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Global Engagement, Cultural Immersion, and Helping Earthquake Victims

Drs. Gebauer and Fleischer with their students in Nepal with Siena Fleischer, a...
Drs. Gebauer and Fleischer with their students in Nepal with Siena Fleischer, a USAID officer and the daughter of Keene State professor Len Fleischer. (Front row, l–r) Brenden Jones, James Spineti, Mary D'Orvilliers (middle row, l–r) Courtney Dillon, Alli Sweeney, Hannah Rettig, Inja Diamond, Rose Lovett, Hannah Sousy, Olivia Miller (holding little girl) (back row, l–r) Josh Noury, Ben Weidman, Abby Wilcox, Professor of Environmental Studies Renate Gebauer, Krishna Gurung, Dr. Len Fleischer, Siena Fleischer (the two little girls are Siena's daughters, Naima Fleischer Castro and Ofelia Fleischer Castro)

Everyone knows that travel broadens your horizons and is educational in and of itself. But to get the richest experience and really learn about the country and culture you’re visiting, you’ve got to live and work among the people. And when you work to help those people, that’s even better. And that’s just what Environmental Studies Professor Renate Gebauer’s and Education Professor Len Fleischer’s Honors class, Global Engagement, did last spring when they traveled to Nepal for a month.

They spent the first part of their stay at the Kevan Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation (KRMEF), an organization in the Kathmandu valley committed to fostering health and well-being in Nepal’s most impoverished communities by providing sustainable agriculture education, health care, homes, jobs, and a school. For the second half of the trip, the students stayed with local families in the village of Tansen, where they conducted studies with the help of Nepali facilitators/translators.

“Nepal was an incredible experience,” said Ben Weidman, a Safety and Occupational Health Applied Sciences major from Guilford, Connecticut. “That being said, it was a very tough trip; it was certainly not a vacation. The experiences we had in Nepal were extremely eye opening. … Going to the opposite side of the globe exposed us to new people, new surroundings, and most importantly, a very different culture. We weren’t prepared for the poverty we saw, and that really made an impact. Yet, everybody we met was extremely welcoming and happy to meet us. They would help us in any way they could.”

The trip had a big impact on Weidman’s career plans, too. "I have become interested in international policy regarding safety and health in the workplace and how it can be improved."

When she first arrived in Tansen, Hannah Rettig, an Environmental Studies major/Communications minor from Londonderry, New Hampshire, was profoundly touched when her host family, Hare Krishnas who were observing a fast day and experiencing a power outage, graciously prepared a big meal for her by flashlight. “The things that I consider part of a normal home life are not possible most of the time in Nepal,” she said. “The truly astounding part of it all was that I felt grateful, not for all the privileges at home, but that my homestay family, who had so little in the way of material possessions, had the kindness, generosity, hospitality, and even (I think) a little curiosity for the white skinned, curly haired girl who was sitting under a tin roof for the first time in her life.”

Rose Lovett in front of an earthquake-resistant house made from glass bottles
Rose Lovett in front of an earthquake-resistant house made from glass bottles

Sociology major and Environmental Studies minor Rose Lovett and two other students, Brendan Jones and Hannah Soucy, did a five-week internship at KRMEF, helping to dig foundations and build sustainable, earthquake-safe bottle houses. It took them way beyond the kind of education you get in the classroom.

Lovett received two credits for her independent study, Environmental Sociology of Nepal. She and Weidman were the first recipients of President Huot’s Rene C. Lachapelle Scholarship; that, and help from the Environmental Studies Department, made it possible for her to go.

“I was deeply touched by the kindness of the Nepalese I met along the way, and who became my friends,” the Sutton, NH, native explained. “These cross-cultural relationships are invaluable. They help one grow immensely as an individual. I left this experience humbled and grateful. You cannot escape the reality of poverty in Nepal; it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Desperate mothers with babies hold their begging hands out to you. … But this experience showed me that poverty is … not the only thing that defines people. The Nepalese have a very beautiful culture, where religion, family, and community still bring people together in an admirable way. I met so many inspiring people who are working the help as many people as they could reach, and who are working to protect their precious natural environment.”

Want to know more about the trip? Check out the blog that Lovett kept during the experience.