Everyone looks forward to summer. Warm weather, no classes, maybe a tropical vacation and time to sleep in. But for a group of UC Santa Barbara students, such expectations were nonexistent this summer.
This summer, the Nourish International UC Davis chapter teamed with UC Santa Barbara to send a group of students to Nepal for three weeks to help local students.
Nourish International is a student-founded and student-run nonprofit organization that was first created under the name Hunger Lunch in 2003, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
To raise awareness about poverty, students served rice and beans for lunch on campus and the proceeds were put toward a project to help people suffering from malnourishment in India. After such a success, the students continued the program and rebranded it as Nourish International.
Kelly Phoenix, a UNC graduate, was part of Nourish as a college student and is now the current executive director due to her passion for combating poverty.
“Nourish International engages students and empowers communities to make a lasting impact on extreme poverty,” Phoenix said. “The students run social businesses on their campuses and they invest the funds that they earn on sustainable development projects during the summer in the developing world.”
The project in Nepal this summer was derived from the idea that athletics should be linked with education, so the students devised a plan to build a soccer field, along with various other services, at a school in Arupokhari-1, Nepal.
Third-year global studies major Miya Sommers of UC Santa Barbara was able to shed some light on the project that is still going on overseas.
She said that they had some difficulties thinking of a project that would fit all of their criteria.
“We wanted to find something community-based and has the students actively playing a role,” Sommers said. “There were other things that were crucial to development too; you want it to be something that is long-term and would mean something to the community.”
While the Nourish chapter at UC Davis played a major role in the project and the fundraising, none of the UC Davis students were able to make the trip this summer. However, new chapter director and senior sociology major Kimberly Chavarria said that she hopes to recruit more people into the program and wants to makethe Nourish name more well-known around campus.
The chapter was established in 2009 and in the past has held multiple trips for its members to help those in Ecuador, but switched it up this year to raise funds for Nepal.
UC Davis students helped to raise money in an online fundraiser called the Global Giving Challenge, in which the Nourish chapters of all 29 universities competed to raise the most money. UC Santa Barbara landed in fourth place.
“We were able to raise $3,000 with the help of the UC Davis chapter and that was momentous because when we started it was a bad economic time,” Sommers said.
When the group of nine arrived in Nepal, they not only built a soccer field, but also brought jerseys and cleats to distribute to the school children. On top of that, they donated books and organized the school library, painted the school, taught a computer class for the teachers and taught English to the students.
While there were many successes with the project, some problems did arise.
“This is our first project ever and I don’t think we got the community as involved as we should have, which is critical to making this a long-term project,” Sommers said. “I don’t think we planned it out environmentally, economically and socially-sustainable for the school.”
Sommers said that another problem was the language barrier, which definitely made things more difficult but also served as an important part of the learning process.
“I think it’s really good to gain that appreciation for another language,” Sommers said. “But it’s also hard because you want to share your experiences and ask questions and if you can’t do that you feel really muted and limited. That’s why it was good that we went as a group. We could experience life in Arupokhari-1 and then go to someone’s room and talk about it.”
While a main part of Nourish is to help those suffering malnourishment and poverty, the students gain a lot from their experiences as well.
“They immersed themselves in the community they were staying in in Nepal,” Phoenix said. “One of the key tenets of Nourish International is that it’s a partnership between the community and the students and that they each have something to learn from each other.”
Many of those involved felt this “cross-cultural experience,” Sommers said. While the goal of the project was to help the people of the village of Arupokhari-1, she said she thought that they helped her even more.
“I feel like they have helped me so much. They didn’t know me or what I was going to do, but they welcomed me into their house and shared their experiences,” Sommers said. “The children were so loving and I think that changed me because I realized that every child is so special. Even in our own backyard we need to invigorate these children because they are the change-makers and the most important thing for our world right now.”
DEVON BOHART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.