Walking Near the Epicenter: #NepalEarthquake

Our voice in the field is Save the Children's Senior Director for Humanitarian Operations Gary Shaye.  

Gary Shaye_81905The news of yesterday’s earthquake in Nepal was extremely personal for me, especially when I saw that its epicenter was in the very area through which I had walked so many times during my seven years there with Save the Children.  

My Work in Rural Nepal

Several years ago, I was assigned to initiate Save the Children’s country program in Nepal’s Gorkha District, midway between Kathmandu and Pokhara. Save the Children’s programs at that time were focused in Gorkha, in an area of small, rural villages, north of the main road. From that road, our team spent three to six hours walking to the villages where we worked. Later, our work expanded to even more distant parts of Gorkha, reaching populations who lived as far as four to six days’ walk from the nearest road. Over the years, we worked in hundreds of remote, rural communities and with many thousands of Nepal’s children and families.

What News of Rural Children

I am deeply troubled and saddened by the loss of life and the horrific devastation in Nepal’s densely populated urban areas of Kathmandu and the neighboring cities of Patan and Bhaktapur, as we’ve all seen in the news. However, because the communities nearest the epicenter are so remote, with roads often blocked and access so challenging, news from rural areas is slow in coming. I have walked those roads and worked closely with those people, so I am anxious to know how they are. I worry that the simple mud and brick homes, as well as the many schools Save the Children helped villagers construct, may not have survived the quake. Mostly, I worry for the lives of those children and families.

15-NP-10_162441Children in Crisis

I have worked for Save the Children now for nearly 40 years, half that time spent in the field, including as Country Director in Haiti, after the devastating earthquake of 2010. So I know what Nepal’s children and families are likely facing now. Children in crisis are always among the most vulnerable – and they often suffer more. There is an overwhelming sense of loss – loss of home, loss of family members and friends, loss of the safety and structure of school. Every aspect of children’s daily routines disrupted. Children may be injured. They may be separated and alone. In an instant, a child’s life is turned upside down.

We Must Help Them Now

We must provide immediate aid to Nepal’s suffering children and their families, both in its urban areas and its remote, rural communities. And we must help them now, because we are indeed in a race against the onset of the monsoon rains, as close to six or seven weeks away, which will only increase our challenges.

Far Away, But Close to My Heart

When one travels by foot, scores of times, over the same roads and across trails, you really get to know and love a country and, most importantly, its people. I learned a lot on my journeys in Nepal.

So I am going to do whatever is possible now to let everyone know about the remarkable and resilient people of Nepal – especially those who live in areas that are remote in distance, but for me, so very close to my heart.

How You Can Help 

Please give generously to the Nepal Earthquake Children’s Relief Fund to support Save the Children's responses to ongoing and urgent needs as a result of the earthquake. 

Nepal Earthquake: Aid Worker’s Firsthand Account from the Field

A firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal.

Our voice in the field is Brad Kerner, part of Save the Children’s team on the ground responding to the deadly earthquake in Nepal. He was in Nepal when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck and is in Kathmandu assisting with our emergency relief efforts. Here he shares his firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal. 

Brad Kerner_162443Nestled in the majestic Himalayan mountains, Nepal is near the top of the world and home to Mount Everest. I’ve always been in awe of the snowy peaks and fond of the gentle Nepalese children I’ve had the honor to work with over the years.

I was hiking with friends on the rim of a pristine lake. We were enjoying our day off, celebrating a colleague’s birthday. Then suddenly in the distance, we saw buildings start to shake. Then the rumbling sounds started. People ran out of buildings, but the shaking ground knocked them off their feet like game pieces on a chessboard that had been turned over. We felt the ground shake as the shockwave came crashing toward us. We huddled together, instinctively, for stability. I’ve never been more frightened in my life – I was paralyzed with fear and clung to my friends for dear life. We watched as buildings collapsed and houses came crashing down. The sounds of destruction and dogs barking filled our ears. The quake lasted little more than a minute – but it felt like an eternity.

15-NP-5_162433At first, we didn’t know the extent of the damage. Communications were down. My wife saw the news back in the states and was frantically trying to contact me. Thankfully, she reached me within a few hours.

We slept in a tent for the night and then headed back to Save the Children headquarters in Kathmandu, where our staff was readying our response to the disaster. What’s typically a 4-hour trip took more than 7 hours, but we were grateful that the roads were relatively intact. So many homes have been damaged and destroyed. The aftershocks make it unsafe to be inside. It is still cold here in the mountains, and it rained last night, but people are fearful to return to their homes and are sleeping outside in makeshift tents.   

Our teams have been working around the clock in response to the earthquake. The first phase includes the distribution of emergency supplies like tarps and other materials children and families need to survive. The next phase will also include protecting children who have been orphaned or separated from their families during this tragic disaster. As a public health professional, I have great concerns about the potential for the spread of disease in the coming days. With little or no access to clean water and proper sanitation, conditions are ripe for diarrheal diseases, such as cholera. These diseases are already the second leading cause of death for young children around the world. 

We are doing everything we can to keep children safe from harm and help families recover in the aftermath of the earthquake. We have more than 500 highly trained staff members in Nepal, many of whom have received intensive emergency response training. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our donors that will enable us to give children what they need to survive this horrific disaster and recover in the days, weeks and months to come. On behalf of Nepal’s children and families, thank you.


More about Brad: Brad lives in Connecticut with his wife and children. They have two sons, ages 7 and 5, and a 10-month-old daughter. A veteran aid worker, Brad has been with Save the Children for a decade, and this is his 10th trip to Nepal. He had been working in Pokhara, Nepal on our health education programs – about 125 miles away from the capital city of Kathmandu – not far from the epicenter of the earthquake. Brad is highly regarded by his colleagues for his expertise and adored for his good humor. He is also one tough man – literally! When he’s not working or spending time with his family, he is an avid endurance athlete. He has competed in the Tough Mudder – a hardcore, 10-mile team obstacle challenge. 

How You Can Help 

Please give generously to the Nepal Earthquake Children’s Relief Fund to support Save the Children's responses to ongoing and urgent needs as a result of the earthquake.