Nepali Diaspora Aids Homeland’s Earthquake Preparedness & Relief


I was born in a small village in eastern part of Nepal, and my parents sent me to boarding school 350 kilometers in the capital Kathmandu where I continued my education through university. Though I lived in the city, I visited my village often, meeting with friends, chatting with neighbors, and discussing their daily struggles of living without basic comforts like electricity and paved roads. The nearest health center and the nearest telephone booth were about eleven kilometers away in the district headquarters. Compared to Kathmandu, life in the village was challenging.

I was barely out of university in 1996 when civil war broke out. The conflict spread throughout Nepal and completely stopped development and economic activities. It affected almost all families in rural areas, and took more than 17,000 lives. The conflict finally ended in 2006, but Nepal is still going through a prolonged political transition. This lengthy transition, combined with a lack of academic as well as economic opportunities in the country, has caused a large number of people to migrate from Nepal to countries including the United States. I came to the United States in 2001 on a scholarship to study environmental health sciences in the University of California at Berkeley.

At present, more than one million people of Nepali origin live in countries other than Nepal and India. In the U.S. alone, every year about 10,000 Nepali students enroll in various universities to pursue degrees in business and management, engineering, math and computer science, physical and life sciences and social sciences. After completing their studies, many students seek work in their host country. Now there is a large pool of qualified Nepali professionals in the U.S., and in many other countries. Rather than view Nepal’s emigration as a loss, it is time that we embrace the potential of the Nepali diaspora to provide new hope for the future of Nepal.

I recognized the opportunity of the Nepali diaspora in July 2007 while attending a meeting at the University of California at Berkeley about bringing researchers, professionals, policy makers, aid-organizations, industry leaders and concerned citizens from the United States and Nepal together to identify and create technology-based solutions for Nepal. At that meeting, then-general secretary of the Computer Association of Nepal (CAN-Nepal) Mr. Rajan Pant inspired us with an impassioned speech about how the diaspora can be a real force for development in Nepal. He told us that as members of the Nepali diaspora, we had the ability to break new ground and enhance the quality of development projects. In order to pursue this idea in a sustained and organized matter, we decided to start the Computer Association of Nepal-USA (CAN-USA). Our organization aims to motivate the Nepali diaspora to help spur Nepal’s technological progress and strengthen professional networks among Nepali-Americans.

What were Nepal’s most significant problems? And how could CAN-USA help solve them?  We looked to our members for answers by organizing our first U.S.-Nepal technology development conference at the University of California at Berkeley in July 2008. The conference deliberated on how state-of-the-art technology could be used to solve the problems Nepal currently faces. Emergency preparedness was one issue that kept coming up again and again throughout conference, and it has therefore been a focal point of our work. If a disaster strikes Nepal, CAN-USA is ready to connect Nepali diaspora members with their families and loved ones. Nepal lies in one of the most active earthquake regions in the world but it lacks earthquake-resistant infrastructure and communication systems.

To help Nepal in its earthquake preparedness and disaster relief effort, CAN-USA was instrumental in establishing a cross band repeater in the 8.0 earthquake-resistant building in Kathmandu. We have provided nine handheld Amateur radio (HAM radio) sets to five institutions including hospitals in Kathmandu. We provide training programs and practicum on using the HAM network for connecting hospital networks for emergency communication during major disasters. Several high school-aged Nepali youth from the San Francisco Bay area have launched a youth amateur radio group, with the assistance of CAN-USA, to provide funding for more HAM radio stations across Nepal. We have also made contact with organizations dedicated to administering disaster communications for hospitals within the Silicon Valley and partnered with many Nepali organizations to promote tele-health and emergency communication infrastructure. Recently, CAN-USA has launched a joint initiative on earthquake preparedness and disaster relief in Nepal with American Nepal Medical Foundation and the American Society of Nepalese Engineers.

In a short period of time, CAN-USA has made quite remarkable progress. Since our inception, CAN-USA has implemented a number of innovative projects to address some challenges being faced by people in Nepal, including the lack of health care, education, and emergency communications infrastructure in the country’s remote regions.  However, it is challenging to sustain and scale up these projects that were started with members’ small contributions and volunteered time. Our members are scattered around the country, and it can be difficulty to gather all us members together in one place to discuss ideas and projects on a regular basis. A lot of work still needs to be done in Nepal. At CAN-USA, we believe a collaborative effort with other diaspora communities will enable us to address these challenges. Together we can complement each other’s efforts to further the common goal of supporting global economic progress.

 

About the Author: Dr. Amod K. Pokhrel is President of CAN-USA. He holds a M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He is noted for his research into the health effects of cook stove use in developing countries, the association of respiratory illnesses with household air pollution in Nepal, and the environmental and occupational impacts of battery manufacturing and recycling. His work has appeared in the Environmental Health Perspectives, International Journal of Epidemiology and the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. Currently, he is a post-doctoral research fellow at UC Berkeley. Amod can be contacted at amod@berkeley.edu or amodpokhrel@gmail.com.

 

The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of the author and its ideas and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Migration Policy Institute, or any of their partners.