Local Nepal relief efforts getting underway | VailDaily.com

Local Nepal relief efforts getting underway

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

EAGLE COUNTY — Just two weeks ago, Vail Valley resident Pemba Sherpa was visiting his home village in Nepal's Everest region, spending time with family and having tea with neighboring friends.

In a matter of minutes this past weekend, the landscape of what he left was severely altered forever, and Pemba, who had returned to build and bless a stupa (or monument) in honor of his parents, was shocked to learn that while his village was spared, a neighboring village a 10-minute walk away was crushed.

"Fortunately, my village didn't get hit," he said. "But in the next town, Chaurikharka 2, that whole ground shook so badly that each and every home there is not livable. We have tons of people I knew, that I grew up with, who live in that village. I've personally been to many of the homes destroyed for tea or lunch or special occasions. I left, and about 10 days later, it's all gone."

Other Nepalese families living in the Vail Valley felt similar shock waves this last week. Many of them have immediate family in Nepal and were scrambling over the weekend to find out if their loved ones were safe. As of mid-week, while many of them were hearing news of shattered homes, no fatalities or serious injuries were reported for the local community.

In the aftermath, a number of locals — both Nepalese and Westerners — are working to raise aid for earthquake victims. On Monday at 6 p.m., the valley is invited to join Healing Nepal, a fundraising event that will include Nepalese food, a slideshow presentation and support for the local Nepalese community at the Edwards Interfaith Chapel. There is no charge to attend, but donations will be taken for the dZi Foundation, a nonprofit started by local mountaineer Jim Nowak in 1998. The nonprofit's main presence is in Nepal, where it aims to help the poorest of the poor.

Stories of destruction

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Meanwhile, other Vail Valley Nepalese are rallying to raise aid for their own families or communities back home.

Gypsum resident Neema Sherpa said his sister and three brothers live in the Everest region in a town called Phortse. He heard about the earthquake on the news on Saturday and didn't hear from his family until two and a half days later. His family was safe, including his three brothers, who were working on Everest at the time of the quake.

"Everyone's house has been cracked to some degree. In my sister's case, the house is standing, but it is no longer on its foundation. The whole entrance is moved so that she cannot even open the door and get into the house," he said.

Neema, who supports his family working at a gas station in Edwards, said he wants to raise funds to help his sister rebuild her home. She lost her husband to an Everest climbing accident in 2006, and since then, Neema has sent money home to put his sister's two children through school. Rebuilding a home, however, is more than he can afford.

"To rebuild a house from scratch, I don't even know how much it will cost — I can't even imagine," he said. "I just want to build something livable and safe for my sister."

Solaris and Bol will also be rallying to help a fellow employee, Nima Sherpa, with a fundraiser on May 13 at Bol. Nima used to be a mountain guide in Nepal and saved his tips to build his family a home over 20 years. He received news that the home was destroyed this weekend.

Bol will host a bowling tournament with some proceeds from food, drink and a silent auction going to Nima's family.

"We wanted to do something specifically for him. Everyone loves him and knows him," said Bol general manager Gayle Hendrix.

Grassroots efforts

Some local Nepalese are hoping to lead more wide-reaching, grassroots efforts. Pemba Sherpa, like many Nepalese, has a strong distrust for his country's government and worries that aid money won't go to the right places. He has set up the Sherpa Foundation specifically to rebuild his neighboring village.

"The process of rebuilding everyone's home is going to be a nightmare. The building process is going to take time. I plan to go back there personally with this money and make a private, personal connection to the people," Pemba said. "I'm asking for donations not for my family, but other people who have no access or connections, no one to ask for money. All they had was the lifetime savings of a house and a roof, and now it's gone."

He also plans to contribute 10 percent of summer earnings from his business, Sherpa Painting, toward the cause.

Meanwhile, Avon resident Nima Sherpa (no relation to the previously mentioned Nima) is also starting the engine of what he hopes will be another community project. Nima is from the Dolakha district outside of Kathmandu and later this year, he and his daughter will be returning to Nepal together, hopefully with donated funds and local volunteers.

Nima says it took about three days after the earthquake for his family in Nepal to reunite but that everyone was safe. Like Pemba, he points out that many people are worse off than his family, and without political and Western connections. Those are the people he hopes to help, he said.

"If my family's home falls down, they will be OK. I want to find the poorest family, the one who was the poorest even before the earthquake and now are facing 10 times more struggle," he said. "I just want the donations to go to the right people — not to my family, not to my friends — but to the people who need it. I totally feel this in my heart."

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

How to help

Healing Nepal: This event raises money for the dZi Foundation on May 4 at 6 p.m. at the Edwards Interfaith Chapel. Entry is free, and donations will be accepted. For more info, contact Betty Ann Woodland at bettyannw6@gmail.com.

Bol fundraiser for Nima Sherpa: This bowling tournament and fundraiser raises money for Solaris employee Nima Sherpa to rebuild his family’s home on the evening of May 13. Children’s Global Alliance will also be collecting gear donations for a June trip to Nepal.

The Sherpa Foundation: This fund started by Valley local Pemba Sherpa raises money to rebuilt his neighboring village, which was hard hit. Donate to “The Sherpa Foundation” at any First Bank location, by mailing checks to PO Box 2737, Edwards, CO 81632 or visiting http://www.sherpafoundation.org.

Sister relief fund: Gypsum resident Neema Sherpa has started a relief fund at First Bank to help rebuilt his sister’s home, along with those of her neighbors. Donate by mentioning “My Earthquake Victim Sister and Neighbors” at any First Bank location or email Phortse@gmail.com

The Nima Fund: Avon local Nima Sherpa plans to partner with a local nonprofit to raise money and lead a group of volunteers to help some of the hardest hit families of the Kathmandu Valley. To find out more about his project, email him at Sherpa.nima@gmail.com.