Mississippi University for Women student Dipa Bhattarai traveled home to Nepal this summer to visit her family and help the country following a devastating earthquake this spring. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
July 28, 2015 10:12:05 AM
When Dipa Bhattarai arrived in Nepal in May, it was the first time she had seen her home country since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the country in April.
Dipa, a junior at Mississippi University for Women, had not planned on returning to Nepal this summer. An accounting and business student, she had decided to stay in Columbus and pursue an internship to get more experience.
After leaving the plane, Dipa spotted her brother, Dipesh, and a friend of his. Dipesh was looking the other way and had not seen her.
Dipa walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. Wordlessly, he turned around and hugged her.
Finding a way
Dipa didn't hear from her family for three days after the earthquake.
Her family had not been able to get in touch with her because their phones were trapped. When the earthquake struck, the front part of their house collapsed, with both Dipa's mother and brother's cell phones inside.
Phone lines were down across the hardest hits areas, and family members had difficult times trying to get in contact with each other. Dipa managed to find a friend on Facebook who made contact with a friend of Dipesh. Dipa gave her friend her phone number. The friend passed it along and it found its way to Dipesh.
Even before she talked to her family, Dipa had decided to return to Nepal for part of the summer. She wanted to see her family.
"Even after I realized they were safe, I thought, 'Let's go and look at them. Let's go be with them at this time,'" Dipa said.
There was another reason, too.
Dipa did not trust the media to present the truth. She kept getting conflicting facts from different sources and media outlets, and she realized the media may just be focusing on the destruction.
"Media ... were not showing the parts (of the country) that were safe and sound," she said.
On May 9, she flew home.
'Everything was normal for the first few minutes'
As they rode in a taxi from the airport to Dipa's home, Dipa was surprised to see that many things looked the same as she remembered. The earthquake had not destroyed everything.
"I could see everything was normal for the first few minutes," she said.
The taxi began to pass collapsed houses, but other homes were still standing. It was a relief for Dipa to see.
They arrived at her home, but not to go in. The front part of the house was still too damaged for anyone to live in it, and Dipa's family was living in a tent on the streets with their neighbors, whose homes were also damaged. It was the tent where Dipa would spend most of the nights of her 26-day-long trip in Nepal.
When Dipa's mother spotted her, she ran out of the tent and hugged Dipa. They all cried again.
Helping recover changed lives
Dipa spent the first few days home with her family and some of her friends. She slept outside under the long tent. One night, it started to rain, and Dipesh had to hold up the tent so Dipa and her mother could sleep without getting wet.
Dipa also delivered the donations of clothes and other goods which students and staff at MUW and residents of Columbus had given the many Nepali students.
Soon, Dipa decided to do more.
Before going to the U.S. for college, she had worked with several organizations that tutored and helped children. Now, back in Nepal after the earthquake, she began volunteering with Dorm Nepal, an organization working to help people, especially children, in the areas of Nepal hardest hit by the earthquake. Dipa, along with Dipesh and other volunteers, traveled to villages where they would stay for a week at a time and work with locals, helping to rebuild and keeping children occupied.
So far Dorm Nepal has built 200 houses, Dipa said. But its focus is on children, keeping them busy playing games or learning new skills so that the kids stay off the streets. Dipa taught the children how to make dolls out of beads and flower pots out of bottles.
Once when she had a child next to her on the couch, the phone in her purse began to vibrate. The little boy jumped to his feet and took off.
"He ran so fast that nobody could catch him," Dipa remembered.
The boy had felt the phone vibrate and thought it was an aftershock. Aftershocks have plagued the country since the earthquake. Even small aftershocks send people scurrying outside for fear that whatever building they are in might collapse.
When they finally caught up with the boy, Dipa explained it was her phone vibrating. The boy stared at her with wide eyes.
"He was so relieved," Dipa said.
'It's united the people'
The people of Nepal have been traumatized, Dipa said, but there is hope as well.
In the tents, everyone is equal. No one is rich. No one is poor. Neighbors are helping neighbors, either by sharing homes or food. Many people in Nepal are worried that the country's leaders will not properly use the many funds received from non-profits and foreign governments. Still, the government and the people of Nepal are trying to work together, Dipa said.
"Though the earthquake destroyed everything, it's united the people," she said.
1. Vibrant Church's $14M expansion nearly complete COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Buying a piece of history: Market for antebellum homes changing in Columbus COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Christmas Co-op offers second wave of support to needy families STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
4. Council to discuss freeze on travel spending COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY