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Nepal Earthquake Disaster Strikes Close to Home for Penn State Students

by on May 01, 2015 6:00 AM

When Penn State doctoral candidate Jwala Adhikari woke up early Saturday morning, he felt like he had left a dream to enter a nightmare.

The first thing the Nepal native saw on the news was the famous Dharahara tower, reduced to rubble by the earthquake that tore through his county and left thousands dead. Many of the ancient, historical buildings tied to the history of his country were gone, along with the lives of many of his countrymen.

Thankfully, his family and his friends were not among those who lost their lives – but he worries about what else they might have lost.

“I talked with my niece today, she’s ten years old, and she told me she’s scared to go inside. ‘I don’t want to die,’ that’s what she said to me,” Adhikari says.

“I’ve been reading about the Haiti earthquake, how people are still traumatized after five years. After five nights, my niece is still scared to sleep inside. I don’t want her to carry that trauma forever.”

Madhav Kafle, a doctoral candidate in applied linguistics who is originally from Nepal, says he feels helpless watching his country suffer while he’s thousands of miles away and unable to help.

He’s had trouble sleeping and trouble focusing. Each time he tries to work, his mind wanders to Nepal, and he finds himself unable to concentrate on the task at hand.

“It’s really heartbreaking to see this happen,” Kafle says. “People from Nepal have been told for a long time that something like this would happen soon, but no one expected a disaster of this magnitude. We were all really shocked.”

But the response from the international community has been swift and strong, with a coordinated relief effort bringing food, medicine and other suppliers to survivors. And it’s not just major agencies that are making a difference; members of the Penn State Nepalese community are doing all they can to help.

Bikapla Nuepane, a Nepal native who will begin his graduate-level information science and technologies studies at Penn State in the fall, was moved to create a “one stop portal” for information about the Nepal quake.

His website,, brings together all kinds of information about the Nepali disaster: instructions for keeping safe in a land that still ripples with aftershocks, emergency contact numbers for different parts of the country, relief distribution information and maps, resources for survivors and more.

Nuepane is even crowdsourcing donations. Part of his site includes a forum where Nepalese people can post requests for whatever supplies they need, and a site moderator (mostly Nuepane’s friends and volunteers on the ground in Nepal) will get in touch with them directly to coordinate deliveries.

“For two and half days I couldn’t get in touch with anyone to find out the status of my family,” Nuepane says. “I can’t really explain what that felt like in words. I was very desperate, I was in a state of panic.”

Adhikari has also been working with other Nepalese students to organize fundraisers at the HUB-Robeson center, where he’s been “overwhelmed” by the number of people who have donated.

Another fundraiser will be held in the HUB on Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Adhikari and others will also be outside the Corner Room on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to raise money and awareness about the situation in Nepal -- many rural areas are still in desperate need of help. You can also donate directly to volunteer efforts on the ground in Nepal through Nuepane's website.

“No matter what happens, how different we are, what language barriers we have, during disasters like this we come together as human beings,” Adhikari says. “This has made we realize that’s what humanity is. We help each other in times of need.”


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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