Sushil Prajapati, a 32-year-old south-east London restauranteur, feels a world away from his hometown of Bhaktapur, a UNESCO world heritage site that was flattened on Saturday by the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years.
Minutes after the 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck, Prajapati received a call from his father in Nepal. “He told me his shop had collapsed during the quake and that most of the houses in our area had fallen. A lot of people were killed, buried or trapped inside the rubble,” Prajapati said.
Prajapati says he immediately turned to social media after his father sent images of the devastation by phone. “The photos got so much attention, so I just kept sharing things. I wanted to push people [in Nepal] to get help they needed, as they were not knowing what to do and where to get the help from.”
Within hours, Prajapati had set up a Facebook page and mobilised members of east London’s tight-knit Nepalese community to collect and donate emergency supplies for victims of the disaster.
Over the last six days, the South London Plumstead Nepalese for Nepal Earthquake Relief have collected over 200 boxes filled with tents, clothes, medical supplies and other basic items to send directly to Nepal. Local Lewisham and Greenwich businesses contributed packing supplies and over 60 members of the Nepalese community volunteered their time to organise and ship the items.
The group has also set up a bank account to send money directly. Prajapati says he is working with contacts in Nepal to ensure funds reach the hardest-hit victims in the Kathmandu Valley without having to be channelled through larger aid organisations.
Similar grassroots movements have sprung up across London in an attempt to bypass the red tape encountered by larger aid organisations and foreign bureaucracies in securing aid for those who need it most.
Large relief agencies such as the British Red Cross have deployed emergency aid and have targeted £23 million as a fundraising goal.
The organisation set up by Prajapati is working with the Red Cross and the Rotary Club; however, he believes the most efficient way to help victims of the quake in the short term is to work at a grassroots level. He says that by staying connected online and listening to the requests of the most needy victims, his group is able to have a quick and direct impact.
“You can’t help everyone at the moment. You have to single out who is the most needy and help those people who need it the most. We just want to go directly into the community – that is what we are doing at the moment,” Prajapati said.
The UN predicts that an estimated 8 million Nepalese have been displaced and that many others are in desperate need of basic supplies. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said that the death toll could rise to 10,000 and promises that his government is doing all it can.
Prajapati disagrees, saying that the lack of governmental infrastructure in the region has made it harder for aid organisations to respond to a natural disaster of this scale.
Those known to have lost their lives in the earthquake exceeded 5,500 on Thursday, with an additional 8,000 injuries reported. Relief experts estimate the final death toll will not be known until rescue teams have reached all affected villages.
For now, Prajapati’s group is focused on providing help on a short-term emergency basis. He says that Nepal has a long way to go, but for now the efforts of friends, families and local allies are helping to bring hope to Nepal through the strength of one east London community.
An estimated 60,000 Nepalese live in the UK.
Clothes, medical supplies and tarpaulins can be donated at:
Best Price Cash and Carry,
Unit 9, Lyndean Industrial Estate,
121 Felixstowe Road,
London SE2 9SG
For further information on how to help the South London Plumstead Nepalese for Nepal Earthquake Relief, visit its Facebook page.
To donate through the Disaster Emergency Committee, visit the DEC.