Geophysicists warned that the Big One was coming, but just as they predict the same apocalypse for California, people go about their lives without inordinate thought of the coming disaster. And then on April 25, 2015, in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, a mighty temblor struck, killing more than 9,000 people and injuring another 23,000. The magnitude registered between 7.8 and 8.1. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since a monster earthquake in 1934.
In April, and then in a colossal aftershock on May 12, tens of thousands of people went homeless; entire villages were ravaged. Centuries-old buildings with rich murals and irreplaceable statues — many of them sacred temples and towers — were flattened in a matter of moments. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and it was quickly estimated that rebuilding costs would run up to five times the equivalent of Nepal’s GDP. Plenty of international aid was needed, and plenty was given from governments and private donations. The biggest government donors were, at the last reckoning, Germany, at $68.34 million, the United Kingdom at $130 million, tiny Switzerland chipping in $26.7 million, and Norway with $31.1 milion. The U.S. may look a cheapskate with a donation of $10 million, but this was government aid alone. As private citizens, Americans may pride themselves on rolling up their sleeves to help people in need. Groups both long-established and ad hoc-ishly spontaneous are raising money, and some of them are here on Martha’s Vineyard.
Choying Rangdol of Oak Bluffs owns the venerable Circuit Avenue store Glimpse of Tibet and a new companion gift store across the street, Vineyard Life. When he learned about the disaster in Nepal, he felt a call to action. Nepal was close to his heart as the first country to succor him and his family when they were forced to flee Tibet.
Much like the future Dalai Lama, Mr. Rangdol, at the age of 5, left Tibet after the Chinese invaded. “We were rich in livestock,” he recalls wistfully, regretting they could take with them only the clothes on their backs as they hiked the jagged mountains to a refugee camp in Nepal. In the ’60s the family relocated to a larger camp in South India. And so things precariously remained until 1996, when President George H.W. Bush inaugurated the Tibetan Settlement Project, a lottery program that brought 100 families to Northampton, Mr. Rangdol’s among them.
The now grown Tibetan discovered he had a knack for business, and he started a small store specializing in Asian and Buddhist-specific gifts. The store took off, and in 1999 the young entrepreneur arrived on the Vineyard to open Glimpse of Tibet, an instant destination for so many Americans newly drawn to the philosophies of the Far East.
Mr. Rangdol has learned from his spiritual practice that just as he and his family had been helped in their refugee years, now it was his turn to do what he could for homeless and hungry Nepalese. After the quake, he made a plan to donate a percentage of his revenue from the summer of 2015 to Nepal charities. He was quickly joined by Dr. Jason Lew of Oak Bluffs, whose core teacher, Phakchok Rinpoche, a 34-year-old abbot of several monasteries in Nepal (he’s spoken here on the Vineyard on several bright occasions), was gravely concerned about damage to one in particular, a portion of which now lies in ruins. Dr. Lew has collected Mr. Rangdol’s weekly take and sent it to Nepal, and mobilized other Islanders to the cause.
This coming Sunday, August 30, from 6 to 8 pm, the jewel in the crown of Nepal fundraisers will be held at the Yoga Barn in West Tisbury for the Tsoknyi Gechak Ling Nunnery in Kathmandu. Guests will be the illustrious authors Joseph Goldstein and Danny and Tara Goleman. The evening will be hosted by Dr. Lew and his wife Injy, Tom Lesser, Maggie Spiegel, Patti Pearce, Stephen Schwartz, Kay O’Laughlin, and Maria Clara Villotta, who’s made it her summerlong mission to place jars for Nepal aid at various Island fairs.
For details you may go to the Facebook site 1000 Prayer Wheels, or visit tsoknyinepalnuns.org.