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McDaniel student survives Nepal earthquake, prompts fundraising effort

McDaniel College student Leigh Brownell, fifth from left in back, is shown with her host family in Nepal during a study abroad trip. She survived the recent earthquake near Kathmandu where thousands have died and been injured.
McDaniel College student Leigh Brownell, fifth from left in back, is shown with her host family in Nepal during a study abroad trip. She survived the recent earthquake near Kathmandu where thousands have died and been injured. (HANDOUT)

McDaniel College student Leigh Brownell was eating a late breakfast with her host family on a study-abroad trip to Nepal when the ground began to tremble. She was in the midst of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

"It was the scariest experience of my life," said Brownell, 21.

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Brownell was staying in Kathmandu, about 19 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, as part of McDaniel's Global Fellows Program.

Brownell pulled them close to her and held on tight, she said.

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Brownell said she had received earthquake training with other students before arriving in the country. People in Nepal often run outside during an earthquake, but that's more dangerous than staying inside, she said. So she held onto both women and said, "inside, inside," in Nepali, to keep them safe, she said.

"My tea was knocked over into my legs. I had some very slight burns, but luckily no one in my family was injured. It felt like it lasted forever," Brownell said.

Brownell, originally from Pennsylvania, was transported on May 1 to safety in Kailua, Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, who is in the military. But residents of Nepal have not been so lucky.

"In many towns access to food and water has been cut off. Many are too afraid to return to their homes, and over 2 million families have no home to return to," Brownell said.

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Brownell, who has kept in contact with her host family, said many people are not receiving aid. They have told her they are in a state of waiting now.

A group of students in the Global Fellows Program at McDaniel is raising money to help the people of Nepal.

On Tuesday, a group of McDaniel students sold brownies, cookies and other treats to raise money for The Women's Foundation of Nepal, an organization with the mission of helping women and children who are victims of violence, abuse and poverty. As of Wednesday, they had raised about $500.

Donation boxes have also been set out at McDaniel's Decker College Center and at the Writing Center, at 2 College Hill, in the heart of Westminster.

Roger Isom, 21, of Bowie, a Global Fellows student who spearheaded the fundraising effort, said that although students are busy with finals they wanted to do something to help.

"We figured a small gesture would be a big gesture to someone else," said Isom, who sat beside two other volunteers, Leanna Jasek-Rysdahl, 20, of California, and Precious Ibe, 20, of Baltimore.

Isom said he and other students have been in contact with Brownell, who told students that she and her host family are safe.

"But she also let us know of organizations we can donate to, which is why we are donating to The Women's Foundation of Nepal," Isom said.

When students heard their classmate was in Nepal during the earthquake, it made them more aware of the impact it had, they said.

"One of the things about being in Global Fellows is to be aware of events going on around the world and to be aware that there is an interconnectedness of everyone, and the fact that our peer was abroad brought that a little bit closer to us," Jasek-Rysdahl said.

The Global Fellows program — offered to students in their sophomore, junior and senior years — teaches students about the world and how they relate to it. Part of the experience is studying abroad for a full semester, a full year, a summer or a specially-designated short-term program, according to an information sheet about the program.

The program is relatively new, beginning about three years ago, said Amy McNichols, associate dean of international and intercultural programs at McDaniel.

Brownell said she hopes people don't forget the importance of lending a hand to the people of Nepal once the earthquake story is no longer news and the natural disaster fades from people's minds.

"Nepal will need aid for a long time," she said.

Isom said students plan to continue their fundraising efforts into the fall semester. McNichols said she plans to pinpoint a fundraising effort for students to support each semester.

lauren.loricchio@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7862

twitter.com/LaurenLoricchio

Make a Donation

Those interested in donating to The Women's Foundation of Nepal can do so by dropping off money at McDaniel College or by going to the organization's website: womenepal.org.

Donations can also be made to a fund created by students such as Brownell who were part of the SIT Study Abroad program in Nepal by going here: http://bit.ly/1GVU9hE.

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