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Reports from Nepal missionaries

Community kitchens set up around Kathmandu to feed earthquake survivors. Here, volunteers from Marwari Sewa Samiti distribute cooked meals to about 5,000 a day. Two missionaries from Nepal–Lester and Debbie Dornon–are currently itinerating in West Michigan. See their schedule below. ~umns photo/courtesy ACT Alliance

United Methodist News Service

As the earthquake’s death toll climbs past 7,000, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and other faith-based partners in the ACT Alliance are continuing to respond. Some 8 million people are affected and 3.5 million are in need of food assistance.

Nearly $317,000 in online gifts for UMCOR’s Nepal emergency and related Advance projects and missionary support through the Board of Global Ministries had been had been donated by Monday morning, May 4. UMCOR’s partners include the United Mission to Nepal and Global Medic.

United Mission to Nepal has been working with several relief agencies to respond to immediate needs after the earthquake, especially CASA from India, a member of the ACT Alliance and partner with UMCOR on other disasters.

In rural Nepal, the number of casualties from the April 25 earthquake was lessened by the fact that many people were outside of their homes when the disaster occurred, reports a United Methodist missionary couple who are based there.

Dr. Lester Dornon and Debbie Dornon, missionaries with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, have been in the United States on home assignment since last month but have been in touch with family, colleagues and friends in Nepal since the earthquake occurred.

The fact that the earthquake struck at noon on a Saturday lowered the casualty count in rural villages, the Dornons said.

“The traditional home is a mud home with not much lighting and small windows,” Lester Dornan explained. “If the weather is nice, people go outside during the day. I think that saved a lot of people in the villages.” In Kathmandu and other cities, the houses are taller and people tend to stay inside more, factors that contributed to the loss of life there, Lester Dornan said.

Poor a priority

In a May 4 situation report on its website, United Mission to Nepal reported that a team of paramedics has arrived in Dhading from United Mission Hospital Tansen, and were waiting to be dispatched to North Dhading.

Warehouse space for relief supplies also has been identified in Dhading and teams of volunteers have been trained and are ready to depart, with plans to start distribution to some 8,600 households by the end of the week.

While the focus in Dhading for United Mission to Nepal will remain on the poor and marginalized, “the specific emphasis and some approaches will change” because of the earthquake, noted Katherine T. Parker, a missionary assigned to United Mission of Nepal.

“We have already been working on community-based mental health issues and trauma healing throughout Nepal and anticipate an increased role here,” Parker explained, adding that community-led total sanitation also will remain a priority.

On Instagram and Facebook, the Nepal Photo Project has helped document what life has been like since the earthquake.

Heavy load ahead

U.S. Marines have now arrived in Nepal, according to a May 4 report from National Public Radio.

Deirdre Zimmerman works in Kathmandu with husband, Mark, “The emergency response is enormous and chaotic as huge amounts of aid and personnel arrive into the country,” Deirdre Zimmerman wrote. “Our windows continue to tremble night and day, only now with the roar of foreign military transport planes arriving.

As immediate needs are met, public health issues will become more prevalent, Mark said. “Rebuilding Nepal will be the major task – housing, families, and institutions. The development organizations that have been here for decades will continue their work, only with heavier loads in these affected districts.”

“Predictably, a government which struggles under the best of circumstances is now overwhelmed with both the need and the response, and much of the aid is log-jammed in Kathmandu,” she added.

Basic needs

The Dornans first served in Nepal from 1990 to 2002, then returned in March 2012 to Tansen Hospital run by United Mission to Nepal, where he is the senior physician and she is coordinator of expatriate services.

The couple’s youngest daughter, Hannah, currently is volunteering as a music teacher at the Katmandu International Study Center, a school started by missionaries. She happened to be at the school when the earthquake occurred, her mother reported.

Some 200 to 300 people lived in tents or under other temporary shelters in the school’s courtyard but many have moved back inside as the aftershocks and tremors have diminished.

“Most schools in the valley are closed for the week,” she added. “I don’t know what the long-term prognosis will be.”

The back wall of the center’s auditorium building fell in and will have to be rebuilt and the foundation of the guesthouse where their daughter lives has cracked, so she is staying elsewhere for now.

Food, drinkable water and shelter remain a critical concern for all.

Contamination and electrical outages have contributed to the clean water shortage. “Most people have water that is in underground tanks,” Debbie Dornon explained. “But in order to pump it up to use it, you have to have electricity. None of the water is safe to drink. You have to boil it or put it through a filter.”

Nepal’s weather ranges from year-round snow in the highest mountains to a tropical feel on the border with India, Lester Dornon said. Although most of Nepal is fairly warm now, “shelter still is important” for cold evenings and thunderstorms.

Tansen hospital undamaged

Methodists were among the founders of the United Mission to Nepal, which established Tansen Hospital in 1954. The165-bed facility for general medical and surgical care has a staff of 400, including 10 to 12 missionaries.

The hospital is one of six projects in Nepal supported by The Advance of The United Methodist Church, a voluntary giving program.

Because of the hospital damage in Kathmandu, Lester Dornon expects some medical care to be transferred to Tansen Hospital, which is a nine-hour bus ride away on a curvy but paved road.

Reaching rural areas will be more difficult. “Getting help to the people where they are is going to be an issue,” Lester Dornon acknowledged. He noted that medical camps are being organized in more remote districts to deal with ongoing complications from earthquake-related injuries.

Tansen Hospital sent two doctors to Gorkha, near the earthquake’s epicenter, and will send an orthopedic team to assist Anandaban, a mission hospital in the Kathmandu valley.

The Dornon’s blog is available here. Here are sites where you might hear their story first-hand. Please call ahead:

  • Thursday, May 7, 11 am, Bear Lake UMC, 7861 Main Street, Bear Lake; 231-864-3680
  • Thursday, May 7, 5 pm, Centenary UMC, 82 S. Hancock, Pentwater; 231-869-5900
  • Friday, May 8, 11 am, Saugatuck UMC, 250 Mason Street; 231-912-0806
  • Friday, May 8, 5 pm, Church of the Dunes, 717 Sheldon Street, Grand Haven; 616-842-7980
  • Saturday, May 9, 11 am, Lowell UMC, 621 E. Main Street, Lowell; 616-897-5936
  • Sunday, May 10, Courtland-Oakfield UMC, 10295 Myers Lake Avenue, NE, Rockford; 616-866-4298
  • Sunday, May 10, Sparta UMC, 54 E. Division Street, Sparta; 616-887-8255