Nepal may seem a long way from Virginia, but for Trevor Patzer (M.Ed. ’04 Admin & Supv), the Asian country is very close in heart – and it was especially so after the devastating earthquake of April 25. The death toll from the 7.8 magnitude quake and its aftershocks has now climbed beyond 8,600 with 16,000 injured.
Patzer is the co-founder and executive director of the Little Sisters Fund, an organization that supports the education of about 1,700 economically disadvantaged girls in Nepal.
Since the earthquake, Patzer, who is based in Maryland, and his Nepali colleagues in Kathmandu have kicked into high gear to help with the relief and recovery effort. The Little Sisters Fund has 9 full-time and about 25 part-time staff in Nepal, and all survived the quake, although quite a few homes were damaged.
“In the early days after the quake, pretty much anyone who survived unscathed jumped into the relief effort simply as friends, neighbors, and citizens,” Patzer explained. “We were unique in that we had an existing organizational structure and a network that reached into many of the affected districts, as well as funds on hand that allowed us to act immediately.”
Initially the Little Sisters Fund (LSF) team on the ground focused on immediate relief efforts: distributing food and water, and coordinating with hospitals to meet their needs for medicine and fresh clothes for discharged patients. Shelter is also a key priority, as nearly 500,000 homes were completely destroyed, while many more sustained damage. The homes of about 400 of the girls supported by LSF programs collapsed entirely or were severely damaged. In response, the organization is providing funds and assistance for people to rebuild. According to Patzer, heavy monsoon rains are imminent and could wreak havoc if people do not have a roof over their heads.
In addition, as people in Nepal are slowly regaining a sense of normalcy, Patzer says the Little Sisters Fund is returning to its core focus areas of child protection and education. “One of the big reasons we started educating girls in Nepal was that girls who are not in school are highly at risk for child trafficking for the sex trade, child marriage, and child labor,” he says. “Now, in the aftermath of the quake, many schools have been destroyed – and those that weren’t are still closed – and you have hundreds of thousands of people without a home to protect them. That leaves children, and especially young girls, highly vulnerable. Already, we’re hearing reports of girls being raped while in makeshift tents and traffickers coming to take advantage of families who have just lost everything. It’s horrible.”
To combat this, the LSF Nepal team and other organizations are heavily involved in awareness-raising campaigns even as they work to meet basic needs. LSF relies on young women who have graduated from its programs to form relationships with communities, schools, and groups of girls whom they mentor. Now these young women as well as the LSF staff are instructing parents, families, and girls about the risks and warning signs to watch for.
For his part in the U.S., Patzer has focused on channeling information and funds to Nepal. “For example, water is a huge issue right now,” he says. “So, we’ve done research here on the best low-cost ways to purify water, and now we’re spreading that information through our network to multiple affected communities. And, of course, fundraising is a priority as well, since the rebuilding effort will last long after the news disappears from the headlines and most humanitarian teams have returned home or moved on to the next disaster. We’ve been there for 17 years, so we’re in it for the long haul.”