The colossal earthquakes and ongoing geologic instability in Nepal have cost more than 5,000 lives, with losses anticipated to rise as relief efforts reach remote towns and villages. The attention and compassion of the world is turned toward Nepal – even as volunteers mobilize to support survivors and rebuild for the future.

David Campbell, CEO of All Hands Volunteers, created a nonprofit that has sent over 28,000 “spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers” – or SUVs – from 77 countries to disaster sites in nine global locations, from Thailand and Haiti to post-tsunami Japan and Superstorm Sandy-battered New York City. (About a third of volunteers are 60+; Campbell began All Hands in 2004 at age 63, after four decades in business management – expertise put to quick use organizing volunteers and construction support.) All Hands will soon have 10 volunteers on the ground in Nepal, focused on immediate search-and-rescue recovery needs, medical and health care, and what Campbell calls “the long tail” of disaster relief: building schools, restoring infrastructure and helping communities outside the capitals – and the media spotlight – resume a semblance of normalcy after shattering losses.

Karen Sughrue, head of the Stories from the Encore Movement project, spoke with Campbell about how All Hands does its work.

“Our first decision is which community we will use to establish our base. We typically identify a community that is underserved. A lot of people will be working in Katmandu – people can fly there, it’s easy to base there. It will get 80 percent of the support, and there will be minimal support to outlying communities.

We tend to move out and find a significant second community that is not getting served and base ourselves there. We embed in that community; we may live there for an extended period of months.

In this case, we foresee the real need will be for shelter and the rebuilding of schools. The monsoon season starts in six weeks – we need to get transitional shelters up before that starts, even if it’s just a tarpaulin to get people out of the rain. That’s hard work, because you first need to do the debris removal and demolition to clear space for vehicles to come in and get the space prepared to so something next. We have a real interest in housing that would be more appropriate for a quake-prone area; that’s not an easy thing to do, because local people need to be trained in that kind of building.”

There is always a lot of interest in the very early days of a disaster, but this will be a multi-year event. We tend to be there for the long tail of an event like this. The rebuilding is work we’ve done before. We will be there early and stay late, for shelter, housing recovery and school rebuilding.”

All Hands volunteers have contributed over 750,000 hours via 50 All Hands disaster response and rebuilding projects, work that has helped more than 45,000 families. Volunteers travel on their own dime, and are housed and fed by All Hands. Campbell invites inquires, requests for aid and introductions to funders via email, at [email protected].

“We are trying to reach out broadly to the Nepalese community in the U.S. and become a vehicle for them to help their community. When we went to Japan in 2011 for tsunami relief, 700 Japanese volunteered with us. It was a powerful experience for them to be engaged in directly helping their community.”

For more information, visit the All Hands Volunteers website.

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