Sushil Acharya, at right wearing a Steelers cap, is a professor of software engineering at Robert Morris University and a native Nepalese. He recently visited the remote village of Sipa Pokhare in the Sindhupalchok district, about four hours outside Kathmandu, which was devastated in the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
Courtesy of Sushil Acharya
Sushil Acharya during a recent visit to Nepal. The Nepalese Community of Greater Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh-based Brother's Brother Foundation have helped raise money for rebuilding.
Courtesy of Sushil Acharya
Members of the Sur Sudha Nepalese musical group will perform Tuesday as a fundraiser to help rebuild Nepal after the earthquake in April 2015. Here, Rajeev Shresta plays the sitar.
By Anthony Mendicino / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A year after a devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, the country is still trying to rebuild. With the Nepalese government in flux and charity money tied up in the bureaucratic process, the Empower Nepal Tour is hoping to raise awareness and money through traditional Nepalese folk music.
Scott DeLisi, former U.S. ambassador to Nepal who is now executive director of the Soarway Foundation, is bringing the Nepalese folk band Sur Sudha to Bellefield Music Hall in Oakland on Tuesday as part of a nine-city tour.
“Their music had people in Dallas and Austin, Texas, stomping their feet and dancing. The music just draws you in, and we’re really excited to bring them to Pittsburgh,” Mr. DeLisi said.
Mr. DeLisi’s relationship with Nepal began in the early 1980s with the U.S. State Department. So when President Barack Obama appointed him U.S. ambassador to Nepal in 2009 he knew what to expect — a richly diverse culture based on the religious customs of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Since the earthquake struck the country 50 miles outside the capital of Kathmandu in April 2015, the foundation has helped to build schools, bring medicine and doctors to remote areas of the country and fight against the human trafficking crisis that accelerated after the quake.
But, with a government in flux and still reeling from a blockade imposed by India over problems with Nepal’s 2015 constitution, many Nepalese people have not received any help.
“The government as it is would have been very slow, but the blockade gave them an excuse to completely do nothing,” said James Joshi, a professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Information Sciences and a member of the Nepalese Community of Greater Pittsburgh. Mr. Joshi, who was born in Kathmandu, estimates Pittsburgh’s Nepalese population to be about 100 to 150, with many still having family in the country.
Another major setback came when Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority, which was specifically set up to facilitate the earthquake rebuilding process, ran into a governmental snag.
Even after the blockade was removed in February, little has been done. “By the one-year anniversary, zero houses were actually built by the government,” Mr. Joshi said. “The community began to come up in an ad hoc manner to try to do whatever could be done, but there was only so much they could do.”
Through the Nepalese Community of Greater Pittsburgh and Brother’s Brother Foundation, an international charity organization based on the North Side, Pittsburgh has aided the recovery effort.
Sushil Acharya, professor of Software Engineering at Robert Morris University and a member of NCGP, created a three-part plan to help Nepal, using more than $250,000 in funds raised in Pittsburgh.
One part of NCGP’s plan was to build 70 temporary structures in a remote village with a warranty of 20 years. Mr. Acharya, who also was born in Kathmandu, was invited to the village of Sipa Pokhare in the Sindhupalchok district to see its progress.
“So this village is a four-hour trek from Kathmandu, and two hours from any road,” Mr. Acharya said. “When I arrived the people were waiting for me. I felt so good about it and what Pittsburgh did for them.”
The people in the village told him that politician after politician had come through promising to help but nothing happened. Now they have shelter. “They told me ‘Pittsburgh and you guys were all a godsend,’ ” Mr. Acharya said.
But for the most part, more than a year after the quake, Nepal’s recovery remains sluggish. “Out of 100 percent I’d say we are around 25 percent recovered,” Mr. Acharya said.
“People always get frustrated with the recovery process; they want it faster and better than it is,” Mr. DeLisi said. “Whether the pace is right or wrong you still have hundreds of thousands of people still at risk and without adequate housing.”
The Wounded Heroes Trek of Hope, another aspect of Soarway’s relief effort, hopes to change that by providing much-needed international attention to the country.
“Our goal is to send 10 Americans with physical challenges to Nepal on a once-in-a-lifetime trekking experience,” Mr. DeLisi said.
The trek has been recognized by the U.N. World Tourism Organization — the only such project to be recognized in Nepal and one of only three throughout South Asia.
“It’s about inclusive tourism. By making Nepal an accessible tourism location we can build an economy,” Mr. DeLisi said.
“I believe in Nepal what we are trying to do and what we do do is a reflection of American values. We can help them build a future that they can face with confidence rather than fear.”
Sur Sudha will perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bellefield Music Hall, 315 S. Bellefield Ave., Oakland. Cost is $25 in advance, $30 at the door, $15 for students with ID. To purchase tickets, go to http://www.empower-nepal.com/.
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