Western Albemarle High grad Marli Gordon was walking through her impoverished Kathmandu neighborhood of Nayabazar on April 25 when she began to lose her balance. Screaming filled the streets as people ran from their houses, and Gordon instantly realized she was in the midst of an earthquake.
“Pieces of bricks were falling off of houses around us,” Gordon said in an e-mail to her mother here in Charlottesville. “The earth was heaving and the sound of the buildings shaking was terrifying. Down the road, everyone was crowded together in the middle of the street just holding each other.”
Gordon, who graduated from Boston University in 2014 and immediately began humanitarian work abroad, was working in Nepal when the earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale, hit the country. The quake caused major destruction in the nation’s capital of Kathmandu and surrounding areas, killing over 8,000 people and injuring more than 18,000.
Gordon sought refuge in a kindergarten school called Tiny Seeds for three nights following the initial earthquake. The school ultimately became a sort of haven for over 300 people in the aftermath of the destruction. The principal of the school provided food and other necessities to those staying at Tiny Seeds, and a volunteer staff emerged to handle the needs of the new community.
“We cooked together, cleaned together, battled the electricity and water problems together and on the last night sang and danced together,” she said. “It was an unbelievable experience.”
Gordon is currently working with local friends and colleagues to assist in areas that sustained the most damage. Her team has been distributing basic necessities such as tarps, medical kits, and food to villages throughout Nepal. According to Gordon, the most pressing issue is providing shelter to people who were displaced from their homes before the arrival of the monsoon season next month.
“The first requirement was tarps so that people could construct temporary shelters,” she said. “Now, tarps, tents and metal sheeting are almost impossible to find in Nepal.” The government has been “absolutely no help at all,” even preventing aid from reaching those in need and curtailing tent shipments, she said.
Additionally, the destruction resulting from the initial earthquake and subsequent aftershocks was heightened by a second, 7.3-magnitude temblor that struck May 12. For the second time in less than a month, people were forced to abandon their homes and wait for the threat of danger to pass.
“Schools are closed, businesses are shut down and foreigners have fled leaving the locals jobless and apathetic,” Gordon said. “We’re in a state of limbo, unable to move forward until the aftershocks are over, which we will never know for certain.”
Gordon’s mom, Heidi, expressed concern about falling debris and faulty infrastructure that has also resulted from the earthquakes.
“The roads are in terrible condition even in the best of times,” she said. “I just want [Marli] to stay safe.”
Although the people and state of Nepal have suffered immensely over the past three weeks, Gordon remains optimistic about the future of the country and its people.
“The Nepali are resilient and somehow retain their sense of humor through all of this,” she said. “The people are used to having very little and they will survive, but not without a mental toll.”
Before the earthquake, Marli Gordon was trying to raise money to finish a school in Nepal.