Hill Resident Raises $400,000 for Nepal Earthquake Relief

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In April and May two earthquakes rocked Nepal.  The tremblors devastated the country, destroying approximately 250,000 buildings and 20,000 schools. Nepal Social Educational Environmental Development Services, a San Francisco-based charity led by Potrero Hill resident Keith Goldstein, responded with a spirited effort to support relief efforts, raising $400,000 for earthquake relief.  And its fundraising efforts continue.

The nonprofit was founded in 1998 by trekking guide KP Kafle and Goldstein, who also serves as Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association president and is a Potrero Boosters member.  “I’ve been traveling there since 1986, and have been there a dozen times,” he said in an interview with the View. Goldstein has such a strong affinity with Nepal that he named his business “Everest Waterproofing and Restoration,” and has upwards of 40 employees from Nepal and Tibet.

Nepal SEEDS supports community-based projects that focus on education, water, health, and the environment. The nonprofit works closely with its grantees, encouraging them to identify their most pressing needs, and helping them develop solutions that’re economically feasible, sustainable, and sensitive to cultural concerns, according to Nepal SEEDS’ website. “We have a model where all of the projects are in close collaboration with villagers themselves; we don’t send in team of Westerners to do the work,” Goldstein said.

Along with a 10 member board of directors – which includes Barbara Cambon, a San Diego real estate adviser; Donna Warrington, a San Francisco stenographer; Esther Lev, executive director of the Wetlands Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Tualatin, Oregon; and Geoff Childs, a professor of anthropology and environmental studies at Washington University in St. Louis – Goldstein has developed a database of roughly 1,000 donors, raising $3 million over the past 17 years.  After the earthquakes, Nepal SEEDS eblasted its database.  Recipients forwarded the eblasts to their lists, which elicited an “overwhelming response…And every penny goes to Nepal, there is no overhead,” Goldstein said. “There is no paid staff in the U.S.; we send everything over there.”

Nepal SEEDS has distributed a little more than half the emergency relief funds to Nepal for food delivery to remote areas and tin roofing, so the Nepalese don’t have to sleep in the open during the monsoon season. The nonprofit has enlisted a structural engineer to help direct its investments, particularly related to rebuilding schools.

“The needs are massive,” Goldstein said, which is why Nepal SEEDS isn’t looking for a specific amount to raise.  It could be decades before the Nepali people pull their lives back together, Goldstein said. It costs about $50,000 to build an earthquake resistant school.  Some villages are along the Tibetan border and hard to get to. “We don’t work in cities; we work in villages with no road access. It’s a few days access from the nearest road,” Goldstein said.

Historically, Nepal SEEDS has built and funded clinics and schools, paid for water delivery systems, and aided in other miscellaneous projects. Now, the nonprofit’s exclusive focus is on rebuilding post-earthquake and ensuring that schools are up to earthquake-resistant standards.

“Rather than rebuild individual homes, we’re focusing on the schools, and clinics if any money is left over,” Goldstein said. “Schools are such a vital part of life there. Every Nepali parent and child sees the concept of education as the only way to improve their lives. And so we have to get schools back up and running.”

Nepal SEEDS wires funds from the United States. Four paid coordinators are embedded in the project regions and oversee grant expenditures. They meet with village development committees to identify needs and help them submit a funding request.  Board members visit Nepal frequently to check on projects.

“They tell us what they need and how we can help them achieve it,” Goldstein said. “It’s an effective model and we don’t waste a dime. For instance, in the past we installed a water delivery system for 250 people and paid $12,500 for it, which is fantastically cheap.”

Nepal SEEDS doesn’t give gifts in exchange for donations, but it does hold an annual fundraising dinner. On September 25 at the Kabuki Hotel, Henry Tenenbaum, a media personality, will emcee this year’s event.  “We’ll take any donation no matter how small, or very gratefully, very large,” Goldstein added.  He hopes 250 people will attend the fundraiser, at which sponsorships, such as supporting a teacher for a year, will be auctioned off.

“We could raise ten times what we’ve been raising and it would still be just a drop in the bucket,” Goldstein said. “We’ll just keep going at it and hopefully keep interest going.”