UNC Public Health Major Headed to Epicenter of Nepal Earthquake for Disaster Relief

A photo from Health and Education for Nepal's Facebook page shows some of the damage in rural Nepal where UNC student Meagan Cain will be helping with relief efforts.

When Meagan Cain, a UNC student in the Colorado School of Public Health, heard about the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, she realized that it might mean some changes in the summer practicum she'd arranged to set up health education and human-trafficking avoidance programs for young girls living in a rural district in the center of the country.

But Cain, who's pursuing a master's degree in Public Health, didn't realize just how big the changes would be.

She reached out to representatives of Health and Education for Nepal, the non-profit that had helped her set up her practicum. Cain learned that her help was needed more than ever, but in a different way.

The Kumari, a Nepalese district where she'd be spending her summer, was at the epicenter of the earthquake, she was told. The local medical clinic and school had been destroyed. Every home in the area had been damaged, if not destroyed. Because of its remote location about 55 miles west of Kathmandu, residents could expect no aid from the government.

And many injured residents, unfamiliar with Western medicine, were refusing care from volunteer American doctors who were in the area.

Come and conduct an assessment of the long-term health and social needs so that we can efficiently plan for recovery efforts, she was told. And if you can, bring medical supplies, materials for providing temporary shelter and baby formula.

So Cain has been busily rounding up antibiotics, bandages and other medical supplies, tents and tarps, as well as baby formula, and arranging to get them flown to Nepal. She leaves this week.

"There's so much that they need and we're kind of limited right now by how much we can carry," Cain said, noting that the only road into the Kumari was blocked by a landslide. "If it hasn't been cleared by the time we get there, we're looking at a four- or five-hour trek in with our gear."

And in this case, "we" is Cain and boyfriend Tye Wawerski, who's a wilderness EMT and has to return to the States by June 12 to fulfill previously made commitments.

Once she gets to Kumari, in addition to helping rebuild the local infrastructure, Cain said she'll collect data that she'll use for her refocused practicum -- writing a disaster manual for relief organizations going into rural areas post-disaster. She'll start on the manual upon her return Aug. 19 for the start of fall semester.

Cain is looking at the trip as a great opportunity for professional development directly related to her public health career.

"I'm really excited; I'm all about public health," Cain said. "And a little nervous. We'll be encountering a lot of unknowns."

At least Cain won't be totally unfamiliar with Nepal and its people. She spent six weeks last summer in Kathmandu providing health education to former sex workers -- women who were sold into prostitution -- and their children. Read that story here.

And despite the change in focus in her practicum, she still hopes to implement some basic health education and human-trafficking avoidance programs to deal with an increased need for them in the wake of the earthquake.

"Human trafficking is expected to go out of control after the disaster," she said. "There's already been traffickers coming into villages posing as aid workers to take girls."

Cain's effort will receive support from fundraising efforts on campus. UNC's Modern Languages department and Asian Studies program will be accepting monetary donations for Health and Education for Nepal through Friday in in the Modern Languages office in Candelaria 0190. You can also donate directly by visiting http://www.healthanded4nepal.org/.

Cain hopes to regularly update a Facebook page about her efforts. To follow her journey, ask questions or send messages of support, "like" www.facebook.com/GirlsMovingMountains.

For more information about the Colorado School of Public Health, a unique collaboration between UNC, the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, visit http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/PublicHealth.