One year after Nepal quake, Santa Margarita woman still active in relief

Jan Sprague, who runs the non-governmental organization Hands in Nepal, passes out solar lights to help people in Nepal.
Jan Sprague, who runs the non-governmental organization Hands in Nepal, passes out solar lights to help people in Nepal.

It has been more than a year since a massive earthquake devastated Nepal.

But Santa Margarita resident Jan Sprague says her heart still aches for the impoverished people there.

Since a 7.8-magnitude temblor rocked the country in the Himalayas in April 2015, her nongovernmental organization Hands in Nepal has sent hundreds of portable solar-powered lights for people to cook and read by. They’ve provided tin so the villagers can construct new temporary shelters and school-related facilities. And they’ve contributed many books and blankets.

These are just some of the many humanitarian efforts the group has undertaken over the past year.

The relief work in Nepal was begun a decade ago by Sprague’s 29-year-old son Danny Chaffin, then just 19. Since that time, it has included constructing three new schools and three new libraries in Nepalese villages where children don’t have good access to education.

Within the last year, the organization has rebuilt a school that was destroyed in the quake and fixed a damaged library.

Nepal is one of the poorest and most illiterate countries in the world.

Jan Sprague, Santa Margarita resident and coordinator of Hands in Nepal

A second-grade teacher at Mary Buren Elementary School in Guadalupe, Sprague, 62, has coordinated multiple local fundraisers and traveled to Nepal several times during school breaks, taking over her son’s work.

She plans to retire next year and continue to focus her efforts on helping the Nepalese people. She encourages other San Luis Obispo County residents to join in.

She said that she’s sometimes asked at fundraisers why she doesn’t concentrate on helping poor people in the United States.

“What I tell them is that we have a government in place here and organizations that are able to help,” Sprague said. “There, the people are very much on their own. They don’t have any system in place.”

Sprague has witnessed street kids sniffing glue as a coping mechanism to stave off hunger.

People in Nepal face three months of monsoon every summer, hike for miles to commute to large communities, and struggle to make ends meet as they deal with nasty weather.

Some kids walk for many hours to reach the nearest schools or face being snatched up in child-trafficking schemes and smuggled into the bordering country of India.

After the earthquake hit, entire villages crumbled or slid off hillsides.

Jan Sprague

Money and materials can go a long way in Nepal, where more than 8,000 were killed and 21,000 injured in the massive temblor that left many homeless, Sprague said. The construction of the first three-room school coordinated by her son cost $6,000. The teachers that Hands in Nepal employs, most of whom have a high school education, earn about $25 per month.

“Nepal is one of the poorest and most illiterate countries in the world,” Sprague said. “Yet the people there are wildly enthusiastic about education. It’s amazing to see what’s happening in the hills there, and to see how they overcome and endure with such grace and dignity.”

Sprague said that she was delighted to see villagers helped by Hands in Nepal, where the quake caused major damage to the community, dig up books that were buried after the quake, and then clean and re-shelve them in a fixed-up library.

The organization’s board of directors includes a Cal Poly teacher and a therapist, among others who help guide Sprague and her decision-making.

Jake Peters of Carlsbad, Sprague’s nephew, personally has delivered hundreds of solar-powered lights so kids don’t have to “crouch over a smoking fire” in a country that already had spotty electricity, Sprague said.

“After the earthquake hit, entire villages crumbled to the ground or slid off hillsides,” Sprague said. “People are still very much recovering from it.”

For more information

Find out more about Jan Sprague’s organization at handsinnepal.org.