At noon on April 25th, 2015, I was walking on a rocky trail in the valley between the tiny Nepalese villages of Chukhung and Dingboche. I had summited Island Peak 24 hours before, and I was humming Taylor Swift songs and thinking about my next hot meal. Then, without warning, the ground started to shake. I lurched sideways; rocks the size of pickup trucks crashed to the valley floor. I watched, forgetting to breathe. When the earth stopped shaking, I looked up at the mountains, took a deep breath, and prayed.
I’ve struggled with whether and how to share these photos, which were taken by members of my team. We write this from the safety and comfort of our homes, but we’re all reeling from jet lag and survivor’s guilt and gratitude and sorrow. My throat still burns from breathing asbestos and dust in Kathmandu, and I don’t know how to speak about the events in Nepal productively and with respect.
The earthquake, which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale, is now estimated to have claimed the lives of more than 7,000 people in Nepal. Our team was lucky: we sustained no physical injuries, and we’re now safely home. But we’ll never forget the things we saw and heard: bodies in wreckage, houses in ruin, a mother cow dying as her calf cried out in pain. Tens of thousands of people are sick and wounded; hundreds of thousands of Nepalese citizens are living on the streets. Local authorities are overwhelmed. In a country with an already feeble infrastructure and a per capita GDP of less than $700 per year, the losses cut very deeply.
I’ll be honest: when I was on the ground in the Khumbu and in Kathmandu, my responsibility was to my team. I helped where I could, and I bore witness when I couldn’t. But as of two days ago, every member of our expedition has safely reached their home—and I am still thinking about Nepal.
My instincts are screaming for me to go back. I want to be there to help, to hug and mourn and comfort and rebuild. But I can’t do that, and neither can the dozens of friends and family and strangers who have emailed me to ask the same questions: how can I help? Where can I donate? What can I do?
Prompted by the emails of my family and friends, I’ve done extensive research on which organizations to recommend. I do not recommend donating directly to the government—Nepal’s 1996-2006 civil war claimed the lives of over 12,000 Nepalese, and the country’s political system has never truly recovered. There have been no elections at the district, village, or municipal level for nearly 20 years, and the committees in charge of local councils are not organized enough to deal with coordinating emergency assistance. Things are no better at the national level, where Kathmandu has seen nine prime ministers in eight years. The last time I checked, there were 139 political parties.
I am also hesitant to recommend a specific nonprofit or NGO. Don’t get me wrong: there are many, many organizations that do good work in Nepal, including the Himalayan Trust, Smile High, the Juniper Fund, Doctors Without Borders, and the Red Cross. But I don’t know how to endorse a single nonprofit without carefully considering exactly where each dollar will go, and that’s a very daunting task.
So, in response to the flood of incredibly generous inquiries, I’ve opened a PayPal account to accept donations for Nepal. There are no administrative costs. This isn’t tax-deductible. It’s just me, offering to wire the money directly to the people who need it most: Mingma, who climbed Island Peak with me 24 hours before losing his family’s home. Kumar, a Sherpa guide, who may not have work for the rest of the year. Dawa, who needs medicine and blankets for her children. Pasang, who is living in a tent in his landlord’s driveway. I can’t yet tell you where, but I can promise that every cent will be used for good. I’ll post photos and write letters of thanks, but this isn’t about me, or you. It’s about the people of Nepal. They’ve stood with me, and today I stand with them.
Thank you for your support for me, for our community, and for the country I love. I couldn’t have gotten through the past seven days without the love and support of my tribe, and I am grateful to you for holding us—and Nepal—in the light.