The loss of six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers this May during an earthquake relief mission hit one American almost as viscerally as if family, and now he’s determined to help carry their efforts forward.
Amrit Kandel, a second generation Nepalese-American, was so moved by the Marines’ mission and sacrifice that he started a crowdfunding campaign to rebuild a school destroyed in Nepal’s massive earthquake as a memorial to the fallen.
Kandel’s launched the campaign Wednesday through his nonprofit, Education for Purpose. His goal is to raise $75,000 over the next three months and rebuild the school within six months.
“This is exactly what the Marines were there to do: to make a difference, an impact, to help,” Kandel told Marine Corps Times. “Their sacrifice represents what America’s all about; we want to help continue their legacy.”
Capt. Dustin R. Lukasiewicz; Capt. Christopher L. Norgren; Sgt. Ward M. Johnson IV; Sgt. Eric M. Seaman; Cpl. Sara A. Medina; and Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hug were killed in the May 12 crash when their UH-1Y Venom helicopter crashed eight miles north of Charikot, Nepal. Lukasiewicz and Norgren were pilots, Johnson and Seaman were crew chiefs, Medina was a combat photographer, and Hug was a combat videographer. Two Nepalese soldiers, Tapendra Rawal and Basanta Titara, were also killed in the crash.
The Marines were deployed to Nepal on a humanitarian relief mission after an April 25 earthquake devastated the country. They were tasked with distributing food and shelter kits alongside local troops.
The 7.8 magnitude quake and its aftershocks took nearly 9,000 lives, injured 23,000 and left millions homeless in Nepal, which was already one of the poorest countries in the world.
“These Marines were a different kind of casualty,” Kandel said. “I was at the funeral for Capt. [Dustin R.] Lukasiewiecz in Omaha; I saw how personal it was.”
Attending the service with the Nebraska Nepalese Association, Kandel spoke intimately with family and fellow community members and was inspired by the Marines’ dedication to their mission in Nepal, where many of his relatives still live.
Kandel, who grew up in Omaha and was a member of JROTC, said it could easily have been him in the helicopter.
“The Marines were there to help people they did not know, in a country some of them hadn’t heard about before the earthquake,” he said. “[They died] as heroes trying to bring much-needed relief to people that were hopeless and helpless.”
After Lukasiewicz’s funeral, Kandel said he kept thinking about how best to honor the Marines’ mission, so he traveled to Nepal to find out for himself.
Visiting rural Kavre District one and a half hours southeast of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, he asked villagers what they needed and was blown away by their response.
“I thought they’d say money, food or clothes,” Kandel said. “But almost to a person they said, ‘my life is over with, I know I have problems, but we need to have a school so our children can have a future.’”
Kandel took this to heart and saw in this a long-term, sustainable solution to the poverty in an area where he said the majority of families make at most $2.50 per day.
The Bal Uddhar Secondary School in Pauauti-3 of Kauvre District was completely destroyed by the earthquake. There were between 300 and 400 students enrolled in the public school, many of whom walked over two hours a day to attend classes.
“Nepal is a developing country and critical infrastructure was completely destroyed, so rebuilding schools is not really taking precedence,” Kandel said. “We want to help get these kids back to school, give them a chance to get out of poverty; without school, that’s simply impossible.”
The rebuilt school will be dedicated to the fallen Marines and Nepalese soldiers, and will contain a memorial designed with input from their families.
Johnson’s mother Eva Curtis told Marine Corps Times that she fully supports Kandel’s project as long as it’s done in respect to the six Marines.
“What he is doing is very honorable,” Curtis said. “This young man is very emotional about it and is putting 100 percent effort into it, into all the work he’s done so far.”
Kandel selected the school based on its accessibility to Kathmandu, and has secured approval from local government and Nepal’s education ministry to begin the project, which will employ local labor.
With the exception of the 10 percent processing fees charged by the crowdfunding website, all contributions will go directly to rebuilding the school, he said.
“These six Marines made the greatest sacrifice,” he said. “This is the least we can do for our heroes so their legacy will live on.”