Resiliency beyond earthquakes

By Desiree (Desi) Matel-Anderson, former Chief Innovation Advisor at FEMA

As the Wrangler of the Field Innovation Team (FIT), I empower humans to create cutting edge disaster solutions. In wrangling, my team and I discover gaps where we can optimize response and recovery efforts in some of the most challenging disasters from mudslides, tornadoes, and earthquakes, to hurricanes and humanitarian crises. We deployed to Nepal after the 7.8 and 7.3 magnitude earthquakes struck on April 25th and May 12th (1). The damage was enormous with 8,000 fatalities and more than 23,000 injured. Amidst all the devastation, and rising from the rubble, were hundreds of disaster survivors who built resilience in the face of catastrophe (2).

During our deployment, the FIT team discovered a large gap in the country’s demographics, where a lot of young men in Nepal left their country to work in surrounding countries in order to support their families. This left women, children and the elderly in Nepal to maintain the homesteads. A UN Women “Gender Alert” noted in May 2015 that of the over two million people in eleven of the most devastated areas in the Kathmandu Valley, 284,144 female-led households (3). We were able to conclude from this and several other statistics that in order to empower community resilience after the earthquakes we needed to empower Nepali women through education and rebuilding efforts.

We partnered with an organization called WomenLEAD Nepal (4) that focuses on building leadership skills in young women. We began with virtual trainings on May 4th, utilizing telepresent technologies to communicate across the globe with our empowered women Nepali survivors along with our FIT trainers located across the United States. After four weeks of training our women leaders, we physically deployed to Nepal on June 2nd, focusing on the current survivor needs which included rebuilding efforts for education centers, creating games to teach public health lessons, and raising greater awareness of human trafficking.

50,000 classrooms were destroyed and damaged during the earthquakes, thus our first mission was to build better infrastructure for schools and ultimately for the children. We traveled to the Kavre community where FIT members negotiated for bamboo for the structures. Our Nepali women volunteers rolled up their sleeves to build the foundation, and with All Hands Organization we performed the build-out of these centers. During our building efforts the area experienced a 4.5 magnitude aftershock; however, all of our team was safe and able to finish our activities for the day(5).

Our second mission was to educate youth by empowering the young Nepali women to lead the mission of developing games on health and sanitation with Sweta, our epidemiologist from Chicago at the helm. At the time, monsoon season was just a few short weeks away and the infrastructure within the Kathmandu valley was damaged, if not destroyed, in many districts, amplifying the need to bring public health education to avoid the spread of disease (6). We trained hundreds of children aged 5-17 utilizing games that included art, engineering, science, improvisational theater, dance, and storytelling. One of our Nepali women leaders, Anjali, led us to her district where our trainers educated youth, instilling resilience with the Nepali women leaders and the children.

Finally, we carved out an awareness campaign in Harisiddhi City led by our Nepali women leader, Tara. Our FIT members directly worked with Nepali performers who had experienced trafficking firsthand and had built performances to raise awareness of the issue. Once again hundreds of children joined us watching performances by our partners Circus Kathmandu, while providing important messaging on the uptick in Nepali children trafficked to India for slavery (7).

Resilience can come in many forms in disaster response; it’s important for us to diagnose the challenges by focusing in on the community needs and then taking action to empower survivors to exponentially grow empowerment. In this case, the women of Nepal are the untold story, and our team discovered this incredible survivor workforce bridging the gap of needs, which led to the action of rebuilding classrooms, public health gaming to educate on the looming monsoon season, and spread awareness of human trafficking to reduce numbers of children sent to slavery after the earthquakes. Namaste, Nepali Women, for building resiliency within yourself, your families, and your communities.


Desi Matel-Anderson is the Chief Wrangler of the Field Innovation Team (FIT), 501(c)3, and CEO of the Global Disaster Innovation Group, LLC.  Desi is the first and former Chief Innovation Advisor at FEMA and Think Tank Strategic Vision Coordinator. During her tenure at FEMA, she led the first innovation team down to Hurricane Sandy to provide real-time problem solving in disaster response and recovery and ran think tanks nation-wide to cultivate innovation in communities.  Her emergency management experience began when she volunteered in Northern Illinois University’s Office of Emergency Planning.

  1. BBC News, 2015: Nepal Earthquakes: Devastation in Map and Images. Accessed 9/8/2015 at
  2. Aljazeera, 2015: Timeline: Nepal Earthquakes. Accessed 9/8/2015 at
  3. UN Women, 2015. Humanitarian Crisis in Nepal: Gender Alert. Accessed online 7/24/2015 at
  4. Women LEAD Nepal, 2015. Accessed 9/8/2015 at USAID, 2015. Education Can’t Wait. Accessed online 9/8/15 at
  5. USAID, 2015. Education Can’t Wait. Accessed online 9/8/15 at
  6. USAID, 2015: Nepal Earthquake- Fact Sheet #20. Accessed on 9/8/15 at
  7. UN, 2015: In Earthquakes’ Wake, UNICEF Speeds Up Response to Prevent Child Trafficking. Accessed 9/8/2015 at