Just minutes before noon on April 25, almost one year ago, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck with devastating force and fury in the South Asian country of Nepal. While in many ways incalculable, the human toll from the original temblor and weeks of aftershocks has been described by numbers that defy belief: almost 9,000 deaths, almost 22,000 injuries; some 3.5 million people made homeless.
As a Division Disaster Director with the Pacific Division of the American Red Cross, Anne Reynolds had seen her share of human tragedy before news of the quake reached her. But even Reynolds's vast experience with the Red Cross couldn't completely prepare her for a month-long deployment to Nepal, a country that sits in the shadow of Mount Everest, seemingly squeezed between its much larger neighbors, India and Tibet.
"Because of my training and experience with the Red Cross, I felt very confident about the tasks I was expected to accomplish in Nepal," Reynolds says. "But nothing could ever fully prepare me for the magnitude of this particular event and for the magnitude of the suffering that people there were forced to endure."
The assignment in Nepal was Reynolds's first month-long disaster-response deployment as an international delegate; she will describe her experience there as part of a one-year memorial event the Red Cross is hosting in Palo Alto on April 26.
Taking place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lucie Stern Community Center, the memorial event will also feature an international representative: Umesh Thapa, president of the Nepal Red Cross Society, Sunsari District.
Reynolds began her long association with the American Red Cross in 2001, six months before 9/11. A volunteer at the time, she was hired a year later as the Assistant Director of Disaster Services in the Bay Area. She had served in numerous other Red Cross positions before being promoted to her current post.
Reynolds's Red Cross travels had taken her to many distressed areas in the U.S., as well as to Malaysia, Israel, Qatar and Haiti. So, when the earthquake struck in Nepal a year ago, Reynolds felt ready to help.
Her Nepal deployment began in Kathmandu on June 21, shortly before the quake's two-month anniversary. "When we arrived, you could see that there were just so many people just living in tents," she says. "There were blocks and blocks of tents."
Kathmandu may have been Reynolds' first stop, but her actual assignment took her to the Makwanpur District, an area located southwest of Kathmandu, a little more than an hour north of India. "It is a very diverse area that includes both mountainous regions and flatlands. In terms of damage from the earthquake, it was one of the hardest hit areas in the entire county."
During her three-plus weeks in Makwanpur, Reynolds worked with local government officials to identity the 2,500 hardest-hit households in the area — all in an effort to get Red Cross supplies and funds to the people most in need of the help. Armed with detailed information about the local destruction, she and her small staff of employees and volunteers identified three different sites that they would use for a total of five distributions. In the process, Reynolds was also able to train the locals in how to go about establishing and operating such distribution centers.
While Nepal's long-term recovery from the quake will take many years and even decades, Reynolds says the experience was "life-changing" for her. A blog she posted during her time there last year describes her deployment:
"I have been fully embraced by the Red Cross family, and they have shown me nothing but kindness, generosity and appreciation since the day I arrived," Reynolds wrote. "I had always heard about the kindness of the Nepali people, and I can know say first hand it is so very true. The work has been hard, the days tiring, but I have enjoyed great friendship, and Nepalese food, daily."
Reynolds concludes her blog post by saying she gained as much from her deployment in Nepal as she gave: "This has not been just a mission for me, but rather a life-changing experience, for which I will be eternally grateful."
Photo caption: Anne Reynolds, on the left, during her deployment in Nepal.
The work of the American Red Cross in Nepal is described at: www.redcross.org/nepal. To request information in regards to local efforts, please send an email to Muhi Khwaja, Major Gifts Officer for the American Red Cross of the Silicon Valley.
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