5C Students Unharmed in Nepal Earthquake; Students, Alumni of Pitzer in Nepal Program Call for Support

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal April 25, killing a reported 7,000 people and affecting over eight million. The 13 students from the Claremont Colleges participating in Pitzer College’s study abroad program in Nepal were not injured, but the survivors are redoubling their efforts to support their host families and others affected by the disaster.

According to Michael Ballagh, the director of Pitzer’s study abroad office, the students had been staying in the village of Simigaun when the earthquake hit. They were helicoptered to Kathmandu and are currently staying at a Pitzer program property.

After arriving in Kathmandu April 27, all students but two are currently in Bangkok. They will depart for the United States on Sunday, May 3, arriving in LAX that evening. One student is in Hong Kong and another has already arrived in the United States.

Pitzer in Nepal Director Margie Donahue will stay behind to support and aid the host families.

The devastation of the earthquake stretched to villages and communities in close proximity to the Pitzer in Nepal program. According to Ballagh, the village of Simigaun, where the students had been visiting for the past few weeks, lost most of its buildings and its Pitzer program office. Balkot, the students’ base village, experienced some destruction, but was not hit as hard as some areas in Nepal. 

“The village of Simigaun is a village with whom we have worked with for over 30 years, so Pitzer has a very strong presence in this village of Simigaun, and we have very profound relationships with them,” Ballagh said.

In an April 25 email to the Pitzer community, President Laura Skandera Trombley wrote that “the students and the village community have plenty of food, water and blankets and this time of year, temperatures are very mild.”

“All participants are doing fine but obviously very concerned about the larger impacts on Nepali communities and the implications of their host families,” she wrote. “Our thoughts are with our Nepali friends as it faces the aftermath of this devastating disaster.”

Cecilia Hollenhorst PO ’16, who participated in the Pitzer in Nepal program last fall, said that she heard her host family’s home in Balkot had been destroyed. 

Hollenhorst reflected on her final day in Balkot, when she and her host family had celebrated her host nephew’s sixth birthday.

“Just thinking about how that place that I was sitting is gone, that whole house is just leveled, is just really weird,” she said “It’s kinda surreal.”

Hollenhorst and other Pitzer in Nepal alumni have been working to raise donations for relief efforts. Hollenhorst said that the best way for members of the Claremont Colleges community to contribute is by donating to the right sources.

“If people can find trustworthy, independent fundraisers, those are better options,” Hollenhorst said.

She also suggested volunteering on online mapping websites like tomnod.com, where one can use satellite images to help relief efforts identify damaged roads and fallen buildings, thus making it easier for relief aid to reach those in need.

On Friday evening, a group of students will be tabling for aid at various dining halls. A candlelight vigil at the Pitzer Mounds will follow at 7:00 p.m.

Hollenhorst expressed some optimism for the future of villagers in Simigaun and Balkot.

For those who would like to help Nepal relief efforts through Pitzer College, search “Giving Nepal” on the college’s website.

This article was revised May 3 to correct information about which villages were affected by the earthquake. 

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