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Utah-based Humanitarian Group Rebuilds Earthquake-Torn Nepal

Aug 06, 2015 10:09AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

Utah-based Humanitarian Group Rebuilds Earthquake-Torn Nepal

By Taylor Stevens

West Jordan - A West Jordan-based, non-governmental agency is working to rebuild schools in Nepal following the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake and aftershocks that hit the country on April 25, killing more than 8,000 people. 

Prior to the earthquake, CHOICE Humanitarian—the Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange— volunteers were working on implementing the organization’s “Self-Developing Village Program” in Nepal, a three-step process that takes place over the course of five years to help poor villages become self-sustaining. 

However, the earthquake destroyed much of the infrastructure in the villages where CHOICE volunteers work, forcing the organization to shift its focus. The earthquake demolished an estimated 8,000 homes and 4,500 schools in CHOICE areas, according to a statement by Christopher Johnson, program manager for the organization. The organization is now working on stabilizing and rebuilding Nepal—particularly by assembling temporary schoolhouses out of bamboo and tarps. 

“They have, for $150 or $200, a schoolroom in place that will last for the next year or two while they’re trying to stabilize and really be able to rebuild with earthquake-proof buildings,” said Johnson in a news release. 

In a June 1 update on the organization’s website, Bishnu Adhikari, Nepal’s in-country CHOICE coordinator, identified education as a “primary need.” 

“Without school, these children will lose critical years of education,” said Adhikari. “In 20 villages, in three districts where CHOICE has access, school buildings have been destroyed. Immediate structures are needed to resume education and to provide shelter from the impending monsoon season for first through 12th-grade students. Leaders in Nepal advise that tent schools will keep students dry and focused on their futures.” 

CHOICE, which has been working in small villages in Nepal for 15 years, stepped in to help amid what Adhikari called in an earlier online update a “slow government response” to provide aid. 

“We are not typically an emergency relief agency,” Adhikari said. “However, it has become clear in recent weeks that it’s possible to do short term and village driven relief providing food, shelter, and warmth, within the scope of the CHOICE Model.” 

CHOICE Humanitarian has been working in Nepal since 1999, and was thus well placed to assist in recovery efforts. However, rebuilding won’t come easy. Johnson said in the news release that rebuilding the country will take many years and much of the country’s economic resources. 

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries, with 31 percent of the country’s population earning below the poverty line—and the devastating earthquake has only intensified that struggle, leaving many families, incomplete and without shelter, to sort through the rubble of their villages. 

“Immediately after the earthquake it was a pretty bad situation,” said Connor Reese, a CHOICE volunteer from Utah who was stationed in the Lamjung area of Nepal, the epicenter of April’s earthquake. “A few of my friends lost their families, lost their homes, and they were sleeping in tents in the rain. Food and water was very limited for some of my friends when the earthquake initially happened.” 

Reese volunteered in Nepal in March and missed the earthquake by a few weeks. During his weeklong trip, he worked with a dozen other volunteers on installing new stoves with better ventilation in Nepali homes, a project he said increased life expectancy in the village by 10-15 years.

Although CHOICE is currently modifying its focus away from projects like Reese’s in order to provide emergency relief, the organization will continue to work toward its goal of ending poverty and improving quality of life as it rebuilds Nepal’s infrastructure. Its mission of creating self-sustaining villages is what makes CHOICE expeditions a unique and meaningful experience for both villagers and volunteers alike. 

“The village was heavily involved,” Reese said. “It was cool to see the village being very involved in progressively alleviating themselves out of poverty. The cultural aspect also had a big impact on me. The expedition allowed me to enter their homes and see how they lived. And doing certain activities—like playing soccer or them showing us their traditional dances and having them dance with us—was very touching and a very neat experience. That was a big takeaway for me.” 

If you’d like to support the work CHOICE is doing in Nepal, they have created an earthquake recovery fund. You can donate by visiting the CHOICE website. 

The funds will be used for “urgent needs” as well as “for tarps, lentils, salt, beaten rice, noodles, cooking oils, biscuits, hand sanitizer, soap, and purification water drops,” Adhikari said on the CHOICE website.  “Addressing relief methodically with village leadership, without knee-jerk reaction, is turning all eyes back to what we do best—lead with local people in long-term, sustainable recovery.”

In addition to its efforts in Nepal, the organization does work in Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala and Kenya.


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