When Jack Blanks’ phone pinged him at 5:30 a.m. last Saturday with the news about Nepal’s devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake, it didn’t take long for him to spring into action.
The first priority for Blank, who is executive director of the Berkeley-based Seva Foundation, was to ensure the Nepal-based staff of the nonprofit were safe.
That done — fortuitously, Seva’s two Kathmandu-based employees had flown to a different part of the country the day before the quake — Blanks quickly set to work establish a relief fund for a disaster that may end up claiming an estimated 10,000 lives.
In just a few days, the fund has raised more than $270,000 — the lion’s share of which was donated in the 48 hours after it was launched. “The flood of emails and funding started almost immediately,” said Blanks.
Seva is not a relief organization — its programs focus on sight restoration and blindness prevention — but it is very well-placed to aid victims of the disaster. It has worked in Nepal for 35 years, and has close relationships with partner clinics and hospitals across the country, some of which it founded, Blanks told Berkeleyside yesterday.
“Our asset is that we can pull together and do something,” Blanks said, adding that with the people on the ground, the volunteers, the vehicles, and the connections, they are ideally placed to provide immediate help.
Blanks is quick to point out that Seva is not the only charity mobilizing to bring aid to the disaster area. “Whether it’s through us or another reliable entity, this is the time to help our brothers and sisters in this time of calamity,” he said.
Nevertheless it’s worth knowing that both Charity Navigator and Public Radio International have already endorsed Seva and its Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund as one of seven vetted charities helping Nepal. And Seva assures those who contribute that 100% of its donations are being directed to aid the victims of this disaster.
On Monday, the Nepalese government was reporting 8 million people in 39 districts that had been affected by the earthquake, of which more than 2 million people live in 11 severely affected districts. Priority needs include food, water, shelter and medication. Over 1.4 million people are in need of food assistance, according to Seva.
Seva is focusing its efforts on partnering with two hospitals: the Lumbini Eye Institute (LEI) and Bharatpur Eye Hospital (BEH). The two long-time Seva partner institutions are located at the southern edge of the earthquake zone and neither hospital sustained any damage.
“Together, we are already in action on the ground. Seva is helping to coordinate hospital staff, emergency vehicles to distribute needed supplies, including a large number of tents (estimated at 5,000), blankets, food, medicine and other necessary equipment. LEI staff are currently working on procuring supplies locally and from nearby India,” Seva said in a prepared statement.
The big unknown, according to Blanks, is access. “We have vehicles, staff and volunteers as well as supplies, but can we get through?” he said. Roads have been severely damaged by the quake. Seva is assessing the situation hour by hour, said Blanks, and exploring other means of transportation for supplies, including helicopters.
To find out more about the Seva Nepal Earthquake Fund and to donate, visit Seva’s website.
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