Momos for Nepal

How the Nepalese Diaspora Rallied Together in the Wake of the Nepal Earthquake

Momos are a delicious dumpling native to Nepal. If you haven’t had one, ask any of the thousands of Nepalese Americans and they can probably describe one to you in fond detail. But after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked Nepal two years ago, the momos became so much more than a tasty treat. Communities in Massachusetts began to sell them to their neighbors to raise money to send back to Nepal.

This compassionate spirit and desire to help is not uncommon after disasters strike.

When I think back on the devastating earthquake, I remember photos of roads, temples, and schools reduced to ruins, and one of a crack, several feet across that split a city street where the earth suddenly shifted. And I remember the personal stories of tragedy streaming daily into our homes and smartphones. The images left me heartbroken for the people of Nepal, and determined to help those affected as best I could.

Momos for Nepal

In my 27 years at The Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) I have seen the outpouring of support that comes after a disaster. Unfortunately, I have also seen the “second disaster” of donated household items that can slow the response effort and can be culturally, nutritionally, and environmentally inappropriate for survivors. Decades of disaster response work has shown that cash donations are the best, most effective way to help.

Diaspora groups, with their close connections to their home countries, are particularly interested in helping the relief efforts. So, after the earthquake, CIDI reached out to Nepalese diaspora community organizations, scattered throughout the United States, to work with people to ensure that their good intentions were translated into real impact.

That’s where the momos came in! But the momo-selling communities in Massachusetts weren’t the only ones to lend a hand. At colleges and universities around the country, Nepalese student organizations planned benefit concerts and candlelight vigils. In California, an outdoor clothing and gear company, Sherpa Adventure Gear, raised over $150,000 for the relief effort. We also engaged with the Embassy of Nepal in Washington to help coordinate incoming donations, and worked with USAID’s response teams to field questions about donations and volunteering.

But we did not stop there. With the AD Council, we launched a series of television, print and digital public service announcements about the importance of donating cash.

The response was overwhelming. I will always remember how the Nepali diaspora were joined by other communities in the U.S. who answered the call, whether it was organizing a fundraiser or making a donation to a relief organization. Time and time again after tragedy strikes, I have seen diaspora communities come together to help. The Nepal earthquake response was no different, and it is this spirit of community and resilience that continues to drive CIDI’s work today.

Barlin Ali is a Program Coordinator at USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).