From the field: A neighbor saving lives


May 4, 2015

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  • Nishul is an active volunteer in his community. When the earthquake struck, he rescued his own family and then rushed to help his neighbors. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Kyla Yeoman is with our emergency response team in Nepal to document the conditions on the ground, survivors' needs and Mercy Corps' response to the April 25 earthquake. She previously visited Nepal in May 2014 to gather stories about our programs there.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived after the earthquake was how quiet Kathmandu is right now. When I was here last May, the city felt like it was bursting at its seams with people shopping, taxis zipping around town, and workers packing into city buses.

Today the mood is subdued and serious. Most of the shops are shuttered. Driving through town, we saw makeshift tents set up in every roundabout—and even along the tiny strips of grass next to the road.

We heard reports that 10,000 people in Bhaktapur, just outside Kathmandu, have been left homeless after the massive quake shook their homes to the ground. But hearing that couldn’t prepare me for the stories of the people I was about to meet.

READ MORE: Survivor stories from the Nepal earthquake ▸

A man named Nishul told us his wife Roshni and son Yunish were trapped in their home, which collapsed after the first big tremor. Incredibly, he was able to pull them out without injury, but their home was completely reduced to rubble.

“At the moment the earthquake struck, I was volunteering to help fix the broken streetlamps in town. It happened at 11:45 in the morning. I was so worried about my son and wife. I ran home to them and they were trapped. They were crying. As soon as I rescued them, I ran to help get other people out of the rubble.”

As soon as Nishul knew they were safe, he ran to the other side of his neighborhood and saved four other trapped people. His family was deeply affected by the earthquake. “My son and wife were in trauma for the whole day afterward, crying. Especially my son,” he tells us.

“My son keeps asking, ‘How will we watch TV now? How will we play? When will we go home? He loves to slide on slides but the playground was destroyed.”

The family is now living in a makeshift tent made from a tarp that was included in a Mercy Corps emergency kit they received. The thought of rebuilding is too much to bear. “I’m not thinking about rebuilding. It’s too much money,” he says. “We’re going to try to rent somewhere.”

Despite losing his own home and all of his possessions, he takes satisfaction in the fact that he helped his neighbors survive. “The woman keeps thanking me,” he tells us. “In that moment, I feel like I haven’t lost anything.”

We walk with Nishul to where his home used to stand. Now it’s a pile of rubble, broken brick and debris an entire story high.

It’s clear Nishul is exceptional, and not just for saving his neighbors’ lives. He’s an enthusiastic leader of a local volunteer society and youth club and has been generously giving his time and talent for 10 years.

As we walk back toward our car, he runs up to us and motions for us to stop. A woman carries out a little tray from the nearby shop, one of the only buildings still standing. The tray is laden with glasses of hot, sweet tea — a gift from Nishul to us. I am shocked.

He has just lost his entire home and everything in it. And yet he’s sharing with us a time-honored Nepali tradition of taking tea together, even under these tough circumstances.

I wanted to share this story with you, our donors and supporters, who have rushed aid to the people of Nepal this week. This gift of tea from Nishul is for you — it’s his way of sending heartfelt thanks to all the people around the world who are keeping his family and community in their hearts during this crisis.

How you can help

  • Donate to our Humanitarian Response Fund: Your gift will help people in Nepal recover and support our emergency efforts to crises in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and around the world. Give now ▸
  • Fundraise for survivors: Our team is able to quickly respond to natural disasters because of supporters like you — and the more people who come together to help, the more people we can reach. Spread the word to your family and friends: Start a fundraising page for Nepal ▸