Imagine the torment of finding out, when you were thousands of kilometres away in another country, that your parents’ village was not far from the epicentre of a massive earthquake.
This is exactly what happened to Assistant Professor Ram Pandit from the School of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
Little did A/Professor Pandit know, while he was enjoying the sunshine at tranquil Matilda Bay where the Nepalese community was celebrating a child’s birthday on ANZAC Day, that his home nation had been rocked by an 11.56am quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale.
After learning of the disaster, A/Professor Pandit spent the next few hours frantically trying to contact his parents, who are 72 and 66, and his two brothers and two sisters, who have 10 children between them.
He spent the rest of Saturday on his mobile and finally at 11pm he heard from a Nepalese colleague on social media that the impact had been bad, but not that bad, in the region where his family and his in-laws lived.
He said he was relieved, but still very anxious, as he did not know how affected they had been.
“To ease my pain, I initiated a fundraising campaign in the middle of that night,” he said.
On Sunday morning he heard from one of his brothers that, miraculously, his whole family – and his wife Sabina’s – had survived, although some of their houses were badly damaged.
“One of the worst experiences you can have is living in a place where you have everything but you can’t do anything to help people far away,” he said. “When you live abroad, your hands are tied.”
Although his village, Sange, in Tanahun district, and his wife’s in nearby Chitwan district were within 60 km of the epicentre, the worst damage was wreaked in areas to the north-east, including Kathmandu.
Before coming to UWA six years ago, A/Professor Pandit was a forestry officer in one of the hardest-hit regions, Dhading district, which lies between the epicentre and the capital Kathmandu.
He has been in constant contact with one of his former colleagues in Nepal, Mr Jibnath Paudel, who is coordinating the relief efforts under the District Disaster Management Committee in Gorkha district.
A/Professor Pandit said he has been able to offer some help to the affected families with the generosity of the people in his school and other well-wishers at UWA and abroad.
In coordination with Mr Paudel and with help from his brother Ramesh Pandit, who is a police officer in the Terai region of Nepal, A/Professor Pandit has been able to get relief packages to most needy families in Gorkha district.
“We don’t want to duplicate any aid that is already reaching them,” he said.
“As of 7 May, the United Nations have confirmed that 7,557 people have been killed and 14, 536 injured,” he said. “Two million people are displaced and eight million affected.
“The number of houses destroyed is about 191,000, with 175,000 damaged. Since 25 April there have been 143 after-shocks of more than four on the Richter scale.
“Schools, hospitals, cultural icons and infrastructure such as roads and bridges have all been destroyed and farm-animals lost.”
Within a week A/Professor Pandit’s campaign had raised US $1500, which, he said, went a long way in Nepal.
It is now beyond US$1800 and on 6 May, thanks to his brother driving to India for supplies, delivered 111 tents for 111 families and 11 relief packs providing food, sanitary items and water purifying tablets to 11 families for a week.
“With summer coming, and the threat of water-borne diseases rising, the situation is urgent,” A/Professor Pandit said.
His campaign will run for a month, after which he will donate any excess to the Nepalese Red Cross.
If you would like to contribute, please click here.
Next Monday night, 18 May, Professor James Trevelyan of the UWA Engineering Faculty and Professor Samina Yasmeen of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, have organized a fundraising auction with the support of UWA Nepalese students, the UWA Red Cross Club and the University Club of WA.