Citizen Diplomats Assist in Rescue Operation in Nepal

The whole operation was dangerous, but it’s risk versus gain. To save a human life, we’ll risk almost everything.”

—Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Andrew Olvera

In this May 12, 2015 photo provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Los Angeles County Fire Department urban search and rescue team memebres work to recover survivors from a four-story building that collapsed in the earthquake in Singati, a mountain village in Nepal. The temblor was an aftershock to the April 25 main Gorkha earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people. The Disaster Assistance Response Team included 57 urban search and rescuers each from Los Angeles County and Fairfax County, Va. (Kashish Das/USAID/via AP)

Courtesy of USAID

When a powerful earthquake shook Nepal in April 2015, killing more than 8,000 people, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) deployed Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Andrew Olvera and his team to Nepal to assist with recovery efforts. Olvera spent days building the trust of the Nepalese authorities, providing them with equipment and assistance and asking them, “What else do you need?”

Five days after the earthquake struck, rescuers heard a voice crying for help beneath the rubble of a hotel in the capital, Kathmandu. Olvera and his team rushed to the scene. For four hours, American and Nepalese rescuers worked side by side, painstakingly removing pieces of concrete by hand and cutting through the wreckage of a motorcycle buried in the rubble. Finally, they freed 15-year-old Pemba Lama, who was severely dehydrated but otherwise unharmed. The boy was soon reunited with his parents.

Who Is a Citizen Diplomat?

U.S. citizen diplomats are people from all walks of life who represent what it means to be an American. They embody and share American values and culture as they meet and build relationships with people from other countries. Citizen diplomacy takes a variety of forms, from responding to an overseas humanitarian crisis to hosting foreign exchange students to learning a foreign language or studying another culture. The State Department works with citizen diplomat networks and nonprofits to expand the reach of American diplomacy and foster people-to-people exchanges.

Responding to Natural Disasters

Diplomacy takes many forms, including helping countries recover and rebuild after natural disasters.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides countries with humanitarian aid and training to meet the needs of their citizens and strengthen their ability to respond to future crises. A country that has suffered a major setback due to a disaster will be more likely return to a path of peace and prosperity when its citizens have food, water, housing, and health care.

USAID works with partners to coordinate relief efforts for an average of 65 disasters in more than 50 countries every year, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, and floods. The Fairfax County, Virginia, and Los Angeles County, California, fire departments are the only departments in the U.S. trained and authorized to deploy with USAID disaster response teams to international crises.

helmet artifact
LA Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue helmet

Collection of the National Museum of American Diplomacy