My fifth-hand, 110cc Honda Win motorcycle was fully loaded with two duffle bags, a new ife and an old backpack as I navigated through Ho Chi Minh City’s infamous traffic. The plan was to travel 1,000
kilometers north to Hanoi for our honeymoon, when a
Facebook message from a cousin stopped our weaving exit
from the city. “Is your mom OK?” My mother lived in
Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, nestled in the foothills of
the highest mountains in the world. I was certain there had
been an earthquake.
I grew up in Asia, and throughout my high-school days in
Kathmandu, I was acutely aware of the seismic hazards posed
by tectonic slippage. I had casually dismissed warnings of
Nepal’s imminent “Big One” until I experienced firsthand
the destruction a natural disaster could wreak. During winter
break of my sophomore year at Bucknell, my family and I
were vacationing in Thailand, and we were swept up in the
2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I lost my father and numerous
friends among the hundreds of thousands who died, and I
returned to Bucknell forever changed.
After the tsunami, I made a personal vow to return to Nepal,
the place I considered home, if an earthquake ever happened.
In the minutes and hours following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25, 2015, I began organizing We Help Nepal
( WeHelpNepal.org), a peer-to-peer emergency-response
network led by a core group of friends with roots in Nepal.
Despite being on our honeymoon, my wife, Amanda, sent
Facebook blasts and fielded Skype calls from the back of our
motorcycle, and I led the communication and design work for
a website and outreach materials whenever we reached a new
city. Our network raised more than $600,000, and Amanda
and I flew to Nepal six weeks later to help deliver it to more
than 40 organizations, assisting tens of thousands of people.
On the ground, we found ourselves among a de facto civilian
response that had emerged to fill the gaps left by government
and international-aid agencies. We trekked into the Himalayas
with people from remote villages to deliver crowd-sourced aid,
interviewed doctors who had developed affordable emergency
medical shelters and worked with traditional Tibetan
medicine men and community acupuncturists who had treated
thousands of people for disease and post-traumatic stress using
alternative healing methods. Overall, nearly 9,000 people
had died in the quake.
The largest project
we spearheaded was
with the Langtangpa
remote village was
destroyed by an
by the earthquake,
killing more than
400 people. We worked with survivors to create a digital
archive of photos and oral testimonies that would preserve
and record the history and culture of the valley.
Unlike traditional disaster-response models, all of these
projects were spearheaded by strong bonds of kinship and
solidarity and aided by social media and crowd-funding websites.
As a filmmaker, I was able to bear witness to the unusual
constellation of people that galvanized the recovery effort.
My hope is that their stories live on and that the spirit of
resilience that has defined the people’s response to the Nepal
earthquake is not forgotten.
Nat Needham ’07 is a photographer and videographer whose work has been
featured in many media outlets, including Al Jazeera, the San Francisco
Chronicle and Portland Monthly.
To view some of the short films, photos and multimedia projects Nat
Needham produced in Nepal, download the Bucknell Magazine app
or visit bucknell.edu/bmagazine.
Capturing the Quake
A filmmaker’s journey home to Nepal
after the earthquake.
By Nat Needham ’07
“I had casually dismissed
warnings of Nepal’s
imminent ‘Big One’
until I experienced firsthand the destruction.”
Nat Needham interviews an earthquake
victim in Langtang, Nepal.