Despite the many geographical, cultural and economic differences separating the two, Whistler and Nepal share a connection that's been on full display in the aftermath of two recent earthquakes that have devastated the Himalayan nation.
Just ask Whistler's Dr. Ola Dunin-Bell, a surgeon who has been volunteering off and on in the landlocked South Asian country for more than a decade.
"Mountain people are mountain people, right?" said Dunin-Bell, on the phone from Nepal, where she is volunteering with the Red Cross. "Certainly my love of the mountains and the bond to my home in Whistler gives me some affinity to this area as well."
Dunin-Bell first arrived in Kathmandu days after the April 25 quake that ravaged the capital city to work in the Red Cross's mobile emergency response unit. Since then, she's relocated to the remote northern village of Dhunche, where the only hospital has been turned to rubble, to offer assistance to those affected by the initial quake as well as a second that struck on May 12.
"It was felt there was need to provide some very urgent health care facilities there, not just to those injured in the earthquake, but to the displaced people who had been coming out of the mountains where they had basically lost everything, and also just for day-to-day care that has to go on," Dunin-Hill said. "Babies still get born in disasters."
With thousands displaced, and a health care infrastructure not set up to handle such devastation, Dunin-Hill's primary concern now is the incoming monsoon season.
"The population here is living under tarps, they're not even in real tents, and they're going to be flooded," she said. "We run the risk of increasing disease and diarrhea as the monsoon moves in. These people don't have proper water facilities, don't have sanitation. Not that there's a good time for earthquakes, but it's a very, very bad time."
In Whistler, the response to the disaster in Nepal has been swift and vigorous, with thousands of dollars raised for a number of organizations.
White Gold Yoga owner Erin Anderson, whose parents run a trekking company in Kathmandu, spearheaded a yoga jam on May 18 that raised over $1,300. She's also launched a crowdfunding campaign (www.gofundme.com/nepalreliefcanada) that runs until the end of the month that has so far raised $5,600. The monies will go directly to the operator of a Kathmandu hotel and long-time friend of Anderson's family to help rebuild his community.
"We've been very loyal to the people that we've worked with and they feel like family to us," Anderson said.
"To come home to this really blessed community (of Whistler), you see how many material things we have, but our hearts are really with the mountains, and that's the thing that connects us on a human level."
Students at Whistler Secondary School have also gotten in on the relief efforts, raising nearly $1,700 through a variety of different initiatives.
Grade 11 student Carli Leppard helped lead a clothing sale through her leadership class, bringing in $500. Other students held a bake sale, and set up a donation box on campus.
"It's great to see all the students come together with so many people working on different things," Leppard said.
"We're so privileged here that we can't even begin to realize what they're going through (in Nepal). I thought it was the best thing I could do with my time, so if I can help people when I'm so privileged here, why not?"
Elsewhere, Creekbread held a fundraiser for The Umbrella Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to protecting Nepalese orphans, raising over $1,600.
Loka Yoga also held a screening of the documentary Tashi and the Monk at Millennium Place, bringing in $900. The studio raised an additional $2,000 through other efforts as well.
The federal government has committed to matching all eligible contributions to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund received by May 25.
To donate to the Red Cross response efforts, visit www.redcross.ca/donate/fundraising-information.
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