It has been almost 4 months since I experienced the disastrous earthquake while sitting in a quiet, outdoor cafe in the middle of Kathmandu. Although I reside in California and have lived through several earthquakes, nothing compared to the shaking and moving of the earth for 56 seconds that warm spring day. I took cover and was safe, but I immediately flashed on images of Kathmandu buried under piles of rubble. At that point, I didn't know that over 9,000 people would lose their lives, over 23,000 people would be injured and that hundreds of thousands would be left homeless with entire villages flattened.
I wandered the eerie, almost empty streets of Kathmandu and ended up at the British embassy. They welcomed me in, and as Brits do, made me feel better with a "cup of tea." I eventually contacted my husband who was able to get me a plane ticket out of Nepal in three days. I was one of the lucky ones. The Nepali people were left behind.
Everyone on the flight to Singapore seemed to be in shock. I knew that we were all asking ourselves similar questions, How could such a terrible tragedy happen to such kind and gentle people? Why did this occur in a country that already needed so much help? What will happen to all the homeless families when the monsoon season starts? How will the international community respond to such a massive disaster?
I returned home with a commitment to raise as much money as I could to make a difference. Friends, family and PiSL donors came through in a big way. PiSL was able to provide financial assistance to our Nepali partner nonprofit organization, Volunteers Initiative Nepal, to buy tarps, food and clothing. We later contributed to help build over 100 transitional shelters for families who lost their ancestral homes. I constantly thought (and worried) about my friends, colleagues and teachers I came to know so well on my seven visits to this amazing country.
Knowing that PiSL has supported families to recover from this disaster has aided in my own healing. I still might jump when a big truck goes by and the ground shakes. But, I then think about how the Nepalis are coping with aftermath of this catastrophe and remember how much work needs to be done to help them rebuild and mend. Moving forward is where my energy is now focused.
I am returning in November to hold follow-up teacher training and make visits to the 30 Early Childhood Centers we helped to create over the past 3 years. My husband (and PiSL Chairman of the Board) will also travel to Nepal and supervise the construction of a "demonstration" earthquake resistant preschool classroom. Two good friends plan to accompany us to help with teacher training and building.
What sustains me and gives me courage to go back is the knowledge that the Nepali people are strong and resilient. They will need help from the outside world for many years to provide the materials and resources needed to rebuild. We will continue to do our part and stand side by side with the Nepali people as they restore, and ultimately, improve their beloved country.
Diann Grimm is the Founder and Executive Director of Partners in Sustainable Learning. She can't wait to get back to PiSL's project area and see all the preschool teachers!