They awaited no official requests. They sought no outside advice. Instead, just moments after a catastrophic earthquake ravaged the region of Kathmandu, Nepal -- and at great peril to their own lives -- Salesian missionaries rushed to assist and tend to the victims.
Amid the earthquake’s tragic toll -- thousands of lives lost, tens of thousands more injured -- the scene was chaotic and terrifying. More than half a million homes had crashed to the ground. Devastating mudslides -- triggered by the violent tremors and aftershocks-- toppled electrical lines, clogged wells, obstructed roadways and further isolated survivors from help.
Traumatized survivors were camped in the streets, afraid of being trapped or killed in a collapsing building. They huddled together against the cold and rain, vulnerable to hypothermia and the illnesses that breed in close quarters and poor sanitary conditions.
“Their needs were immediate, and vast,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Food and clean water, tents, blankets and medicines. Our missionaries knew they needed to act fast and do whatever they could, because so many outside aid agencies were initially cut off from the area -- hampered by logistics and lack of access due to the damage.”
Since 1995, Salesian missionaries have served among the poverty-stricken population in four different communities around the country. Thus, they were immediately able to respond. Salesian missionaries, staff and some alumni of Salesian schools in Nepal fanned out across these communities, distributing food, medicines and sheets of polythene to be used as tarps for shelter. For at least a few days after the disaster, they had access to some limited food supplies and the funds to purchase them -- spending approximately $3,000 each of those days in order to provide relief for as many people as possible. Initial estimates indicate they were able to assist more than 1,500 survivors.
“As we make contact with additional communities, and the people see that we are able to help, more requests come in,” says Father Jijo John, a Salesian missionary coordinating efforts in Kathmandu. As of this report, Fr. John and his team have succeeded in reaching an additional two communities -- yet this is just a drop in the bucket of such widespread devastation.
In fact, according to United Nations estimates, 8 million people -- 1.7 million of them children -- remain in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Close to 1.5 million require food aid. Beyond the profound losses already sustained by survivors, the risks of illness, starvation and complications from injury loom large.
“This is very much still an emergency,” says Fr. John. “The work of rebuilding will come in due course. Right now, we are focused on raising funds for, and meeting, immediate needs. So many lives depend on it.”
In a nation of 27 million already-impoverished people -- with close to half of its regions affected by this disaster -- the earthquake has dealt a devastating blow to the hopes and futures of its residents. With the kind support of our many friends, however, our Salesian missionaries intend to persevere. They will remain among the communities they have grown to love and nurture them back to health and strength.
To support our ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts in Nepal, you may make a dedicated gift here.
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