The many ethnic Nepalis who have settled in Philadelphia after fleeing Bhutan are reeling from the devastating news of the massive earthquake. As of Wednesday, the disaster had claimed more than 5,000 lives and reduced many of the country’s cultural treasures to rubble. As the death toll rises, community members are mobilizing to collect money for relief efforts.
“I want to pray for them, and I will try to raise some fund to give them to recover,” said Deo Maya Karki of South Philadelphia, speaking through a translator.
Karki was one of about 15 Bhutanese senior citizens who gathered around lunchtime on Wednesday at the Southeast by Southeast community center to commune with other area refugees, read traditional stories and learn English.
Philadelphia, especially South Philadelphia, has welcomed hundreds of refugees from Bhutan over the last six years. To help their people back in Nepal, the city’s Bhutanese American Organization is hosting a fundraising dinner, complete with Nepali food, this Saturday.
“All the Nepalis are our brothers and sisters,” said Padam Bastola, through a translator. Like many, said he had heard of the disaster on television.
“We feel really sad, especially for the kids,” added Krishna Thapa, also through a translator.
Some of Thapa’s family members had recently gone to Kathmandu to prepare to immigrate to the United States. But because of the earthquake, they had been sent back to the refugee camps.
Melissa Fogg of the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative said her group is also arranging for extra services to help the local community deal with the tragedy.
“We’re hoping to have an art therapy group with BuildaBridge International get people together, have them talk about what happened, and give them the space to begin to process any feelings of loss,” she said.
Fogg was in Nepal just a month and a half ago, and said rumors of an impending earthquake were widespread.
“People kept referencing an earthquake that was going to come, and that they were due for a big one,” she said. “To see that it happened so soon, and has been so devastating, is really shocking.”