes in Nepal had been predicted with clarity, the others were just high probability. Since these aircraft also could serve as their own fleet “tankers” due to their lift capacity, used standard jet fuel, and would have FLIR as standard equipment to avoid power and logging lines in Bhutan, remote aid was an easy adaptation.

Bhutan has taken a different route that focuses on immediate income tourist traffic, with equipment that would not have the lift capability, safety record, or versitility of these proposed aircraft. The offer no longer can be made by a US source, as the prime maker of thee units all are Russian or other ex-Soviet military contractors, and no USA, Japanese, or European aircraft have similar heavy lift or altitude capabilities.

That noted, perhaps the next immediate step for Nepal might be a similar evaluation of this type of aircraft for internal use. The current oil prices certaintly would favor this. In 1999-2000, the market price of these aircraft and the high altitude engines were very favorable. That might not be the case any longer, but this is just something to consider.

The focus, of course, is not on the equipment per se, but on the overall social and economic network at issue, and the short and long term implications of a change in method and access of this magnitude for an isolated group. The helicopters were only a vehicle, but one that had materialized at the time at very low cost.

The original study was published in Bhutan (in English) by the national newspaper in 2 parts (about 20 pages in all). It is not available any longer, as best I can tell, but I can provide a detailed summary from memory, if anyone is more than “casually” interested. The study was titled “Swords in the Roads of Bhutan”. It covered a number of areas, including but by no means limited to projective modelling, safety and security issues, health care delivery, terrorism and counterterrorism, the effects on developing a highly skilled workforce related to the equipment and sophisticated transportation systems, and delivery of charity and aid to the poor as well as simple postal service functions tied with this type of transportation accessiblity.

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