BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
After a devastating earthquake shook Nepal last weekend, New Yorkers poured into Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza to raise support and remember those lost.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal last Saturday morning. A rising death toll recently passed 5,000, and tremors continue to shake the region.
Diversity Plaza, located off of Broadway between 73rd and 74th Streets, saw a gathering of hundreds for a vigil on Sunday. Many have remained for long days and nights over the past week, manning donation tables, lighting candles or writing prayers and thoughts for the Nepalese on a colorful mosaic of sticky notes.
Queens is home to roughly 5,000 Nepal-born residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to Pralay Rajbhandari, a member of the New York Nepalese Football Club who helped organized Sunday’s vigil, fundraising efforts that night brought in more than $23,000 and continued throughout the week.
“[It] is still not enough, but we are doing everything, every effort, to do the collection and send it back home as soon as possible,” Rajbhandari said.
Many present at Diversity Plaza urged awareness for the needs of those outside the capital region of Kathmandu.
Dorje Lama, an East Elmhurst resident whose family resides the Helambu region, said, “people can carry you and walk 20 blocks in Kathmandu and take you to a hospital… but in the villages, they have no hope – people have to carry you for seven days to get to Kathmandu. It’s impossible.”
Rajbhandari noted this discrepancy as well and said donations collected since Sunday will be sent to rural villages.
Many present at Diversity Plaza described difficulty communicating with family and friends back home and its emotional impact.
Binamra Khadka said he has been able to connect with his loved ones only a few times, by phone or Viber, a messaging app.
“For me, mentally, it’s exhausting,” Khadka said. “Just to know you have family and friends back home and you basically cannot protect them.”
Lama said he was finally able to connect with a cousin on Monday at 2 a.m., and learned that his village’s situation is dire.
“My family, all my villagers, they’re gathered in one spot… by the monastery, which is also shaken. They have a few tents for hundreds of people,” he said.
Jackson Heights resident Tandul Lama, no relation to Dorje Lama, said he tried to connect with his mother for three days. He ultimately reached her after a friend back home with a working phone went looking for her.
“Back home I have my mother, brothers, sisters and everybody, and we’re really worried about them,” Tandul Lama explained. “They are having a very hard time. It’s cold I heard, it’s raining there, they’re trying to get together, be strong.”
New Yorkers who want to support relief efforts have a number of options.
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who was present for Sunday’s vigil, suggested contributing to Adhikaar, a Woodside-based human rights organization for the Nepalese community, as well as the Red Cross and UNICEF.
Adhikaar is accepting online donations at life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/immediate-relief-for-nepal-earthquake-survivors.
The Jackson Heights Beautification Group suggested donating to Mercy Corps’ Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund, which can be accessed online at mercycorps.org.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.