LIHUE — Today, James Thomas will board an airplane bound for Nepal.
He will bring very little with him apart from the 100 water filtration systems and emergency supply kits he will carry on his back. Clif Bars. His own water filter. Maybe a change of clothes.
When he lands in Kathmandu, the Pastor of the Japanese International Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon, and three fellow church members will join him on a dangerous, eight-day journey to deliver aid by foot to survivors of the April 25 earthquake that killed thousands. The team will target the most remote villages that haven’t yet received supplies or help.
“I’m going with full trust in God,” said Thomas, who is 38 and lives in Kapaa. “Without faith, I couldn’t do this.”
Thomas is part of an emergency disaster relief squad through the church he attended until three years ago when he moved with his family from the Mainland to Kauai. It was just about three years ago that the group dispatched to Nepal to bring toys and clothes to an orphanage in Kathmandu. In 2013, he joined a mission to deliver aid to Indonesians affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
Thomas has some experience in natural disaster response. But he said none of it can sufficiently prepare him for what might lay ahead when he and his team touch down this weekend in Nepal.
Landslides and aftershocks top the list of potential dangers they may encounter while backpacking through the rubble.
Thomas said he’s not afraid. The call to action he felt when he heard the news of the earthquake overpowers his concern for his safety, he said.
“I was sick to my stomach,” he said of the moment he first saw photos of the devastation, which has left 6,260 dead as of Friday. “And then I thought, ‘How can I help?’”
Thomas originally planned to help the victims by donating money. Life these days is busy for the Kauai Community College nursing student, husband and father of three. But when the old disaster response team mobilized and requested that he join, the former Emergency Medical Technician didn’t hesitate to say, ‘yes.’
“I’m hoping to have him back in 11 days, but if he doesn’t come home right away, I’ll understand,” said Monica Belz-Thomas, James Thomas’ wife, who helped rally donations for the supplies her husband will deliver to the disaster victims. “I’ve already ordered a nanny in the form of a family member to help us at home while he’s helping out over there.”
Key to Thomas’ mission is delivering the water filtration systems, which, although compact, can purify 100 gallons of water each. Thomas said each one was purchased with a $75 donation, many raised by his wife through crowdfunding and word-of-mouth.
“A great thing about this is that a lot of these villages already needed this,” Thomas said. “These can sustain a village for years, and the water is better than anything you or I can buy in a grocery store.”