By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Although COVID is starting to fade in Otsego County with towns such as Cooperstown and Oneonta lifting mask restrictions, the same cannot be said for many countries such as Nepal.
Zak Aldridge, who was born in Cooperstown, went to Milford Central School and considers himself an “honorary Oneontan,” said he didn’t intend to stay in Nepal for more than a year, but COVID-19 changed his plans.
He said he planned on staying there for two weeks. That was 15 months ago.
“I was planning to come to check out a school over here that I was thinking of coming to study languages and Buddhism,” Aldridge said. “And the lockdown happened and I wound up getting stuck. That was a year ago.”
Aldridge, who is a Columbia University graduate, has decided to help feed families in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, which is currently under a strict lockdown, causing day laborers to suffer from malnutrition.
“The government doesn’t do anything for people over here,” Aldridge said. “If you only have a day job, and you make your wage in a day, and that’s how you survive, all of a sudden, you’re really out of luck with a lockdown like this. So obviously it curbs the spread a little bit but at the same time it creates another problem. So that’s the sad part.”
Aldridge has been delivering food to families that need it either by delivery or pick up at a wholesale place. He would purchase rice bags, noodles, dry beets and other food. In the beginning, he was giving food to between 30 and 40 families. However, because of the new lockdown measures, it has been a difficult situation
So far, Aldridge has raised about $5,000 and spent more than $3,800. But he says that because of the exchange rate, a little bit goes a very long way, with $20 being enough to feed an entire family.
The money is sent from the Western Union and his friend Romash picks up the cash and then calls the wholesaler.
When Aldridge came to Nepal, he said there were all sorts of different foreign students staying at a house. But once COVID hit, they all left except him and an Italian acquaintance.
Previously, Aldridge was living in Thailand teaching English. He said he is trying to learn the Tibetan language but doesn’t have any skills in the Nepali language. Because of that, he allows his friend Romash to speak directly to some of the people receiving food.
“A lot of people come and study the languages here, because it’s really the last place, one of the last places you can study Tibetan, because Tibet has an exiled community in Nepal,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge said that between the ages of nine and 22 he was very interested in politics and activism, with a particular interest in the issue of fracking. He also studied ballet at the Decker School of Ballet and did “The Nutcracker” for 10 years as well as playing in a jazz band. He also likes basketball and baseball.
However, he said that the “inner development” is his hobby. He said that his friend Romash said all the people who get donated food are different in many ways, but united in their need.
“Sometimes it’s like some single mother. Sometimes it’s a 78 year-old man who was one of the guys. He’s living alone,” Aldridge said. “There are some sad stories of various people who’ve been served so far. One guy said some of them have kidney failure, apparently. And they’ve been homeless … living under a bridge somewhere in Kathmandu, and he went and brought them a lot of food also.”
Aldridge emphasized that his friend Romash was doing most of the heavy lifting in regards to getting the food to the families and workers.
He said that despite things seemingly getting better with COVID, things are still very difficult in Kathmandu.
“The government is totally incompetent, they instituted these new measures. And so as a result actually yesterday, a lot of people went scrambling to try to get vegetables and stuff all at the same time, it’s like this creates another kind of outbreak situations,” Aldridge said. “Totally, totally nonsensical. And it’s just such a shame, such a disgrace, really. Because people suffer so much as a result.”
Go to www.gofundme.com/f/keep-kathmandu-from-starving to donate to Aldridge’s project.