Last year's earthquake in Nepal calls ASU grad home to aid his still-grieving country
A year after a devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, the country still faces a lengthy path to recovery — both structurally and emotionally.
In an effort to assist in that process, Arizona State University graduate, poet and writer Samyak Shertok has returned home to Nepal to aid his family, friends and the Nepali people with one goal in mind: healing through poetry.
Shertok grew up in the small community of Phalam Sangu in the Sindhupalchok district, and when he first heard the news about his home country he wanted to help.
He grieved for his family through his poetry, including his published work “Aftershocks,” a poem he calls a “love letter to his county.”
Shertok said he felt a “great sense of visceral release” when he completed “Aftershocks” and wanted to find a way to heal his community the best he could.
In July 2015, he founded the “Healing Through Poetry: Nepal Earthquake Relief” project through Kickstarter. He sought to raise $5,000 in the effort to travel to his native land with the hope to heal, rebuild, document and transcend the pain from the historic tragedy. Within four months, and 57 backers, he raised $5,500.
In April 2016, Shertok left Tempe and traveled to Nepal to embark on his project. But soon after he was set to return home, Shertok said he felt a pang of doubt.
“At first I was skeptical, because it is poetry, right? But I believe creating art out of this tragedy can help the country heal in a way the conventional relief packages will not be able to do,” Shertok said.
Since arriving in Lalitpur, Nepal, Shertok has partnered with NexUs Culture center, a collaborative that believes in activism through art, and he has hosted workshops where he found himself warmly welcomed by the Nepali people.
“I was surprised with how open and well receptive the people were with the workshops and the poetry, overall,” Shertok said. “Poetry can have practical impacts, even tangible.”
The sessions he hosted included meditative exercises with the goal of transforming the perception of the tragedy, and bring awareness to the duality of life — most prominently with what Shertok called the “Burning Hate and Love” exercise.
“On one side of the sheet is an unpleasant experience; on the other side a pleasant one. We burn both: Poetry has to rise above hatred, anger and any other negative emotions,” Shertok said. “Poetry can start from a dark space, but by the end, there has to be light. There has to be warmth.
And though he knows he is not healed from this tragedy — and may never be — he chooses to move forward to document, remember and transform his grieving into beauty.
“Tragedy is a part of all of us. It's how we grow and endure from it that shapes us in life.”
Top photo: Workshop participants engage in collaborative poetry.
Samyak Shertok hosts a poetry workshop in Nepal.Photo by Ayushma Regmi
Pooja Lama (second from left), a continuing member of the poetry workshops, sits alongside two new participants.Photo by Ayushma Regmi
During workshops, Shertok (red shirt, at computer) has the participants sit in a circle so that everyone feels like an equal part of the group.Photo by Ayushma Regmi
During an excercise called "Ode to the Favorite Object," each person brings something personally meaningful. Paired participants write descriptions about their object and exchange the sheets to guess their partner's favorite object. Then they write a four-line ode to their object from the descriptions given.Photo by Ayushma Regmi
A workshop member participates in the mediative excerise "Burning Hate and Love," which uses poetry to express the duality of life and find warmth and light even in the most disheartening of times.Photo by Ayushma Regmi
A participant burns her "anger and love" during a meditative excercise. "One by one everyone burned the papers, while everyone else watched it,” Shertok said.Photo by Ayushma Regmi
"Everyone wrote an earthquake poem eventually,” Shertok said. “Then we wrote it on a white cloth with markers. There was no order regarding where to start or end. It was meant to echo the chaos of the earthquakes. Yet there is a coming together of all the people. There is unity.”Photo by Prateebha Tuladhar
According to Shertok, this new participant was hesitant at first, but felt welcome once Shertok helped transform the man’s feelings from an outsider to equal to everyone else in the workshop.Photo by Ayushma Regmi