Dr. Bijay Acharya first heard about the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal on Saturday, April 25. It was 3 am. Frantically, he called his brother, his parents, his friends. No one picked up. “I couldn’t get ahold of them for five hours,” he says. “They were the longest five hours of my life.”
Immediately Acharya, a Nepali-born Massachusetts General Hospital physician and fellow in patient safety and quality, got to work. He contacted other members of the American Nepal Medical Foundation (ANMF). Within an hour, they started to build an action plan. Within two hours, Acharya was online looking for fundraising options. Within three hours, he had launched an Indiegogo Life campaign with the goal of raising $20,000.
“Nepal’s healthcare system isn’t up to the standard of what we have here,” Acharya says of the ANMF’s work and plans. “It’s a low income country. Given that we all have medical training there or have worked there, we developed a plan of how to best help the situation, then asked friends and family to help spread the word.”
And spread the word they did. Acharya started his fundraiser hoping to raise $20,000. In Nepal, even one dollar can make a huge difference when it comes to buying food, clean water and supplies. But within four hours, the fundraiser had already exceeded Acharya’s goal. “I said okay, this is going to be a lot of funding,” he remembers, “so we really had to plan.”
Watching the numbers grow, Acharya pushed the goal higher, this time aiming for $500,000. As of today, the fundraiser is going strong with four days left, and the ANMF has raised more than $409,000.
According to Acharya, the money will go to a variety of Nepali organizations, focusing primarily on clinical interventions following the earthquake. He notes that the ANMF is not a relief organization, but that they’ll instead work with their direct contacts in the country, specifically physicians who are working in rural areas of Nepal. They’ll provide supplies, services and support as needed. As of last week, $50,000 had already been moved to Nepal. Acharya has also taken a hiatus from his work at MGH and is currently leading relief efforts in Nepal.
As for the success of the campaign, Acharya says that it’s all about social media and community. Twitter, Facebook, Skype and LinkedIn drove the energy at the start of the campaign. Initially, he focused on contacting 100 key people, and those key people passed the word along to their own networks. Within hours, the fundraiser was a booming success. “People started texting me, sending me emails, asking how they could help,” he says.
Acharya also says that his family is okay, although his parents have been sleeping outside in the streets of Kathmandu, hoping to avoid the effects of another large scale aftershock. He says they’ve reported tremors as late as last Thursday.
“There’s just that constant feeling of not knowing when the next quake will strike or if there will even be another one,” he says. “There’s also complete chaos in rural hospitals. The health posts in the mountains are gone, and we lost many historical sites, too. It’s going to be hard to recover from that. It’s irreplaceable.”
According to Indiegogo Life’s directors, the free fundraising site has raised over $1,380,000 for more than 400 fundraisers in the week since the earthquake in Nepal. This includes more than 17,500 donations from around the world.
“Given both his role as a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and his position on the board of the America Nepal Medical Foundation, Dr. Bijay Acharya was equipped to swiftly connect with people on the ground who could provide relief in the aftermath of the earthquakes,” says Breanna DiGiammarino, co-head of Indiegogo Life. The company hopes that others will use Acharya’s story as a model for spurring relief work and healthcare innovation with crowd funding.
“As a platform created for people to help each other in their times of greatest need, Indiegogo Life is uniquely poised to connect donors directly to those who can best respond in a disaster,” DiGiammarino says. “Dr. Acharya’s closest community and now more than 4,200 donors across 80 countries have been able to easily identify and support his relief efforts, having immediate impact.”
Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.
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