Monday, July 6, 2015

UNO Students Raise Money, Build Shelters for Earthquake Victims

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University of New Orleans students raised more than $8,000 for victims of this spring's devastating earthquake in Nepal, but their efforts did not stop there. Several members of the Nepalese Student Association of New Orleans returned to their homeland and helped design and build corrugated metal shelters in advance of the country's rainy monsoon season.

April's 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and injured more than 23,000. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless as entire villages were decimated. Major aftershocks continued for weeks. It was the worst natural disaster in Nepal in more than 80 years.

Shortly after the quake, members of the Nepalese Student Association of New Orleans launched a GoFundMe website and began raising money for disaster relief by setting up a donation table at various UNO events. According to UNO senior Shaswot Kharel, the group raised $8,500. Of that amount, $4,900 was immediately distributed to local and national organizations throughout Nepal to buy food, medical and sanitary supplies, blankets and tarpaulin tents. The remaining money was used in rebuilding efforts, Kharel said. After finishing final exams, Kharel and two fellow UNO mechanical engineering students, Kushal Neupane and Unnat Ghimire, traveled to Nepal to participate first-hand in the process.

"We chose to rebuild part of the village of Rabiopi, about 40 kilometers from the capital of Kathmandu, where about 90 percent of the households have been completely destroyed or are uninhabitable," Kharel said. "With monsoon season approaching fast, the makeshift tarpaulin tents would not be able to withstand the rainstorms. We wanted to build a shelter that is temporary yet strong enough to withstand the weather." The wettest period of monsoon season in Nepal stretches from the end of June to the beginning of September.

The UNO students drew on their engineering training to consider various design and cost factors before deciding on a tunnel shaped shelter made of sheets of corrugated metal. The structures, supported by three rods, are 12-feet by 8-feet and can accommodate a family of six people. To maximize local participation and decrease the cost of each unit, Kharel said they encouraged the use of locally available resources such as bamboo to cover the front and back sections of the dwelling. The students worked in cooperation with local government groups and the Nepalese army.

"We were able to complete 27 houses, just before the start of monsoon season," Kharel said. "Under our supervision and the manpower of the Nepalese army, we completed the project. Without their manpower, we wouldn't have been able to complete the construction."

The University of New Orleans has a well-established connection to Nepal, educating nearly 400 Nepalese students, with approximately 50 enrolled during the spring 2015 semester.