Maddy Hyams: surviving the earthquake in Nepal

Maddy Hyams with her host family in Nepal.
Maddy Hyams with her host family in Nepal.

Three months into her stay in Nepal, the house in Begnas Tal where CVU graduate Maddy Hyams was staying began to shake. Hyams was on the second floor and it took a minute for her to realize she was experiencing an earthquake. She and her host family got out safely but some of the ceilings collapsed. The house was rendered uninhabitable and Hyams’ gap year work in Nepal came to an early close.

Hyams, a Charlotte native, wanted to spend some time volunteering before beginning her studies at UVM this fall. She chose Nepal because of its natural beauty and peaceful surroundings and spent her time working in a vegetable and herb garden with spectacular views of the Himalayas. Hyams was paired with a host family through the American organization Village Volunteers. Begnas Tal has a population of roughly 1,000 and Hyams was the only American in the village, although she noted that others have volunteered on this particular farm through the program in previous years.

Begnas Tal is up in the hills and, despite being as close to the epicenter of the quake as Katmandu, it didn’t sustain as much damage. None of the people Hyams knew were hurt but several from a neighboring town were killed. With their house no longer safe, Hyams’ host family moved into a shed with one bed which they insisted on giving to her. After five days, she felt guilty about taking up room and eating their food so she decided to end her stay three weeks early. She spent several days at the U.S. Embassy in Katmandu before getting a flight home.

Hyams has some experience with international volunteer work through her mother’s non-profit, Imagining the World, which provides ultrasound radiology in Uganda, but this was her longest international trip. She recommends international volunteer work but counsels those who go abroad not to have expectations. “In any developing country, things rarely go as planned,” she said. “Travel arrangements can fall through and you can’t trust everyone you come across. Taxi drivers, for instance, will overcharge you.” For Hyams, working abroad was very rewarding. “Because I was living with a host family and there were no other Americans there I got an inside view of their culture, religion, and way of life and that was really valuable,” she said.

Hyams has lived in Charlotte since she was five and loves her home town. “It’s a good size,” she said “so there is access to services but enough nature and open space for it to still be peaceful and beautiful.” Still, Hyams misses Nepal and feels badly about leaving her host family during such a rough time for them. She hopes she can return one day.

One thing that impressed Hyams was what she saw at the embassy in Katmandu. “There were other Americans,” she said “and the majority of them had extended their trips so they could stay and help with earthquake relief. There was a really good vibe and people were willing to help. That was really cool.”