EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – At least five Nepali people died trying to get to school, falling to their deaths when a rope bridge broke and they plunged into the river far below.
Someone should do something about that. Someone is.
Locals Taj and Eva Capozzola and Matt Anderson are raising money to build a metal bridge over that river, so Nepali children seeking an education never again have to risk death to get it.
“Five families’ lives were changed forever the day their children never made it home from school,” Anderson said. “With a little help and awareness, we can ensure countless futures for these children and their families.”
Taj Capozzola is a long-time Vail resident whose father, Sports Illustrated photographer Lou Capozzola, died Aug. 18.
Last June, Taj was with Lou when Lou took his last ride to Nepal to visit his daughter, Eva Capozzola. Eva Simone Capozzola, Taj’s sister, has been living and working in Nepal for the last year helping Nepali locals with organic farming and women’s health initiative projects.
Lou was one of the nation’s foremost photographers and Sports Illustrated has a tribute to him and his work on its website. He’d had been everywhere and seen everything. But he’d never seen anything like this.
They watched children commuting to school on makeshift bridges made of ropes and cables.
“I’ve personally crossed bridges 200 feet long,” Eva said. “Some of these rivers are quite wide, especially during monsoon time.”
It was during his last trip that the inevitable happened and five people – three adults and two children – fell tragically to their deaths.
Five other students swam to safety. The load was smaller than other days, the students told Republica, a Nepali newspaper.
“The wooden pole that supported the (bridge) collapsed soon after we moved away from the bank. The basket we were in bounced after it hit the water surface and we fell into the river,” said Suraj Khadka, one of the students who swam to safety.
Lou was thunderstruck and vowed to do something about it, Eva said, but died in August before he could raise the money.
Taj and Eva asked that friends and family send money to Bridge for Education instead of flowers. Sports Illustrated is helping with some fundraising of its own.
“It was front page news in Kathmandu and we felt it was something we could do to honor our dad,” Eva said.
Rotary International is offering to help. Harness Energy, the local firm Taj and Anderson run, is helping raise some money.
They’ve raised about $6,000 and need $22,000 or more. That includes the materials, the engineering and the labor, Eva said.
The tragedy saw 12 people crossing the river together on a rope.
“This is a common situation, single ropes for river crossings, or rope bridges with wooden platforms. It’s very dangerous for children, ” Eva said.
The bridge they’re building will be metal, much more stable, and much more secure.
It’ll still be narrow by U.S. standards, but wide enough for two-way foot traffic, motorbikes and some animals.
Tragedies like this are all too common, Eva said.
A Nepali engineer died when a twin rope he was using to cross a river snapped. A Nepali teacher died the same way, as have several others. The count is as high as 90 in one area.
Nepali people in remote hill districts have no other way to cross rivers.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.