4-10 September 2015 #774

Help from far

Former US Army surgeon, Wan Shaw Pong has pledged $50,000 to help rebuild all 50 homes in Lele, Lalitpur District
Sarthak Mani Sharma in LALITPUR


The picturesque valley of Lele on the southern outskirts of Kathmandu was badly hit in the April earthquake, with 44 out of 52 families losing their homes. Most are still living in makeshift shelters, braving the rains at night and the heat during the day. Some have also lost their livestock, and are struggling to rebuild their lives. The local school is damaged, and the road is in poor shape.

But one morning this week, villagers woke up to the sound of celebration. A band played music, the sound of trumpets, cymbals and drums reverberating. As the mist moved up the hillside, villagers peeped out of their tents and tin shacks.

A Chinese-American with a shock of white hair and dressed in a smart white shirt and red tie got off a car, and proceeded to greet villagers with namastes. A former US Army surgeon, Wan Shaw Pong (pic, up) had come here to pledge $50,000 to help rebuild all 50 homes in Lele.

Wan, 65, had attended a big international kidney conference in Kathmandu last November and had been struck by the warmth and friendliness of the Nepali people. When he heard about the earthquake, he immediately offered to help and got in touch with Nyanopan, a volunteer group that has been helping children in the mountains with warm clothing for the past ten years.

“I got many breaks in life, and I believe the earthquake survivors of Nepal also need a break,” said Wan, who also supports medical units in Palestine and education in China. “I believe in helping people who can help themselves and also in reaching the neediest of the needy.”

As he examined the ruins of houses, Wan’s eyes welled up. An elderly woman had just thanked him, saying, “You’ve come all the way from America to help us. We really appreciate your help.”


Nyanopan’s engineers are working to bring the steel trusses and roofing material and the locals are already at work digging foundations and salvaging bricks and timber from the ruins for their new homes. Nyanopan’s Vijay Lama expects the whole project to be finished before winter sets in.

“If the project goes well, we could use our limited resources to support other villages in southern Lalitpur,” Lama says. “Although it is so close to the capital, this area has been bypassed by most response teams.”

Wan used the trip to climb up the ridge to another neighbourhood that needs help and listened carefully as villagers told him what they need. He is also helping Vayodha Hospital in Kathmandu with a $10,000 fund to treat patients who cannot afford emergency surgery, and is helping bring rural Chinese ophthalmologists to be trained by Nepali doctors in cataract surgery.

Wan was born in Hong Kong. After his parents fled the Communists, the family moved on to Taiwan and then to the United States. Wan served all over the world as an army surgeon and retired as a US army colonel. He now has a private practice and teaches medicine in North Carolina.

From a ridge overlooking Lele, Wan looks down and says: “I struggled in life, but I got help at crucial times to have a successful career, and I see myself in those who are left out by the mainstream.”


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