The images went around the world. Images of mountains of rubble. Images of injured people being rescued from the ruins of their homes. Images of helpless people, who became homeless overnight. On April 25 it will be one year since the devastating earthquake in Nepal, a second earthquake followed on May 12. 8,900 people lost their lives, 600,000 homes were destroyed, including many schools. Aman Bhattarai, Nepalese student at Jacobs University in Bremen, initiated a spontaneous aid campaign at the time. Reconstruction is not the only challenge facing his native country, he says.
“Seeing these images from my native country was awful“, says Aman Bhattarai, remembering the event. The 24-year old Nepalese native is a student of “International Logistics Engineering & Management” at Jacobs University. One year before the earthquake he had visited his parents in Kathmandu. When he was able to reach them on the telephone after the earthquake, he was greatly relieved. Despite the disaster they were fortunate: They had had to leave their house for ten days and stay in a tent because of clearance work.
But Aman still felt the urge to help the victims of the earthquake in his native country. And many of his fellow students felt the same way. Almost 40 of the total 1,200 students at Jacobs University are from Nepal. “We are a close-knit community”, Aman says. He and many of his fellow students keep in touch from Bremen with other Nepalese citizens who are alumni of Jacobs University. Some of these Jacobs University graduates now work in Nepal and neighboring countries and after the earthquake spontaneously decided to help the victims in the affected regions. For Aman this was a sign. With the help of his fellow students and the university staff he kick-started a charity drive which proved to be highly successful. University staff, students and their host families, but also citizens of Bremen who had heard about the drive, donated a total of some 10,000 Euros. The money was able to be used to help buy tents, food, as well as construction materials for the affected families.
Although he has been 6,500 kilometers away from home for five years now, his home is often in Aman’s thoughts, not just since the devastating earthquake. He often asks himself how the country can find a way toward a better future. “Nepal urgently needs political stability and less bureaucracy”, he says. This view is also shared by aid organizations. Caritas International complained several days ago that due to government regulations aid organizations have not been permitted to provide direct assistance to the earthquake victims with the construction of houses. These restrictions were loosened a little only after intensive negotiations. Since then, aid organizations have been able to provide support to earthquake victims up to a maximum limit of about 2,500 Euros. But Caritas International criticizes this as not being really a relief, since the construction of an earthquake-proof house costs at least 4,500 dollars. Thus, poor families are denied access to secure shelter.
For Aman Bhattarai it was also important for him and his fellow students to organize aid privately, circumventing any bureaucratic roadblocks. He is from a relatively privileged family in the country: His father works in the logistics sector, his mother as a freelance journalist. His younger brother Ashmin is now also a student at Jacobs University. On the surface, it would seem easy for Aman Bhattarai to detach himself from the adverse conditions in his native country. His studies at Jacobs University opened many doors for him, he says. Of course, at the beginning it was difficult to get used to a foreign country. “I did not speak a word of German. Soon I was familiar with the campus. But as soon as I left the university building I felt unconfident”, he says, remembering his first time here. “However, I soon noticed that my fellow students who did not speak any German had the same experience. This created a strong bond: All of a sudden you realize: It does not matter where you are from, the challenges are the same for everybody.”
Studying and living with students from some 100 different countries on one campus has heightened his awareness of things in common, but also the differences between the many cultures. “This helps me understand people from other countries and to work with them. I think that is a big advantage when entering the career world”. During his studies, he already started working as an analyst with renowned companies such as Lufthansa Cargo or Arcelor Mittal. He is currently writing his thesis with Amazon in Munich.
But his wish is to contribute toward improvement of the economy in Nepal. This is something the country could use, especially after the earthquake. Aid organizations predict that Nepal will suffer for years after the disaster. Aman is now looking towards India. The big neighbor is a country with stark social contrasts. “But it is also a country that has been able to make itself attractive to foreign investors who created many jobs.” Nepal is nowhere near this level. Aman wants that to change. He wants to advertise his country even though or especially because he knows about its problems. He believes that his countrymen have had to show a great deal of resilience and deserve the opportunity for a better future. “One day I want to return to Nepal and create jobs there. This is my firm target.”
Event tip: In Nepal many children do not have access to education. This is where the initiative “Teach for Nepal” provides aid. It reaches out to students who want to teach in Nepal for two years after graduation. This work abroad scheme is financed through donations. Two representatives of the initiative, including one of the co-founders, will be guests at Jacobs University, Campus-Ring 1 on Wednesday, April 27 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will be making a presentation about the work of “Teach for Nepal” in the Conference Room, Campus Center. The event is in English and open to the public, admission is free. Prior registration per e-mail is requested to Career Services Center, Petra Zarrath (p.zarrath [at] jacobs-university.de).