February 23, 2016
When David Richard and his students ventured on their second Global Opportunities (GO) trip to Nepal, they were relieved to find that the country they've come to love is making tentative steps on the road to recovery after an April 25, 2015, earthquake.
"The reports of devastation throughout the country are, for the most part, greatly exaggerated," said Richard, associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Susquehanna University. "It's not trivial, but it's not the disaster zone people said it was." While some areas were destroyed, many others were unaffected.
Richard leads the Sherpa Life and Culture GO program, which takes students to Kathmandu and the Khumbu Valley in Nepal, less than 100 miles from the epicenter of the quake, which killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000.
Upon arriving in Nepal in December 2015, Richard and his students found a populace eager to prove that things were returning to normal. The SU contingent found that while most of the infrastructure in the Kathmandu valley was in good standing, the earthquake had damaged some of the region's oldest and most recognizable structures such as the Boudhanath stupa, the Monkey Temple and the medieval village of Khokana.
Junior biology major Beatriz Fuentes-Montesino, of Port Royal, Pa., said that while she was in awe of the history and landscape of Nepal, she was most inspired by the people she met, including her Nepalese trekkers.
"The last night of our hike we had a banquet with traditional Nepali songs and everyone sang and danced. It was the perfect way to say our goodbyes because they had become my brothers and they, too, had adopted me as their little sister," Fuentes-Montesino said. "Nepal is beautiful for so many reasons, but most of all its people. I miss them even now as I am reminded of their resilience through everything their country has been through."
At one stage the team considered doing a service project, though "Following the advice of our contacts in Nepal, we decided that our visit would be our service," Richard said. "We knew we could help the country recover as much or more by trekking with our Sherpa team than if we'd rebuilt a wall, for example, as a part of a reconstruction project."
When news of the quake spread around the world last April, Richard and his students quickly sprang into action, organizing a fundraiser that eventually garnered about $8,000. They donated it to the United Nations Children's Fund and the International Red Cross.