At 11:56 a.m., on a remote mountainside in Nepal, the ground under Chunumaya’s feet began to shake. The floor of her house rolled under foot as she lolled side to side. She clasped at the collapsing walls for support. Nearby, she heard the braying of animals. Shrill bleating emanated outside the doorway—the sound of animals dying.

She entered the light of the midday sun feeling as if her spirit had exited her body. Chunumaya began to run over the quaking ground. High in the Himalayan foothills, steps etched into the earth guide people down steep slopes. As Chunumaya ran down the incline, she tripped, tumbled, and hurt her foot. Stumbling to safety as the rumbling ceased, she looked back at her home. A wall had caved inward. Her animals were dead. They were killed in their pens by falling debris.

Chunumaya, a survivor of the massive earthquake in Nepal
Chunumaya survived the massive earthquake in Nepal

Chunumaya was Lucky

The massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people on April 25, 2015. Thousands more were injured in the quake. Many of those people lived in remote villages with no access to emergency medical responders. They were like Chunumaya—left to suffer alone, waiting for help to arrive.

Medical Teams International found Chunumaya two weeks after the earthquake. While not seriously injured, she was shaken by what had happened. She told her story with the stoic resolve of a person hardened by years of expecting the worst. She knew of others in her remote village of Khuri who had been seriously injured and needed to be airlifted to nearby clinics. But before the quake, few people believed they’d receive help from local first responders.

Fewer still expected an outpouring of international help. But it arrived.

Your support allowed us to send one of the first international medical teams to Nepal. Within 72 hours of the earthquake, we had professionals on the ground. They hiked through the steep foothills of Nepal’s rugged countryside looking for survivors and treating their injuries. Through that assessment, a fact crystalized: Rural Nepal had no centralized emergency management system. In the weeks following the earthquake, we decided on a solution: Train a generation of first responders and work to install a better system.

You enabled us to act during those critical days. Our response extended into weeks, then months, and finally years. You allowed us to lay the groundwork for a multi-year program that would propel itself into the future. As we bring the program to an end this summer, know that you supported something that remains in perpetual motion.

First responders applied their newfound knowledge on a daily basis. The most common calls were in response to vehicular accidents. They happen along Nepal’s narrow dirt roads, where over-packed buses mingle uneasily with motorbikes and SUVs.

A Nepalese man being carried on a stretcher to the hospital after being hit off his motorcycle

This man, for example, was riding a motorcycle when it collided with a truck on a rural road. Our ambulance came to his aid. First responders provided medical care as they transferred him to a hospital.

A Nepalese man truck driver being stabilized on a stretcher

First responders stabilized this truck driver’s injuries after his vehicle crashed and careened off the road. They transported him to a local facility, a clinic many miles away, where he made a full recovery.

From the rubble of a catastrophic earthquake, you equipped rural communities with the necessary knowledge to prepare for the next big disaster. And in doing so, you helped put in place changes that are helping people daily.

A few of these successes include:

  • Distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies to needy clinics and health facilities.
  • Putting in place a call system: By January 2018, the Nepal government had initiated the process of launching a common phone number for ambulance service, akin to 911 in the United States. Medical Teams International was instrumental in pushing the process forward.
  • Training medical first responders: By April 2018, three years after the earthquake, we’d trained 991 rural first responders.

We are handing off this important work to local partner agencies this summer, so that it will continue in the future. Because of you, people like Chunumaya no longer feel isolated and alone. With the earthquake still in their memories, people have seen positive changes happening around them.

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