This article is by Melissa Boyd, M.A. Candidate, Sustainable International Development, Heller School for Social Policy & Management.
February 28 to March 6, 2011 is Peace Corps Week. The Peace Corps, officially established March 1, 1961, is celebrating 50 years this year. In honor of Peace Corps and Nepal, I would like to share a glimpse of my experience in Nepal and a little about Peace Corps.
For my second year practicum as a graduate student studying Sustainable International Development, I was hoping for a project in Nepal. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal from 2002-2004. Despite the challenges as a volunteer, I wanted to go back for my graduate work. As a volunteer, it seemed like I had to do without and put up with so many things, but what I received in return was immeasurable. I knew it would be no different the second time around.
During my time with Peace Corps, I worked with the District Forest Office in Hetauda, a small south central Nepal town. Hetauda was not my idea of the picturesque Himalayan town where I thought I belonged. After a while, I accepted Hetauda as I learned it was my only option. However, you might imagine my surprise to learn that for my practicum I was once again assigned to the Forest Office in Hetauda, completely randomly. I thought, “How could this be?”. I wasn’t sure if it was serendipitous or a curse, but I accepted the position to research forest fire management in Nepal, since that is exactly what I had hoped to focus on for my practicum.
I decided that my previous experience as a forestry volunteer had prepared me for my graduate work in Nepal for the most part. I hoped it did. Although I am sure it did indeed help in many ways, there is always something new to learn from and about Nepal. After landing at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, I was quickly absorbed into the bustling taxi traffic, struggling to breathe through the air pollution and arrive safely at my hotel. Memories of the crowded and potholed filled roads came to mind as I sat in the barely moving taxi while motorcycles dodged pedestrians and buses honked short melodies. I was amazed at how the number of motorbikes had multiplied since I left six years before. Shiny new vehicles stood out in the maze of TATA trucks and white taxis, yet waste water drained down a small culvert along the road in paradox. Familiar aromas and unpleasant odors awakened my olfactory sense as the taxi went over the bridge where trash consumed the river. This was the familiar territory I was so sad and reluctant to leave six years before when Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from Nepal and the program was terminated after 43 years of service.
As a foreigner working in Nepal, there are always challenges involved with trying to work productively. Let’s talk holidays. There are about 21 separate holidays in Nepal, approximately half of the national holidays in the US. Those 21 holidays consume at least 42 days of the year when many businesses close. While in Nepal for my practicum, my visit overlapped two primary holidays of Nepal, Dashain and Tihar. Although this can be hindering at times, it is a great time of the year to witness colorful flowers in the market and strung lights for the festival of lights during Tihar. Once again, I was presented with a challenge of working in Nepal, but in the spirit of my Peace Corps experience, I knew it was something that I had to negotiate because Nepal and Peace Corps require creativity and a lot of “working with what you have”.
After almost 7 weeks in Nepal I managed to work with four NGOs, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, and perform extensive research on forest fire management in Nepal. I also had the opportunity to see many friends who I had lost contact with having left Nepal previously with such short notice. This was as meaningful as the work I completed.
About the Peace Corps
Peace Corps volunteers work in locations from Asia to Central America and Europe to Africa and has served 139 countries with 200,000 volunteers since its inception. Currently, there are 8,655 volunteers and trainees, with the average age being 28. Females represent 60% of all volunteers and trainees, while males represent 40%.
President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship. To do so, three simple goals comprise the mission of the Peace Corps:
1.) Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women.
2.) Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3.) Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.
Peace Corps Volunteers work with governments, schools, and entrepreneurs to address changing and complex needs in education, health and HIV/AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture and the environment.
For a video slideshow of images from Nepal, click here.
For Peace Corps information, visit http://www.peacecorps.gov.