May 2, 2015

A Request for Help from a Linux Community Member in Nepal

Sandeep-Aryal.jpg

At the Linux Foundation we focus many of our programs on personalizing and connecting the talented network of Linux developers and users in all corners of the globe. Everyday we are witness to the Linux community innovating irrespective of geographic boundary; that is why this week we were moved by an email we received from one of our community asking for help.

Sandeep Aryal is a system administrator for the Government of Nepal in Kathmandu. Last November, he was one of five winners to receive a Linux Foundation training scholarship. He reached out to us via email requesting help in raising awareness of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal last Saturday.

He and his family are safe and have found temporary shelter in a neighborhood school, though his grandmother has lost her home. But thousands of others are not as fortunate and the country is in desperate need of disaster relief.

Though Sandeep's Internet access is spotty, he was able to respond to our questions so that we could share his story and request for help with the broader Linux and open source community.

The Linux Foundation has made a donation to Save the Children to aid in disaster recovery and relief in Nepal and encourages anyone who is able to contribute. The New York Times has an extensive list of reputable aid organizations taking donations.

Sandeep says, “In the country like ours, free and open-source software mean quite a wonderful gift.” My hope is that by sharing Sandeep’s harrowing story, those of us inspired by Linux and open source software  can also be inspired to take action and help Nepal.

Linux.com: Where were you when the earthquake hit? What were you doing?

Sandeep Aryal: I was at the King's Way in the center of Kathmandu, on my way to cinema. (Saturday is a national weekly holiday in Nepal.) Showtime for the movie was 12:15 A.M. NST and I, at 11:50 NST, was with a friend rushing for the cinema hall located at around 10 minutes walk from King's Way. All of a sudden a shopkeeper forced himself off his shop, a running motorbike slammed to the ground, and in no time I heard someone screaming about an earthquake! Then, I pulled my friend --- he was in disarray going towards the footpath under the side buildings --- towards the center of the road for safety.

What was going through your mind at the time?

I had never experienced such trauma before, the road was swaying like a wave of water; vehicles crashed into each other, people fell on the ground. My first impression was that a bomb had exploded nearby. I felt like it was an invasion. The immediate thing that struck my mind was my 70 years old mother, all alone at my home. I was more emotional because, my thoughts were stuck at my mom probably struggling to get out, struggling at the stairs for her life.

What did you do?

The mayhem continued for almost 15 minutes. I tried not to lose my composure; was helpless though --- many were in the same state of mind. Mobile phones were of no use. The phone traffic perhaps failed to accommodate everyone. I, however, succeeded in sending SMSes to my brothers to save my mother. I left for home. The road to home had carnage all around. My friend had his grandmother admitted a day before for cardiac problem in a nearby hospital. We went there first but failed to find her inside. Many of the patients were taken out on the ground; four to five patients were reported to have died in the hospital within the period. A girl being treated for a deep cut on her arm had to be taken out from the building. I am quite fortunate to have helped her in need. I continued my stagger to help my mother at home.

Are your friends and family also safe?

The road to home was misery. A wall at 2 houses to my home had collapsed killing a 6 years old child. The aftershocks were continuing in between too. My mother, however, was on an open ground taken there by my nephew who resided 200 meters away from my home. Sigh of relief! Then I took my mother to the nephew's resident. We stayed there for the next 3 days together in a one-storeyed classroom in a school nearby --- a safe haven for us. All of my family members are safe; my 90 years old grandmother's house at Nuwakot, a bordering district, however has collapsed to ground. Not many are fortunate though.

How have you been affected by this tragedy?

The tragedy has crumpled Nepal --- a nation that was just on its way to the development phase recovering from a 12 years old civil war and post-war transition. Many villages have been demolished and Kathmandu valley, famous for its plethora of World Heritage Sites has fell into ruins. Almost all the old houses have collapsed and many new buildings have crushed into ground. Human casualties can hardly be expressed into words. The corpses in many smashed buildings have begun to decay with foul smell all around. Survivors need to cope with both mental and physical trauma. Life, it seems, will be very hard in coming days.

What have the last five days been like? Are you able to go home and have a place to stay?

It feels like a horrible story. Numerous aftershocks, as much as 100 above 4 magnitude have rocked the country. The aftershock of 6.9 magnitude the next day instilled on us the fear of being crushed to death. We could not leave the classroom. Only after the third day, even with the fear within, we returned to our shelters. Not surprisingly, a 4.2 magnitude earthquake rocked at night 3 AM. We have almost acclimatized to earthquake lesser than 5.5 magnitude.

I read that government employees have been encouraged to help with disaster response rather than return to work. Does that include you and your work?

Yes. Government employees have been called for relief work. Survivors have started to become frustrated for delayed rescue efforts. My work, normally related to computers however will be to help the rescue and relief efforts. I will probably be sent to the victims for distribution of relief materials such as tents, water, food, and water purifying chemicals. My work will also be to collect data on the relief effort, casualties, requirements, and every other information that is of help. These will later be analyzed for describing and simplifying the real catastrophe description.

What is the city like now?

Kathmandu is clearly destroyed. The much more loved city for its cultural heritage has lost its glorious monuments. The Basantapur Durbar Square --- a UNESCO World Heritage Site --- for instance, has collapsed together with many including a 9-storeyed historical Dharahara tower in the middle of the valley. Safe drinking water has always been a worry for Kathmandu; the destruction combined with the huge dense population has rendered it more vulnerable to health risks.

What will you do moving forward to recover from the earthquake?

Restoring lives is the next challenge now. Mental trauma has to be tackled first and the relief efforts have to be more effective. The relief must reach the real victims.

What else would you like to tell the Linux community?

The destruction in Kathmandu is perhaps not directly related to Linux community but Kathmandu was seeing many new Linux fans. Many of my pupils ( I teach Computer Science in colleges) were quite enthusiastic for Linux use; and ever growing adult population were getting interested in Linux. In the country like ours, free and open-source software mean quite a wonderful gift. Not many can afford much money on software. The devastation in Nepal , albeit unfortunate, can be seen as an sprout of free-and-open source software promotion that can be grown to enrich many people with the huge potential that Linux bears within. Linux community has seen such events before too with the One-laptop-per-child (OLPC) project for instance, serving school children in remote places learn computers. Linux community can heal the possible digital-divide scars.

How can we help?

The Linux community can help this disaster by helping in relief efforts by disseminating this information and collecting contributions that can assist in restoring lives. Small care matters.

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