Year after Nepal earthquakes, Lake Tahoe nonprofit making difference
Special to the Tribune
Visit ChangingLivesNepal.org to for more information about Changing Lives Nepal or to make a donation.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — In the small country of Nepal, 27.8 million people reside in a space slightly larger than the state of Arkansas. Sandwiched between China and India, the southeast Asian country is home to eight of the 10 highest mountains in the world, including the tallest, Mt. Everest, and has a rich culture rooted in Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Despite its natural beauty and tourism appeal, Nepal remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. The land-locked country is dependent on two main sources of income: agriculture and tourism.
Unfortunately, the challenging terrain presents a host of issues for farmers, and political instability has compromised tourism and slowed the development of Nepal’s economy.
A significant portion of the population lives in rural areas where no electricity, roads or social services are available. Even in more developed areas, schools are underdeveloped and very few social programs exist for those facing hardship. Developing sustainable infrastructure is a slow process in Nepal.
When the earthquake struck on April 25, 2015, it only made for a more rigorous struggle.
The earthquake resulted in more than 21,000 injuries and 8,000 deaths. It triggered two huge avalanches instantly and over 100 aftershocks throughout the next month, including a 7.3 magnitude aftershock on May 12, injuring another 2,500 and killing 200 more.
The devastation that flattened villages, destroyed century-old buildings and split up families continues to cause unjustified suffering and grief.
For someone visiting Nepal today, it would be apparent that little progress has been made. Villages across the country are still strewn with debris and thousands of earthquake victims continue to live in tents and flimsy sheds.
During a June 2015 conference in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, international donors pledged $4.1 billion to aid the disaster-torn country. However, the promised money to rebuild homes has been held back by Nepal’s volatile government due to a political conflict involving the new constitution approved in September 2015.
Madhesis, members of southern Nepal communities bordering India, protested that the constitution had been rushed through without suitable protections for their interests. This led to high-rising political tensions, violent protests and a border blockade between India and Nepal until the constitution was amended in early 2016.
Nepal blamed India for supporting and assisting the protesters (who have close cultural and language ties on the Indian side of the border) in the blockade; India denied the accusation.
During this political turmoil, the internationally pledged and donated relief funds hadn’t been dispersed to survivors, angering both Nepali citizens and the international organizations.
The 135-day blockade, which began on Sept. 23, 2015, resulted in a near complete stop in rebuilding efforts for earthquake victims. Nepal imports all of its petroleum supplies from India, receiving about 300 fuel trucks daily.
Since the blockade, that number has dwindled down to less than 10 trucks per day. This lack of petroleum caused the only international airport in Nepal to deny foreign carriers fuel, contributing to the country’s isolation and lack of foreign aid presence.
The blockade also choked imports of medicines and desperately needed earthquake relief material from India. With ongoing landslides preventing border trade with Nepal’s northern neighbor, China, earthquake victims were practically on their own.
ENTER, INCLINE VILLAGE
Where then lies the hope for rebuilding Nepal? Successes can be found in efforts from small organizations.
Changing Lives Nepal, founded locally in 2008, is one of these small nonprofits making an impact for positive transformation in Nepal.
CLN is based in Incline Village, with a mission to catalyze sustainable, effective change from the inside in Nepal through supporting local individuals with initiative and funding small grants to foster new projects. The organization has been a significant force in aiding Nepal, both before and after the earthquake.
The organization was founded by Nancy Porten, an Incline Village resident, and Deana Zabaldo, who lives in San Francisco and served four years in Nepal with the Peace Corps.
When Porten and her family went trekking in Nepal in 2007, Zabaldo was assigned as their guide to Everest Base Camp. Porten and Zabaldo connected over their similar goals in wanting to support change makers within the country, and CLN was born.
The organization began as a product based fund; Porten and Zabaldo sold jewelry made by local Nepali artisans in the U.S. and funneled the profits back to local projects in Nepal.
As it’s grown, CLN has transformed into a largely donation-based non-profit. The money raised in the U.S. is given as grants to local non-profits in Nepal to fund projects that’ll have a positive, long-term impact on the country.
“We work directly with non-profits in Nepal, our two primary partners being TEAM Nepal and SODEC Nepal (Development Communication Society, Nepal). We’re very involved with every project that they do from the ground up, including initial concept planning and budgeting. We travel to Nepal to visit the project sites annually and are in communication with our partners regularly,” Porten said. “Ultimately, Changing Lives Nepal serves as a management consultant to all of the projects in Nepal.
“Creating that hand-holding and small nature of what we do is the basis of our success.”
AN ONGOING EFFORT
CLN is currently involved in a multitude of projects to benefit the country, especially during this time of adversity.
In reference to rebuilding post-earthquake Nepal, Changing Lives Nepal is working to make communities stronger and more resilient through building reconstruction and repair, school support, their children’s home, and economic development with small farmers.
CLN also is investigating natural building techniques that are affordable, appealing and seismically safe as solutions in rural villages.
Since majority of Nepal’s economy is dependent on agriculture, CLN has aided in the development of sustainable farming initiatives. They have helped develop organic tea, almond and coffee farms, which brings in a reliable source of income for about 400 Nepali families.
The organization is also helping to fund a children’s home started by TEAM Nepal, which has given more than 30 children a new start. CLN supports school improvements at eight regional schools near the children’s home as well.
Over the years, Porten and Zabaldo have learned that a project like this isn’t one with an end goal.
“It’s ongoing, it’s not a story that ever ends,” Porten said. “Change is slow and takes a lot of maturity to happen. My goal is to continue doing what we’re doing for as long as we can.”
Stephanie Coates is a journalism student at Sierra Nevada College who’s also spent the past few months volunteering with Changing Lives Nepal.
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