Nepal Earthquake Response & Earthquake Relief Fund

Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund, supports Nepalese women to organize, raise their voices and transform discriminatory policies, systems/ practices.

Community philanthropy organization Tewa embraces the values of local ownership/ agency in the way it operates, with a network of 3000+ individual ‘ordinary’ Nepali donors (largely women).

On 25 April 2015, Tewa found itself in a situation it had never envisaged: at the heart of a huge scale national emergency. The earthquake that hit the country that day, and subsequent aftershocks, ultimately left 8,000 people dead and more than 21,000 injured.

Within 24 hours, Tewa staff and board, along with key partners at Nagarik Aawaz (, began relief work and within a few days created an Earthquake Relief Fund (ERF), to guide and fund its work in both immediate relief efforts, as well as longer-term rehabilitation. This nomination focuses on Tewa’s earthquake response, taking into account the success of the ERF.


- Collect funds through ERF for earthquake response efforts including immediate relief (soup kitchen, care for pregnant/post-natal women, distributing supplies, etc.) and longer-term rebuilding
- Mobilize networks of partners, as well as existing/ new volunteers
- Use networks to spread information, particularly around hygiene issues due to increased danger of epidemic.

An ERF Committee was established, meeting weekly to oversee funding decisions. The Committee included individuals of “high credibility and experience” to ensure transparency of the fund and credibility of its use. Early on it was decided to prioritize: raising funds locally and internationally; and, ensuring 95% of money raised went directly to the most vulnerable.


Aware that they were in unchartered waters, and to root their activities in Tewa values, in the early days after the earthquake Tewa approved a code of conduct, emphasizing the behaviour and practices of its staff and volunteers engaged in relief work (including such provisions as: give care to the caregivers; don’t reduce the people we serve to be merely victims, etc.).

Early on, a decision was also taken to prioritize the mobilizing of local money and in-kind support. For Tewa, this was an extension of their ongoing efforts to build local Nepali philanthropy. No matter how small the sums were that were being collected for the ERF, these transactions were about something greater: building social capital, and encouraging local buy-in.

As noted by Tewa’s Executive Director: “Leading with an equitable approach, calming with compassion, and gaining the community’s confidence and trust is our duty. Money and things are essential, but they could mean little without all of the above.”


Unique about Tewa’s approach around its ERF was that it did not lose sight of the fact that even those who feel they have nothing to give, often do. Tewa offered an outlet and platform for ordinary Nepalis to become engaged with earthquake reconstruction - by donating cash or in-kind goods, or volunteering.

Led by the example of Tewa staff and board, who all contributed a portion of their salary and volunteered to work 7 days a week following the earthquakes, Tewa found many who were keen to do their bit for the larger good. Noteworthy is the $2051 USD which was gifted back to Tewa from an affected community who had received Tewa’s support early on. Tewa’s sensitive outreach put dignity and power back in the hands of those most affected.


- $508,484 USD raised for ERF, with $494,792 already disbursed by July ($100,000 had been raised in the 10 days following the first earthquake)
- $7241 donated by Nepalis, with an additional $483,639 of in-kind support
- 289 volunteers mobilized
- 23,271 households in 112 communities reached, including 7116 pregnant, elderly women, and children - in 90% these communities, Tewa was the first relief the community received
- 300 served daily at soup kitchen

By summer of 2015 Tewa was developing longer-term efforts, including:
- Hamro Tewa Goan-Gharma programme, sending volunteers to affected districts, to provide training (sewing, agriculture, etc.) so Nepalis could begin engaging in income generating activities
- Supporting Our World Heritage – Bhaktapur programme, which focused on feeding those rebuilding the site, developing a ‘heritage tour through the rubble’, and research to explore the challenges people of Bhaktapur face post-earthquake
- Psychosocial support to workers


- Limited human resources and funds immediately after the earthquake, coupled with the knowledge that moving swiftly was crucial.
- Personal safety to those conducting field visits (aftershocks, landslides, health concerns, security issues, etc.), who had no previous relief work experience.
- The backdrop being the approval process of Nepal’s constitution, which in Tewa’s view was regressive around women's rights. Tewa’s challenge was how to fight this effectively, while being in the thick post-earthquake relief work.

Strikes and protests around the constitution made it difficult to go about everyday work.

- Convincing potential partners and donors of transparency and accountability, when corruption (at all levels) was rife in the months post-earthquake.
- The unexpected and unofficial India blockade, which began on 23rd September, severely hit all sectors of Nepal’s fragile economy.

Earthquake reconstruction more or less halted, compounding the existing humanitarian crisis.


One of Tewa’s biggest challenges (beyond the immediate health and safety threats posed by the earthquakes) was likely how to find a balance in the months after the earthquake. How could the organization move quickly and raise funds swiftly, while also continuing to prioritize building local philanthropy, appreciating even the smallest of donations, and making those who were giving feel appreciated and significant?

How could Tewa focus solely on earthquake relief work, while also properly responding to issues such as the constitution - what would normally have been a high priority issue on Tewa’s agenda, and which would have long-term effects for the country, particularly Nepali women?


- Funding is essential but: “’Trust and control don’t work together. Without trust, there can be no work. We learnt that money was of less real long-term value, than giving of services with love.”
- Remembering that those affected were normal people: “The least we can do is be respectful and ensure that their dignity is not crippled - that nothing we do reduces them to be mere ‘victims.’ It was inspiring to note how appreciative, patient, caring and gifting they all were - how can we treat them as victims?”
- The need to cope with confusion: “This is busy and challenging work. The contradictions are too many: inspiring vs. challenging; motivating vs. frustrating; and just very, very complex.”
- Desperate circumstances can bring out the best in people: “Creativity abounds in these hard times. People look haggard, tired, and cold – but are still smiling and going about life with great forbearance, diligence…stopping to celebrate festivals, laugh at themselves – at least those who can!”




This is brave philanthropy when one thinks about the context under which this work was done - surrounded by suffering, with many Tewa staff affected by the earthquakes. Yet at their own peril, contributing their resources, Tewa staff and board pulled together, developing a post-earthquake plan which made sense for them: working from their strengths/knowledge, understanding keenly what to leave to other actors.

Tewa prioritized transparency and remembered that development is about people, and treated those affected with respect. The continued emphasis on building local philanthropy contributed to traditional power dynamics being flattened - by encouraging those affected to donate, they were therefore given a stake in the work’s outcomes.