ORONO, Maine — Riju Shrestha, 23, was woken up at 3 a.m. Saturday by a text message that struck fear into her heart. Nepal, her home country, had been hit by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake and there was widespread devastation.
The senior biochemistry major from Kathmandu spent some terrifying hours trying to contact her family until she received a text message from her father later that morning.
“We’re all OK,” he wrote.
But her country is not, and Shrestha and the other 12 or so members of the University of Maine Nepalese community have been working hard to generate awareness and raise money to help however they can from the other side of the world. Among other planned events was a candlelight vigil set for 8 p.m. Thursday, April 30, on the steps of the Fogler Library on the Orono campus.
“The [Nepalese] government is trying, but because the destruction is so huge, it’s difficult to reach people,” she said Wednesday afternoon at the University of Maine campus. “There’s millions out there without food, water. The numbers of people injured goes up daily. We need short term and long term help.”
So far, the death toll from the earthquake and aftershocks has surpassed 5,000 people. Several Mainers, including Hinson Dhakal, a native of Calais, documentary filmmaker Alison Hudson of Southwest Harbor, and a Biddeford-based church group, were among those who survived the quake.
Shrestha said that her fellow Nepalis at UMaine have decided to raise dollars to send to Grande International Hospital in Kathmandu, which is currently providing free medical service to earthquake victims. University of Maine student Sujita Pandey’s father works at that hospital and so the students have a reliable contact to be sure that the funds get to where they will help the most.
In addition to feeling the pain of the human devastation, Shrestha said she is grappling with the knowledge that so many of the beautiful temples, palaces and other parts of Nepal’s cultural heritage were destroyed.
“The next day we were all together looking at how all the different areas are affected,” she said. “We lost it all. There’s pretty much nothing left. All the durbars, the palaces from ancient times, they’re all gone.”
Shrestha said that the week before the earthquake, she had given one of her classes a presentation on why they should visit Nepal.
“It’s a country that’s rich in culture, diversity. There’s a lot of tourist attraction sites. A lot of history, different architecture, hiking places, trails,” she said. “We have lost a lot of our tourist sites and our heritage and our history.”
But Shrestha, who eventually wants to go into public health research, said that she has a lot of hope for her country. First, aid will need to get to the affected areas in Nepal, many of which have had their access roads cut off by the earthquake and aftershocks. Along with medical care, many in Nepal need food, water and shelter right now. Many friends back home have been working to pack food and donate blood.
The University of Maine student acknowledges that it is going to be a long road to recovery.
“I am hoping we will rebuild, but it’s going to take a while for sure,” she said. “It’s going to take some time, a lot of funding, a lot of collaborative effort. It’s definitely nice to see there’s a lot of people coming together for this.”
On Friday, May 1, the Nepalese community at the UMaine will be accepting donations at a table set up from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the UMaine Union Atrium. There will be a coffee hour organized by the International Student Association at 4 p.m. Friday, May 1, at the North Pod in the UMaine Union. Finally, from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m. Saturday, May 2, there will be a fundraiser for Nepal at the Bear Brew in Orono. Donations will be accepted at all events.