Eagle Scout Harrison Gibson was three weeks into a bucket-list trip to Nepal when his world came shaking to a halt.
On April 25, 2015, Gibson was reading and sipping tea in Pokhara, Nepal, when the ground started to move. When the shaking intensified, he realized what was happening: an earthquake.
Tourists and locals flooded the streets looking to escape unstable buildings and find open ground. In the weeks and months later, Gibson learned that the quake had a magnitude of 7.8, had triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest and had killed nearly 9,000 people in Nepal.
As the ground shook on that Saturday, Gibson tried to remain calm amid chaos.
“It was panic in the streets, but thankfully few buildings crashed down during the minutes-long quake,” Gibson says. “After the quaking subsided, fear was in the air.”
Just three weeks earlier, Gibson, a 2006 Eagle Scout from the Northwest Texas Council in Wichita Falls, had arrived in Nepal via a one-way ticket. He wanted to trek through the Himalayas, immerse himself in Nepalese culture and explore the region.
“Nepal and its mountains have always held a certain mysticism and aspiration for me, likely stemming from my Scout-inspired love of the outdoors and many boyhood books concerning mountaineering adventures in the Himalayan mountain range,” he says.
The adventure was just getting started when the earthquake hit. It had the immediate effect of disabling cable lines and cellphone towers, cutting off any lines of communication.
“No one knew where the epicenter was or if a large aftershock was around the corner,” Gibson says.
So he used a satellite device to check media reports and let his family know he was OK.
The first few nights were filled with confusion and fear of more quakes. Gibson and three other foreigners slept with metal cups stacked nearby as a makeshift alarm to warn of aftershocks.
It became clear to Gibson that Nepal’s government was unprepared for the disaster and that volunteer, nongovernmental aid might be the best route to relief.
“I decided to stay and help as long as I could be of assistance and not just another body in a disaster zone,” Gibson says.
Gibson worked with a number of ad-hoc aid groups, including search-and-rescue teams, the armies of Nepal and India, and a Pokhara-based charity that focuses on education.
Many villages in the lower Himalayas were unreachable by roads, so he hiked gear — food, tarps, blankets, personal hygiene supplies — to those in need. Later, once the initial needs were met, he helped build semi-permanent shelters in anticipation of monsoon season.
In all, Gibson stayed for six weeks after the earthquake, pitching in wherever he was needed most. This was service beyond a daily Good Turn. This was service Gibson hadn’t planned but felt honor-bound to complete. This was Scouting values in action.
“Before this trip, I knew I was on my way to a beautiful country,” Gibson says. “Afterward, I realized that the people were what made their country so wonderful. I was often touched and impressed by the Nepalese peoples’ resiliency, fortitude and compassion toward one another.”
Now back in the United States, Gibson knows Nepal’s recovery is far from over. So he’s working with Troop 34 of Wichita Falls to rebuild a school destroyed in the earthquake. They plan to break ground this September, and Gibson will be there once again, doing what he can to help other people at all times.
To learn more about the effort, follow along on Facebook.
Matt Moniz, another Eagle Scout hero in Nepal
Harrison Gibson wasn’t the only Eagle Scout in Nepal during last year’s earthquake. Read about Matt Moniz, who was at an Everest base camp when the shaking began.
Photos via Harrison Gibson. Thanks to Adèle Lewis, who first reported this story, for the tip.