HAMMOND — Suraj Ayer was still awake at 2 a.m. Saturday, playing a soccer game and checking Facebook, when he stumbled across a friend’s post about the Dharahara Tower collapsing with nearly 200 people trapped inside.
“I didn’t believe it at first, it was so shocking,” Ayer said.
The nine-story watchtower, originally built in 1832, had provided panoramic views of Nepal’s labyrinthine capital city of Kathmandu for more than a century until an earthquake destroyed all but the bottom two stories in 1934. The tower was later restored but collapsed again Saturday following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake northwest of Kathmandu.
Ayer, a senior chemistry major at Southeastern Louisiana University from Nepal, scoured news websites until he learned of the earthquake. And then the phone calls began.
Word spread quickly among SLU’s 102 Nepalese students — nearly half the university’s international student population — who spent the next five nerve-wracking hours trying to reach family and friends back home.
“I was very afraid for my brother’s safety. He was there (in Kathmandu),” said Binit Poudel, a junior chemistry major and president of SLU’s Nepalese Student Association.
Once the students had reached their immediate families, most of whom were safe, the question shifted to how they could help.
The Nepalese government estimated late Thursday that 6,130 had died and nearly 14,000 were injured in the quake. Hundreds of thousands more were left homeless.
“We decided the best way to help was to take donations,” Ayer said.
The Nepalese Student Association, working with student government and other student and faculty groups, has started a fundraising drive with a goal of collecting $10,000.
The donations will go to Nepalese volunteer groups the students know personally, Ayer said, noting that one student’s father has organized a group to gather tents, water and other supplies for a village almost completely destroyed by the quake.
“These are people who are from within us and that we know and trust to provide immediate relief to the people of Nepal,” Ayer said.
The volunteer groups receiving the donations will provide receipts and photos or videos of the work being done, he said.
Any remaining funds would be given to the Red Cross of Nepal, Care for Nepal or Save the Children of Nepal, Ayer said.
The students have set up an information booth with donation boxes at the student union. Other donation boxes are spread across campus and throughout the community at hospitals, gas stations and hotels where the Nepalese students know the owners or employees, Ayer said.
The students are giving away student-donated T-shirts and Nepalese bags to donors who give $10 or $20, respectively, Ayer said.
Ayer also set up a GoFundMe account online, which had gathered $4,500 by Thursday evening. Ayer said the students had collected another $2,000 on campus, including a $1,000 check from a woman whom Ayer did not name.
The students planned to hold a candlelight vigil for the earthquake victims at 5 p.m. Thursday. The ceremony was to be held in the breezeway of the old student union.
Ayer said he and his classmates are grateful for the support of SLU’s faculty and students. “They have been very, very, very supportive.”
Brendan Daigle, SLU’s director of multicultural and international affairs, said the Nepalese students are an integral and active part of the SLU family, and she commended them for their efforts. “They hopped right into action after the earthquake and have been going nonstop ever since.”
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