Earthquake-ravaged Nepal getting help from Towson area

Towson Times
Towson area residents are trying to help the people of Nepal

Stoneleigh resident Season Shrestha is far from Nepal, but he makes it his business to help his homeland.

Shrestha, 47, is an importer and wholesaler of crafts from Nepal and his business, Season Enterprises, located in an office building on York Road at Stevenson Lane, is full of handmade handbags, carved wood, cashmere shirts, silk scarves and wall tapestries. His mission is to help the people of Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries, by buying their products.

"This is my passion," he said.

Now, more than ever, the Nepalese need his help. The nation is reeling from a 7.8-magnitude earthquake late last month that killed more than 7,000 people and counting, according to published reports. Among the dead are "a lot of people I know," said Shrestha, who comes from Sankhu, 16 kilometers north of Kathmandu. About 90 percent of Sankhu's 10,000 residents have been displaced and are living outdoors in tent and tarps. His immediate family is unhurt, he said, but his sister's house was damaged in the quake.

"Everyone is living outside," he said.

Season Enterprises is taking on special importance now for Shrestha, who moved to Baltimore in 1994 and is a member of the Rotary Club of Towsontowne, part of the international service organization. He and fellow Rotarian and Stoneleigh resident Nancy Scheinman, an internationally known collage artist, are spearheading a relief effort for earthquake victims.

"We have strong ties," said Scheinman, 57, coordinator of the relief effort, explaining that the 54-member club has helped Nepal in the past and three of its members are from Nepal, so the country is close to the club's heart.

"We had a meeting at my place immediately following the earthquake to talk about it," and about how the club could help. Scheinman said. "Service is a big part of my life and my husband's life," said Scheinman, whose husband, James Wheeler, is chairman-elect of the board of the United Way of Central Maryland.

"I have really good, deep connections," said Shrestha, past president of the Newah Organization of America, which he said represents 1.2 million descendants of the original Newar people of Nepal, also known as the Newa.

In 2013, Scheinman and Shrestha traveled to Nepal as curators of a friendship art exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts Museum in Kathmandu, featuring the works of 16 Nepalese artists and 17 Baltimore artists, all of whom donated their work to start an American collection at the museum as a gesture of good will, she said.

"We were also in the process of establishing a sister city relationship with the Kathmandu Rotary and Towsontown Rotary to do projects together," she said.

At the time, the Towsontowne Rotary purchased an ambulance as a gift to Nepal, she said.

Now the club plans to help sponsor fundraising activities and to work with like-minded groups at Dulaney High School, Towson University and the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, said Scheinman, who also teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

One of the club's biggest related projects is raising funds to buy multi-room tents, currently being housed in India, that can house families in Nepal, Scheinman said. She said fundraising began in earnest early last week and the club has raised more than $5,000. The tents cost roughly $700 each, she said.

Scheinman and Shrestha aren't the only area residents trying to help Nepal.

"Personally, it's devastating," said filmmaker Robert Koenig, 39, a former Towson resident and past president of the rotary club, who lives in Baltimore and is co-owner of HeartMind International, described on its website as a public charity that provides culturally appropriate mental health and psychosocial aid to vulnerable populations around the world. The services are being provided by the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal, a non-governmental organization.

"It's a place that I know and love and I have a lot of friends who live there. It's something I care deeply about," said Koenig, who lived in Nepal for five months while filming a documentary. Koenig formed HeartMind International in 2014 with his friend, Dr. Brandon Kohrt, of Washington, a medical anthropologist and cultural psychiatrist, who teaches global mental health at Duke University's Global Health Institute.

Now, HeartMind, which was founded long before the earthquake, is well-positioned to help the people of Nepal recover emotionally and psychologically from the quake.

"I feel like this was meant to be. It's quite serendipitous, really," Koenig said.

Also trying to help is Kiran Pantha, co-owner of the restaurant Kathmandu Kitchen in downtown Towson. He is organizing a fundraiser May 17 at the restaurant, 22 Allegheny Ave., with all proceeds that evening going to relief efforts in Nepal, he said.

"We are thinking of the restoration and rebuilding of the villages," said Pantha, 38, who is from the Tanahun district in Nepal. He moved to Baltimore in 1998 and opened Kathmandu Kitchen in 2004 with his business partner, Sundar Rhabhandari, who he said is from Kathmandu.

Pantha praised the Towson Chamber of Commerce, which he said is helping to spread the word about the fundraiser. He also said the public has been supportive.

"So many people are calling the restaurant, saying, 'How can we help?'" he said.

For Shrestha, help for his homeland can't come soon enough.

"I haven't slept more than 3-4 hours a day since I heard the news," he said.

You can help by contributing to the Towsontowne Rotary Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 organization. One hundred percent of your contribution will go to the relief effort in Nepal.

Please write, "Nepal Fund" in the memo.

Please mail your contribution to the following address:

Towsontowne Rotary Foundation

c/o Robert Koenig

5208 Catalpha Road

Baltimore, MD 21214

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