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On Shifting Ground: A New Documentary on Nepal Earthquake Relief

Filming "On Shifting Ground" in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal.

Filming “On Shifting Ground” in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal. (Hilton Prize Coalition)

Six winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize were among the many NGOs serving in Nepal when the earthquake hit in 2015. On Shifting Ground is a new documentary that tells the story of collaboration among six Hilton Prize-winning international NGOs and a range of local organizations after the earthquake.

Since 1996, the Hilton Prize has been awarded annually to “a nonprofit organization judged to have made exemplary and extraordinary contributions in alleviating human suffering.” (Its $2 million award is nearly twice the amount of a Nobel Prize.) The Hilton Prize Coalition has begun a Storytelling Program to “highlight…lessons learned by the world’s most extraordinary humanitarian organizations” and to further promote collaboration.

The Coalition’s first Storytelling project is a beautiful film, On Shifting Ground, by Steve Connors. Connors’ photojournalism credits range from Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Russia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Connors and Molly Bingham directed Meeting Resistance (2007) about Iraqi opposition to U.S. troops in Iraq.

Connors traveled across Nepal earlier this year, meeting with aid workers from BRACHandicap InternationalHeifer InternationalHelpAgeOperation Smile and SOS Children’s Villages, and with many of their local Nepalese partners. These organizations were typically development and relief agencies, not disaster response.  But with relationships established already—in some cases decades of experience—they shifted gears to address the priorities of post-earthquake Nepal. Connors tells the story through the eyes of a number of Nepalese whose lives were dramatically impacted by the earthquake.

Before the earthquake, these Hilton Prize winners had few formal ties to each other in Nepal. But as they addressed new needs, they recognized the benefits of greater collaboration. From surgery to new housing to new parents to direct cash assistance, the groups were able to share their knowledge of local needs with each other, better serving affected populations overall. They balance and leverage experience, preparation, and international resources with openness, flexibility, and local expertise. Although large organizations, they deliver compassion to each individual they serve.

The film premiered at a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows event at American University in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.  Steve Connors discussed the making of the film with a collection of the fellows—young professionals who are working with past Prize winners. The Hilton Prize Coalition and Global Impact are sharing the film globally via webinar on Wednesday, August 17, 11:30am-12:30pm (EDT/New York time) with a discussion to follow. The public may see the film and join the discussion by registering online.



Jim Quirk

Jim Quirk teaches American and comparatiive politics at American University in Washington, D.C. He has taught at Loyola University Maryland, The Catholic University of America, and the University of Economics in Varna, Bulgaria. His favorite projects have included work with in Mexico, Russia, the Balkans, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, OSCE, IEEE, and the Open World Leadership Center. He tweets from @webQuirks