It was 1973, and then 22-year-old Barbara Bitetto had just arrived in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.
The Sumner resident had traveled to the small country for an International Farm Youth Exchange through her local 4-H chapter.
“To say the least, daily life here in Nepal is quite different from ours in America,” Bitetto wrote in a newsletter from her trip in 1973. “It is quite busy from before sunrise until early evening. No one sleeps in here, even on a holiday, for there is work to be done.”
At the time, Nepal was one of the least developed countries in the world, mostly because of its hilly landscape. And 20 years prior to Bitetto’s arrival, Nepal didn’t have much contact with the outside world.
“Since that time, there has been a lot of development aided by the U.S., China, Switzerland, Japan, USSR, plus other developing agencies like UN, FAO, etc,” Bitetto wrote in another newsletter from her trip. “One of the main reasons for the development not being faster is that much of the country is hilly and mountainous. Roads haven’t been built. But now there are plans for an East-West highway crossing the lower plainlands — The Terai — and some roads going up into the mountains from it. When all are completed it will help communications, transport goods and further development.”
It has been more than 40 years since Bitetto returned from her exchange trip. Life went on and Nepal quickly fell to the back of her mind — until April 25 when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit.
“Until two weeks ago, it was one of those experiences in life that I just didn’t think about often,” the Sumner resident said. “It was fun to find the letters and start rethinking about the country. (It) has been good in that way to reflect on that.”
As the current president of Sumner’s Rotary, Bitetto is now rallying support with her fellow Rotarians to purchase ShelterBoxes that will be delivered to those effected by the quake. The boxes include a disaster relief tent for a family, thermal blankets and groundsheets, water storage and purifying equipment, solar lamps, cooking utensils, a tool kit, mosquito netting and a children’s activity pack. Each box costs around $1,000.
After reaching out to her fellow Rotarians, Bitetto says most responded immediately and are pitching in to help purchase the boxes.
“Right away, there was a response,” she said. “The first night we raised $1,000. I asked each member to at least give something so everybody is pitching in.”
While the memories of Bitetto’s time in Nepal have faded, some of the country is most likely still the same as when Bitetto was there.
“There’s a lot that has changed, but I’m sure there is a lot that hasn’t changed outside of the Kathmandu Valley,” she said. “Nepal as they say is a vertical country because on the Indian boarder is pretty flat but then you have these different mountain ranges, and then finally Mount Everest. There’s also the Himalayas, so there’s a lot of challenges getting around.”