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Southwest Montana prominent in Nepal relief effort

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Big Sky fundraiser June 14

By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor

Outlaw@Nepal_MOaid-3 BIG SKY – Colton Stiffler, a Bozeman-based engineer and photographer, was in the Nepali city of Pokhara, 14 kilometers from the epicenter of the April 25, 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

“There was a low grumble that kept building for 30 seconds,” said Stiffler, who was in a fourth-floor restaurant at the time. “I realized it was a quake, grabbed my stuff and ran. The walls were cracking and I was sure the building was going to fall.”

Despite Pokhara’s proximity to the epicenter, the structure he fled withstood the 90-second tremor along with most of the buildings in the city.

Two days later Stiffler boarded a bus to Katmandu and realized how lucky he was to have been in Pokhara during the quake. When he arrived at the road leading from the capital to the Chitwan District, Stiffler saw that traffic was backed up 20 miles. “It was a mass exodus, we saw tens of thousands leaving Katmandu,” he said.

Stiffler spent his last three days in the country documenting the relief effort and damage to Katmandu’s historic places – some reduced to rubble – that he had photographed at the start of his trip.

“It was really sad to go back and see these places where so many people had died,” Stiffler said. “I saw the Japanese [aid] team pull out five bodies in front of me in four hours.”

The destruction to Katmandu was extensive, but in some rural Nepal villages, it was complete.

Nearly all 200 residents of Langtang perished during the April quake as a massive avalanche of rock and ice wiped out the small town. The remote village of Chyangba was damaged during the April earthquake, but was leveled by the 7.3-magnitude quake that followed on May 12.

Dr. Peter Schmieding, who lives in Bozeman and practices dentistry in Big Sky, was in Katmandu when the second major earthquake hit. Schmieding arrived in Nepal on May 3 to help the relief effort in rural villages through his nonprofit Tsering’s Fund, an organization originally created to finance the education of Nepali girls. He was having lunch on an outdoor patio with Tsering’s Fund co-founder and namesake Tsering Dokar Lama on May 12.

“I bet you the entire city emptied every building in less than a minute,” Schmieding said. “Everybody was so uptight to begin with, but starting to sleep indoors [again] … and then people are back to sleeping in tents.”

Schmieding returned to Montana on May 23 and described how Nepal’s physical and psychological recoveries will take years. A major issue that won’t be addressed by the relief effort, he said, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Schmieding has three adopted Nepali daughters living in the U.S. and spent time with their birth mother while in country.

“The mother of my kids won’t sleep indoors and her apartment building was fine,” Schmieding said. “I didn’t think about it until I was there, and spoke to the people – [some Nepalis] have a perfectly good home and are sleeping outdoors.”

Despite the devastation wrought on the country, Schmieding was overcome by the Nepalis’ generosity and pride during his three weeks in the country. People were asking him what they could do to help.

“We were in so many villages and met so many people that had lost everything, and not one time did somebody ask us for anything,” Schmieding said. “They didn’t ask us for money or supplies. The only thing they asked us was to come in and have tea with them.”

Schmieding raised more than $14,000 while he was on the ground through Tsering’s Fund. That money was spent on building supplies like corrugated roofing and staples like rice that Schmieding could often buy at wholesale through Dolkar Lama’s extensive network in Katmandu.

The nonprofit purchased mosquito nets for some of the city’s orphanages – which are filling up quickly because so many parents were killed in the quakes – and shoes for children in the Bal Mandir orphanage.

The next phase of Schmieding’s relief effort begins here at home. He’s identified one long-term project to rebuild the schools of his friend Raj Kumar Dhakal’s village. The walls of the secondary school were destroyed and the foundation cracked, but the roof, metal trusses, doors and windows were salvageable. Tsering’s Fund will raise finances to pour a new slab and build new walls once the monsoon season is over in August or September.

In addition to the ongoing fundraising campaign by Tsering’s Fund, Big Sky’s Lone Mountain Ranch will host an earthquake relief fundraiser on Sunday, June 14 at 6 p.m. Members of Montana State University’s Nepalese Student Association will be on hand to speak about their home country.

The event will include a barbecue, silent auction and presentations from Outlaw Partners’ CEO and publisher of EBS Eric Ladd, as well as a slideshow and video from Outlaw’s Videographer Wes Overvold. Ladd and Overvold flew to Nepal in mid-May to deliver supplies to Schmieding and document the relief effort.

Visit and click the “donate” button to contribute to Tsering’s Fund earthquake relief. Call Lone Mountain Ranch at (406) 995-4644 for tickets and more information about the June 14 fundraiser.

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