By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
The Archdiocese of Louisville collected more than $94,000 to help fund Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Nepal after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook the small nation on April 25.
That money was critical to relief efforts and was put to use immediately, according to Elizabeth Tromans, an emergency response coordinator for CRS. CRS is the international aid organization sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Tromans, who graduated from Bellarmine University in 2004, arrived in Nepal two days after the temblor that leveled half a million homes and killed more than 8,000 people.
She visited Louisville in mid-July and related her experiences in Nepal during a presentation at the Maloney Center July 16.
“We knew right away shelter was going to be the biggest need,” said Tromans. “Then water and sanitation.”
Tromans and other CRS staff organized with the government in Nepal, other non-governmental organization’s and Caritas Nepal, the church’s local outreach group, to coordinate efforts. Then the CRS team deployed to an area in Gorkha District where no response had yet
been sent and where casualties were high, she said.
CRS ultimately had about 30 staffers in Nepal and about 150 local volunteers — many of them college students whose classes had been indefinitely delayed.
Their work began immediately, and so far CRS has provided emergency relief to 20,200 households, reaching about 100,000 people. These people received temporary shelters, including tarps, tin sheeting for roofs and tools to erect them; water treatment kits and other essential living supplies.
“We’re at the 12-week mark now and a lot has happened,” Tromans said during her presentation July 16. “The goal was to get 20,000 families into durable shelter before monsoon season (which has now begun). After the monsoon will come cold and snow.”
Now CRS is beginning a new phase of recovery — helping people build new homes designed to withstand earthquakes.
This process dovetails with another project of CRS — to help the financial market improve in Nepal. Local workers are being trained to build what Tromans calls “seismically-strong” homes and local business owners are being used to help supply the materials.
In recovery efforts such as those underway in Nepal, CRS gives families grants to buy their materials and pay workers to build their homes. This practice, Tromans said, “empowers villages.”
“We want the market to recover because that will help the household,” she explained. “Putting money back in the local economy is a priority.”
Overall, so far CRS has received $11 million in private donations for recovery efforts in Nepal. This total include the donations from parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville. Tromans said these donations enable CRS to mobilize immediately after a disaster — while other aid organizations must apply for grants or other funding.
“The private funding we receive is what allows us to respond,” she said. “Even in the first few days, we had donations coming in from donors while we were waiting for other grants and funding.”
Mark Bouchard of Catholic Charities of Louisville noted that 100 percent of donations for CRS that are sent to Catholic Charities go to CRS, dollar for dollar.
Tromans said reconstruction in Nepal is expected to take three to five years. The country’s already “poor roads” are devastated in some areas. Some villages are so remote that CRS has used a helicopter, donkeys and mountaineering guides to help deliver supplies.
As Tromans describes the challenges ahead, it’s clear she’s committed to ensuring CRS is successful. She speaks passionately about her work and the people she’s serving.
Her desire to help people on an international scale began when she was in eighth-grade and traveled to Mexico, she said.
“That was the first time I’d been exposed to extreme poverty,” she noted. “That was also the first time I’d experienced another culture.”
She selected Bellarmine University, she said, because of its international travel and social justice opportunities. She studied abroad in Fiji and took part in service learning trips, such as an annual service trip to Guatemala led by Bob and Dottie Lockhart.
After Bellarmine, Tromans joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Bangladesh. While there, she began to see international aid workers and realized she could marry her love for travel and desire to work for justice in a career.
She earned a master’s degree in human rights with a specialty in humanitarian assistance. Then she joined CRS in 2010, she said, because “it has an exceptional reputation for humanitarian work.”
“After five years I can still say that,” she said. “CRS does very accountable work and very fast work. It’s the private donations that enable us to be fast, which allows us the time to do the things we need to do to be accountable.”
As CRS’ coordinator of emergency relief in Asia, Tromans’ home base is the Philippines. She was on the ground there doing recovery efforts for five months after Typhoon Haiyan struck the island nation in 2013, she said.
Asked whether she’s ever afraid in the course of her work, she noted that the aftershocks in Nepal — and sometimes the bad road conditions — were frightening. But she’s most concerned about doing her job well.
“The thing I’m always trying to do is get the strategy right,” Tromans explained. “Am I listening? It’s easy to go in with a cookie-cutter solution.
“Making sure your ears are open and your eyes are open” is not as easy, she said. But it’s key to helping people in need.
Her eyes and ears were open a few years ago when, in the course of relief work in India, Tromans happened to be passing a couple trying to cross a flooded roadway on a bike. The woman was swept off the bike, unable to swim, and Tromans saw her go under. Tromans, a former swimmer and diver, leapt in after her and pulled her to safety.