Relief efforts for Nepal

About a week ago, Lindsay Gezinski, an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work, had her bags packed to embark on a research trip to the Nepal School of Social Work in Kathmandu. Those plans changed on April 25, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the country. News reports have the death toll rising to more than 7,500 people, with another 14,500 injured. Now, Gezinski and other social workers in the U.S. are banding together to help bring relief to their sister university halfway around the world through a GoFundMe campaign that’s gaining international attention. She shared her personal connection to Nepal and information about her fundraising campaign with @TheU:

Q: You have a personal connection to Nepal and were just about to leave for a research opportunity there when the earthquake struck. Tell us about that, what were you planning to do?

A:   I was traveling to Nepal with colleagues from Ohio State University to attend the Nurturing University Community Engagement conference (cosponsored by the U’ College of Social Work) and for a research partnership I have been working on with the Nepal School of Social Work to examine gender-based violence and sexually transmitted infections among sex workers in the community. Similar to many social work programs in the U.S., the school in Nepal is training young social workers to try to advance the well-being of oppressed and disadvantaged individuals, groups and communities. The school relies on international visitors and professors from around the world and I was among those scheduled to visit to share my academic expertise. The work I had planned to discuss, however, is of course now on hold as a result of the earthquake.

Q: Have you been in contact with your colleagues in Nepal since the quake struck? What’s the scene like there?

A: We have been in touch and, as you can imagine, the scene is devastating, with collapsed buildings and general chaos as the country tries to dig out after the earthquake. Outside of contacting some personal colleagues in the country to hear their personal stories, we’ve also been monitoring updates on the Nepal School of Social Work’s Facebook page.

It’s really heartbreaking to read accounts of those who have been killed —or are still waiting to learn the fate of friends and family. It’s also hard from a social worker perspective to realize the huge struggle Nepal faces right now as survivors who are homeless are trying to figure out where to go next —as well as gain access to basic food and necessities like tents and blankets. Our social work colleagues in Nepal are putting to work an outreach model to reach rural communities most affected by the earthquake, but more help is of course needed. From an educational standpoint, classes for students who are attending the university are on hold for now, so as a professor, I am now focusing on helping by doing what I can from Utah —which is to organize and help with relief efforts through fundraising.

Q: Tell us more about the fundraising project.

A: I am working with my Ohio State University colleagues to raise funds to donate directly to the Nepal School of Social Work. Even though Nepal is currently receiving emergency aid from foreign governments and NGOs, we must consider the long-term impact of the earthquake on Nepal. It will take years for families and communities to put their lives back together, and the Nepal School of Social Work is poised to address immediate needs as well as community redevelopment and mental health trauma. So far we’ve raised a little more than $5,000 through our online GoFundMe campaign, but as you can imagine, more help is needed.

Q: It feels like too often natural disasters like the one that recently happened in Nepal are forgotten about quickly in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world as time marches forward. From your perspective as a professor of social work, what’s your advice on why it’s important to keep the focus on Nepal right now? How can we keep this attention going as the country continues its long recovery?

A: As social workers, we recognize that we are a global community and we stand in solidarity with our friends and colleagues in Nepal.  Social workers are important, because we operate from a strengths-based, empowerment framework – we see survivors, not victims. It can be easy to slip back into the routine of our daily lives, but it’s important to remember that those around the world are suffering. Making a small donation to a disaster relief campaign that benefits Nepal, can actually make a huge difference as the country tries to rebuild itself after an unprecedented tragedy. Funds are best spent when they’re given directly to those living in Nepal. The Nepalese people have a better understanding of the needs and how best to address those needs than outsiders. It’s easy to forget, but we’re all in this life together.