Earthquake, uncertainty and birthday cake

May 15, 2015

International student from Nepal leans on JCCC community during disaster

On April 25, Ada Thapa was waiting for a call from her parents to wish her a happy birthday. Instead, she got a call from a friend telling her that a massive earthquake had hit Nepal, just a few miles away from where her parents lived.

Suddenly, Thapa’s only birthday wish was to make sure her family was alive. She and her aunt and uncle began frantically calling at 2 a.m. local time, and for four excruciating hours, she knew nothing. Finally, at 6 a.m., Thapa’s mother was able to get through: everyone in the family was alive and well, and their home remained standing.

Relief. Deep breath. Wish granted.

Thapa, an international student at Johnson County Community College, said she was glad to have the support of her family here in Kansas City and her friends at JCCC for “the very worst day of my life.”

Destruction and chaos

The earthquake killed more than 8,000 people and leveled centuries-old structures, including the iconic Dharahara Tower. Thapa visited that tower to celebrate her high school graduation, and now the nine-story structure is a pile of rubble.

Thankfully, her parents’ home fared much better. Unlike the tower, which was built in 1832, her parents’ house was new construction, built seven years ago of brick and stone.

“My mother told me the only things that were damaged were one vase and one picture frame that was knocked over,” she said. “So they were fortunate.”

Still, as aftershocks rocked the capital city of Katmandu, her family at first slept outside to avoid the terror of having buildings fall upon them. Then slept all together in a first-floor room near the door. They were afraid to sleep in their bedrooms, apart from each other, should someone sleep through an aftershock and not bolt outside in time.

Coping from afar

For Thapa, being so far away hasn’t been easy. She said she thinks of her family constantly, even though there is little she can do from Kansas. Her parents and her friends have told her to concentrate on her studies. With finals, she said she knows she must. Still, it’s difficult. “It’s been really hard to focus,” she said.

“I am so glad my professors here at JCCC are understanding,” she said. “They know that I am distracted and have offered to help in whatever way they can.”

Her counselor, Mary Kessler, struck with the bitter irony of an earthquake on Ada’s birthday, brought her a lemon cake, a card and a balloon when Thapa returned to JCCC the next Monday.

“She told everyone, ‘This is Ada’s week, so you need to be good to her,’” she said.

Finding ways to help

Her friends gathered in the student lounge for a special surprise birthday party, too. Unfortunately for them, Thapa had figured out the surprise before she made it to COM 322. At that point, however, no one cared whether she knew about the party. They just wanted her to know that they cared about her.

Friends at JCCC also helped her reach her fundraising goal of $1,500 for her mother’s outreach efforts in a neighboring town hit even harder than Katmandu. “My mother was the inspiration for the campaign,” Thapa said.

Also, Keith Davenport, her supervisor for her job at the student welcome desk, has suggested she continue fundraising efforts for Nepal throughout JCCC as she continues her job through the summer.

“I am so happy to be at JCCC during this time,” she said. “The people here are wonderful.”