Helping Children Make Sense of the Earthquake In Nepal

On Friday, April 24, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck just before noon local time about 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu, Nepal. It was around 20 times more powerful than the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is densely populated with nearly 2.5 million people, over 25 percent of whom live in poverty according to the World Bank. The quality of buildings is generally very poor -- not strong enough to withstand a natural disaster of such magnitude. The earthquake caused many buildings in the center of the capital to collapse, including centuries-old temples and structures. The Dharahara Tower, a national landmark that was built by Nepal's royal rulers in the 1800s, was completely ruined. The earthquake also triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest and surrounding mountainous regions.

Within just a few days, the confirmed death toll had already approached 5,500, with the quake ultimately affecting 8 million people across 39 districts.

The Importance of Being a Global Citizen In Times of Crisis

Our goal at Children Mending Hearts (CMH) is to directly engage the youth of America in global children's causes where they can positively impact the life of another child and ultimately realize their potential to effect change both in their own community and around the world. In other words, our programming is designed to instill our youth with a strong desire to reach out and help when bad things happen to other people. We teach them to think beyond their country's borders. One country's crisis belongs to us all.

Major disasters like the earthquake in Nepal, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and the Tsunami in Japan in 2011 are vitally important teaching tools. We have incorporated the disasters in Haiti and Japan into CMH programming and believe strongly that when educating the students we serve to be global citizens, we are in effect changing the world.

We also hope friends of Children Mending Hearts will bring home our message of global citizenship by creating an open dialogue with the children in their lives about global crises, major disasters and how those who are vulnerable are always more heavily affected.

Talking To Your Children About Disaster

Talking about a tragedy is difficult, but it is important that children know about what is happening around the world and how they can help -- and It is generally best if their first encounter with heavy and complicated information comes from a trusted adult.

  • Create an open and supportive environment so children feel comfortable asking questions, and listen intently when they respond. Be honest and kind.
  • Keep the information simple, sticking to concepts and language that the child can comprehend for their age.
  • Children have a tendency to personalize situations. Let them know that their family is safe and they are far away from the location of the disaster, but it is always good to be prepared -- and to empathize with those in different and scary situations.
  • Share something positive and interesting with your children about the people that live in the affected area. Help them understand the beauty and richness of the culture that has lost so much.

Driving the Message Home

Children in our programming learn about the daily lives of children around the world: what school is like for them, what music they like to listen to and how they get it, the kind of food they eat, etc. Seeing similarities and differences when comparing other children's lives to their own helps personalize our message: we are all humans, we are all global citizens -- even if our worlds seem different at first glance. Students begin to understand that we all have joys and struggles, we all experience successes and disappointments.

One of the most important parts of CMH programming is helping the students we serve understand how to appreciate what they do have, despite challenges they may be facing. For our students in Los Angeles, who have no doubt experienced small earthquakes, participated in earthquake drills at school and heard about "Earthquake Kits," we must make it clear that for children in Nepal, preparation isn't that simple. Their buildings and their communities did not have the infrastructure in place to handle such a disaster, and therefore the devastation is that much greater.

Encouraging a Spirit of Giving

Having meaningful conversations about global disaster relief allows children to develop good critical thinking skills, become more globally aware and build empathy. The situation in Nepal in the wake of this week's disastrous earthquake is nothing short of desperate. Countries and organizations all over the world have already pledged immediate aid and supplies. Talking with our children about these organizations and how giving to them, even in small amounts, can affect change on the other side of the world, sets them up for a lifetime of giving back.

You can make donations to the following organizations via their websites to directly help Nepalese citizens who are in dire need of shelter, clean water, food and medical attention: UNICEF is preparing 120 tons of humanitarian goods including hospital supplies, tents and blankets that will help nearly 1 million children. Doctors Without Borders already has teams on the ground providing medical assistance and supplies. Save the Children will deliver and distribute baby packs that contain children's clothes, blankets and soap. International Medical Corps is deploying mobile medical units to provide emergency care and vital relief supplies, including medicine, hygiene kits, shelter materials, blankets and water purification supplies. And Sarvodaya Nepal, already on the ground as part of the Teach for Nepal program -- which places recent Nepali graduates in underserved schools -- is working to reach communities in remote areas that other agencies cannot access.

We urge you to not turn away from the crisis in Nepal and to use it as a platform to have these difficult conversations with the children in your life. Every single day that passes it becomes increasingly important for us all, as citizens of the world, to figure out how to work together in times of crisis. Our children are an integral part of our global community and future and we must continue to work tirelessly to cultivate the desire in them to step up when they can help, in any way they can.


Lysa Heslov