Arkansas-based Heifer International is shifting gears to some degree in Nepal from long-term development to disaster relief in the wake of a devastating earthquake. The non-profit has had a presence in the Himalayan nation since 1957 and about 50,000 program participants are directly impacted by the natural disaster.
Maggie Thomas, a program officer involved in Heifer’s Nepal work, said tending to immediate relief efforts has become a top priority.
“We’re not normally a disaster response organization. However, since we have such a relationship with these families we’re committed to help bring them back to a place of sustainability,” said Thomas.
Heifer has received nearly $500,000 so-far from donors for relief efforts in Nepal. Thomas said shelter is among the most pressing challenges.
“The immediate need right now is housing. So many houses have been completely destroyed. Right now we’re trying to get people out of the elements,” said Thomas.
Annie Bergman has been updating Heifer International’s blog since news of the earthquake began filtering out of the Asian nation. Bergman relays that staff on the ground report that 6,800 project participants homes collapsed and 1,500-plus animals are lost. Heifer expects those numbers to rise. The death count of 61 people participating in Heifer projects, reported by Bergman on Tuesday, has already been changed.
Thomas, who oversees portions of development in Nepal and Bangledesh for Heifer’s Asia/South Pacific Department, provided an update bringing the number of deceased Nepalese in Heifer programs to 63. The country’s death toll has climbed to over 6,200.
Heifer’s staff is also experiencing a form of displacement according to Thomas. Although all 50 full-time employees are said to be safe and unharmed.
“Up until last night [Tuesday] our staff in Katmandu had been sleeping in tents up until then out in the open because of the fear of the structural stability of their homes.” Thomas said Heifer is “going to remain flexible” to changes in staff levels to help address the severity of problems facing Nepal.
The short-term needs of tarps, bedding, and foodstuffs are at the forefront of Heifer’s work in the hardest hit districts. But long-term mission in Nepal, the reason for Heifer stretching across the globe from Arkansas, still remains.
“We are working to bring the small-holder farmer from a state of poverty and vulnerability to sustainability and resilience,” said Thomas.
Projects in Nepal commonly include dairy and goat related agricultural developments geared toward women who live in rural poverty.
“Gender discrimination is a real issue in Nepal,” said Thomas. “The women are the ones who receive the trainings to try to build up their empowerment so that they can then work to support their families.”
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region Saturday. 12 of the 39 districts Heifer has programs in are directly impacted.