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Mason sophopmore  Amrit Tamang

Mason sophomore Amrit Tamang, a native of Nepal, helped build temporary shelters for his relatives, headed efforts to bring water to the villages, and helped restore electricity with solar panels following a pair of devastating earthquakes.

Seeing a Need, Rebuilding a Village

Rubble—rubble everywhere. That is how Amrit Tamang described his hometown of Tutung in Nepal when he arrived in May, nine days after the second of two devastating earthquakes that news reports said killed more than 8,500 across the country and destroyed more than 500,000 homes.

“The houses are made of rocks and mud, so all the rocks were just lying on the ground,” Tamang said of the rural village about 17 miles outside Kathmandu.

Originally, the George Mason University sophomore was in Nepal to check on his mother, Shambhu, who lives in Tutung, and his father’s parents, who live in the nearby village of Kalche. But the visit quickly tuned into a construction project with Tamang, a pre-nursing major, as the general contractor.

Armed with $8,000 in donations, Tamang not only helped build temporary bamboo and tin-roof shelters for his relatives, he headed efforts to bring water to the villages from more than half a mile away (a closer spring dried up after the earthquake), restore electricity with solar panels and build 22 bathrooms with four stalls each. He was there for two months.

“At first I didn’t really care about doing relief work. I just wanted to see everybody,” said Tamang, who, since he left Nepal, has visited about every two years. But the devastation, the people’s anxiety—“They were just sitting around expecting another earthquake,” Tamang said—and the lack of aid getting to the isolated towns changed his plan. “He’s kind,” Tamang’s father, Surja, said. “He sees other people are upset, he thinks he can help.”

Surja was a Sherpa on Mount Everest for 10 years before coming to the United States in 2005 with his U.S.-born wife and then 9-year-old son. Tamang said his mother, divorced from Surja, sold biscuits and noodles out of his childhood home, which the quakes reduced to a three-walled, roofless wreck.

It was five days before Tamang heard through an uncle who lives in Kathmandu that his mother and grandparents were okay.

“I remind myself every day I’m living a dream life. I just wanted to help the people who were less fortunate.”

Mason sophomore Amrit Tamang said of being in the United States

After the earthquakes, which measured 7.8 and 7.3, respectively, on the Richter scale, Tamang reached out to friends, students and teachers at Rappahannock County (Va.) High School, where he was a four-sport athlete. They raised $8,000. Tamang said George Mason’s Nepalese Student Association, of which he is president, also raised $5,000 that it sent to various charities. The parents of Tamang’s stepmother, Medge Carter, paid for his ticket to Nepal. “His character spoke to a lot of people,” said Beth Gall, Tamang’s ninth-grade science teacher.

With the money he raised, Tamang said he bought about 100 tin roofing sheets, 22 bags of cement, 30 solar panels, bathroom pans, and about a mile of plastic pipe to access water. The material had to be carried on foot over dirt roads from the closest town, about a half-day’s walk. It was physically demanding, and Tamang said he lost 10 pounds on just two daily meals of rice.

Some construction was rudimentary. The shelters had bamboo walls tied together with rope, mud floors and tin roofs held down by rocks. But the bathrooms were made of brick with cement floors.