Waking up on April 25, Toronto resident Surendra Lawoti was startled to see news of the massive earthquake that shook his homeland of Nepal.
"The first thing on my mind was my family," said Lawoti. "At the time no one was sure about the death toll."
The photographer's parents, his sister and her family, and his brother and his family live in the central region which was rocked by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that day. The extent of the damage has been enormous and the death toll is likely to reach beyond the 8,400 that is currently being reported.
In fact, his sister's plane had just landed on the tarmac of Kathmandu's airport when the quake hit. She thought at first that "the pilots hadn't landed the plane properly," according to Lawoti.
Of bigger concern though, was his 76-year-old father who was in hospital at the time.
"Since there were so many aftershocks, all the hospital staff had left. So my family had to bring my dad home."
They couldn't contact his father's doctor for days but his dad coped all right, said Lawoti.
Fortunately, in the days that followed he also discovered all his relatives and friends were alive as well.
Lawoti, who has spent half his life in North America and whose photographs have been exhibited in galleries around the world, is also one of the organizers of Toronto's Nepali Film Festival.
On May 14, the TNFF is sponsoring a fundraising screening of this year's Audience Award winner, the documentary Sunakali by Bhojraj Bhat. The 50-minute film chronicles the challenges faced by a girls' soccer team in one of the least-developed regions of Nepal as they battle for victory in a national tournament.
Photo: Sunakali documentary
"The film is also humorous and humbling," explained Lawoti. "And, it provides a really good overview of the difficult landscape of Nepal, its socioeconomics and the complex challenges of rebuilding Nepal."
The film will be screened at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Toronto's Innis Hall, followed by a conversation about the issues of aid and reconstruction by Nepali-Canadian writer Manjushree Thapa and Prof. Katherine Rankin, who is with the university's geography department and has studied Nepal's socio-cultural and economic landscape.
"Earthquake relief and rebuilding is full of complexities," said Lawoti. "How does aid get disseminated? How does the Nepali government work in current circumstances?"
In addition to the screening, Lawoti is donating the photographic prints from his show, This Country is Yours, to raise money for relief. Each of the 11" x 14" prints are for sale in North America and Europe for $175, including shipping. Contact: info [AT] tnff.ca.
Beyond concern for his family, Lawoti mourns the destruction of the many ancient buildings that dot the region.
"There were many tweets of heritage buildings crumbling, which was something I had not quite imagined. I walked through the courtyards of many of these beautiful temples growing up in Kathmandu."
The screening is pay what you can, though TNFF is hoping people will be generous. It is also possible to donate through the organization's website.
All proceeds will benefit the Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON), which has been around for a decade. AYON has a strong local network outside Kathmandu -- these are the regions that are badly affected, which have been hard to reach.
TNFF's goal is $10,000.
Lawoti said the film was also chosen because it resonates on several levels.
Photo: Sunakali documentary
"Sunakali is about overcoming obstacles despite unfortunate circumstances; in that way it has universal appeal," noted Lawoti. "The girls' soccer team advances beyond what anyone could've have imagined."
Thursday May 14, 2015
Pay What You Can
Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Avenue (south of Bloor/ St. George)
University of Toronto
Or donate: http://tnff.ca/fundraiser-earthquake-relief
June Chua is a Toronto-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.
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