Nepalese American Nurses help quake victims stand tall

When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, Ngima Sherpa followed the terrifying headlines from her home in Jackson Heights, New York. Alongside her sister and mother, she says she cried and prayed. But then, Ngima recalls, her nursing skills kicked in: “It wasn’t good to be sad. We had to do something.”

As an active member of the Nepalese American Nurses Association (NANA), she had a group of colleagues who were keen to help. They were also adamant that any money sent to Nepal would support professionals who were directly helping Nepalis with injuries—especially nurses.

The next day, Ngima grabbed a folding table, a little brown collection box, and posters calling for donations. She set up a stand on the sidewalk, along the path to her child’s school.

Her perspective on the New York spirit changed within moments. “Everyone came,” she says. “They were all ready to help Nepal: the Indians, the Pakistanis, white people, black people, senior citizens, students. It was overwhelming.”

By the third day, NANA had collected about $20,000, as well as enough medical supplies to fill an office. And on May 3, 2015, a handful of nurses traveled to Kathmandu to deliver relevant supplies directly to the professionals they knew they could trust: Nepalese nurses. “We went to every hospital, and left a bag of supplies,” she says. Additional supplies were used to stock two shelters in New York.

The only catch? The Association of about 300 nurses in the U.S. didn’t yet have a place in Nepal to donate the funds they’d raised. And before long, their fundraising results had almost doubled. So, in 2017, Ngima took her family to Nepal, where she set aside time to find a charity that she felt she could trust.

She began to find her match in western Nepal, when a Belgian physical therapist sat next to her on a bus. “He had worked with Humanity & Inclusion (then Handicap International) for years,” she says. “He told me there were a lot of people who needed prostheses.”

Back at her computer, she sent an email to Willy Bergogne, the director of Humanity & Inclusion’s Nepal program, and the wheels started turning. “I felt, ‘this is it,’” she says. “We won’t find a better project than this.”

So far, the generous grant to Humanity & Inclusion has benefited 34 people who lost limbs from the 2015 Nepal quake. These individuals had originally received rehabilitation and artificial limbs at the National Disabled Fund, a Kathmandu-based rehabilitation center set up by Humanity & Inclusion with support from USAID. Three years on from the earthquake, many people’s artificial limbs had worn down from so much use on Nepal’s uneven roads. HI’s younger beneficiaries simply grew, and were ready for replacements.

“We are thankful to NANA for their great support to reach out to almost all the Nepal quake impacted amputees,” says Willy Bergogne, the director of Humanity & Inclusion’s Nepal program. “We’ve been able to replace their prostheses at the right time, enabling the beneficiaries to walk confidently.”    

“Ngima Sherpa and NANA are incredible for supporting the critical work of their fellow nurses in Nepal, and for considering the long-term needs of the people whose lives changed so drastically on April 25,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. executive director of Humanity & Inclusion. “By setting up that folding table in Jackson Heights, Ngima, her colleagues at NANA, and their generous neighbors will have helped dozens of people maintain their independence and mobility in Nepal. I cannot think of a better way for these committed professionals to promote, advocate and protect the health, safety and rights of the people of Nepal.”

Sunita Bhandari of NANA visits NDF, a Kathmandu based rehabilitation center which is supported by Humanity & Inclusion in Nepal.

Sunita Bhandari of NANA visits NDF, a Kathmandu-based rehabilitation center that is supported by Humanity & Inclusion in Nepal.