Clark's strong ties, student/faculty leadership, humanitarian aid expertise combine for lasting, meaningful support
Months have passed since an earthquake and aftershocks claimed the lives of thousands in the small Himalayan nation of Nepal. As the country struggles toward recovery, many members of the Clark University community are continuing with relief efforts, drawing on deep connections as well as caring hearts.
In a message to the campus community shortly after the 7.8-magnitude, April 25 quake, President David Angel wrote: "The degree of devastation is heartbreaking: there is widespread loss of life, destruction of homes and entire villages, and damage to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Clark University has extensive ties to the region through our students, alumni and faculty. Through these ties we know many who have suffered loss. The tragedy in Nepal reminds us that the world we know can change in an instant. At times like these we can act compassionately by remembering the importance of our extended relationships and exercising our responsibility to respond to the needs of others.
"One immediate and urgent need is financial support. The challenges and need for support will last for months and years. As more information comes from Nepal, members of the Clark University community will organize to send assistance to the area. Various initiatives are under discussion."
On April 30, President Angel and several faculty and administrators gathered with dozens of Clark students for a candlelight vigil on the campus square.
News article, photos and video are online: Clark students gather in honor of quake victims
In two short months, more than 180 people contributed over $12,800 to "Clarkies for Nepal," an online fund-raising campaign organized by Wabun Nembang (MBA ’15), who is from Kathmandu, and several of his fellow students. The group, who also hosted a yard sale that raised $1,200, coordinated a shipment of items to a village in Gorkha. Nembang reported on the effort and included pictures on his Facebook site. "Nothing more satisfying than seeing immediate results of what you have worked for," Nembang wrote. "… Now we are a solid community of hard working Nepalese from Clark University trying to send more relief funds to rural areas in Nepal."
Nembang also credited the guidance of William Fisher, Clark’s Associate Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies and professor in the International Development, Community and Environment Department (IDCE), and Jude Fernando, IDCE associate professor. Each is expert in humanitarian assistance and international development and is helping the student coordinators formulate sustainable actions and long-view strategies for recovery in Nepal.
Aakriti Pandey, a master’s degree student in International Development and Social Change, will be working with Professor Fernando to organize the sustainable support mechanism for Nepal in the education sector. She has been coordinating efforts with different non-profits run by her friends in Nepal and the Nepalese Military, where she served as a captain for nearly ten years.
"This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last time Clark students have stepped up," Fisher observed. For example, Clarkies quickly rallied to provide material and knowledge resources in response to the Dec. 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the Jan. 10, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Clark-guided efforts in these and other areas continue and, with each experience, Clark faculty and students gain deeper knowledge and understanding, becoming better educated and more effective humanitarians and agents for meaningful relief.
"It’s part of the educational experience here, with a heavily internationalized student body that is connected around the world. If not for Clark’s longstanding, on-the-ground connections, we wouldn’t be able to act as quickly or as effectively," Fisher said.
Fisher said there are plans to establish an ongoing fund at Clark to help students prepare and respond to humanitarian crises around the world, which could be the result of climate change, natural and man-made disaster. The fund would help defray air travel costs and on-the-ground expenses, for example. "We’re building upon the experience and knowledge of students as well as alums and faculty before them, taking a long, broad vision — honing our ability to leverage our connections and to have an impact."
Fisher pointed with pride to the "instant" student-led response to assisting with Nepal relief. Forty-plus students, in the midst of finals week, immediately gathered to set efforts in motion. This outpouring of activity — for Nepal and in the wake of other crises — has always included students of many national backgrounds and academic disciplines, he noted
It is estimated that 9,000 people died in the Nepal quake and its aftermath. As recently as mid-July, the U.N. reported "more than 2.8 million people remain in urgent need of life-saving humanitarian assistance in Nepal, especially in the district worst hit by the twin earthquakes east of the capital, Kathmandu, where monsoon-triggered heavy downpours, floods and landslides will soon exacerbate their needs." A post-disaster needs assessment by the World Bank Group estimated the cost for Nepal’s recovery to be $ 6.7 billion and suggested "that an additional 3 percent of the population has been pushed into poverty as a direct result of the earthquakes."
Professor Fisher plans to travel to Nepal in the fall for four months where he will conduct research on resiliency of communities in disasters and the roles of NGOs. The Clark community’s commitment, connections and know-how leads to longterm Clark engagement, Fisher said. "We prepare students here to be capable of sustainable, and meaningful responses, to gain a learning experience while making a difference in others’ lives and well-being. This is built into our educational structure for both undergraduates and graduates."
- VIDEO: The Big Picture – Student-designed LEEP Project helping empower Nepali Dalit women to tell their stories: Cecilia Rana (’14) and Bhumika Regmi (’14/MA ’15) worked with women from a Dalit ("untouchable") women's group. The 2012 trip was coordinated by ADWAN, a non-profit organization founded by Clark graduate Bishnu Maya Pariyar (IDSC/MA '07). Pariyar, of Gorkha, works in the field of social development and domestic violence against women. She founded and leads Friends of ADWAN Nepal (FAN).
- USAID webinar shares lessons around land tenure and disasters - Prof. Cynthia Caron, assistant professor and coordinator of the undergraduate program in International Development and Social Change, was a panelist. "Drawing on their personal experiences in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia the panelists underscored the message that addressing land tenure concerns before and after disasters is critical for building resilience and reducing the human and social costs associated with disaster relief."
- Two Clark students from Nepal received grants from the Emergency Student Fund of the Institute of International Education (IIE). Individual grants of up to $2,000 aim to "help Nepalese students remain enrolled in their U.S. degree programs so they will be better prepared to assist their communities when they return to Nepal."
Here are links to some of the news media coverage of Clark’s post-quake relief activity: Clark Students Help Nepal (Prof. Fernando and others are interviewed on Charter TV 3 - Worcester News Tonight) Nepalis in Worcester work from afar to aid their devastated homeland (Worcester Telegram & Gazette) Clark students gather in honor of quake victims (Worcester Telegram & Gazette) Photo Gallery: Nepalese students hold candlelight vigil at Clark (Worcester Magazine) The Devastation of Nepal’s Cultural Sites (Prof. Fisher is interviewed in the Boston Globe)