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Seeing the world in a different way

October 8, 2011
By Jim Tate , Marshall Independent

Kal Bhakri has changed the way he looks at life.

The SMSU political science and sociology double major from Nepal spent 10 weeks in a Kenyan village this past summer, working for an organization called Thinkimpact.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., Thinkimpact gives students an opportunity for an immersion experience in Africa. Their job, once they are in a location, is to "identify their assets, and help that community," he said.

Bhakri, along with 10 other college students from across the country and two advisers, spent the summer in Chanagandhe, a village of 1,000 approximately 150 miles south of Mombasa, Kenya's second-largest city.

Bhakri represented the smallest university among the group.

"There were five women and six men," he explained. "The others were from schools like the University of California-Berkeley, Pittsburgh, Northwestern in Chicago, UCLA, schools like that."

While surfing the internet looking for internship possibilities, he ran across the Thinkimpact opportunity.

"I applied and was accepted," he said.

The village has no plumbing, and most of the structures are two-room huts made of mud. One room consists of living quarters, and the other, sleeping quarters. Two people inhabit each hut.

Cooking is done outside, and there is such a scarcity of food that villagers eat just one meal a day, in the evening.

"It's usually 'ugali,' which is corn flour with water, and cabbage leaves. They eat meat about once a month, something like duck. Goats are expensive," he said.

As far as village work go, women do just about everything, from gathering wood for the cooking fires to washing, cleaning and any other chore that needs to be done. Women walk three hours one way balancing a jug on top of their head in order to reach the nearest water well.

"I walked it one day with a woman," said Bhakri. "We got up at 5 a.m. The jug holds about two gallons, and many women also carry a baby on their back."

The men? "They do very little, which is wrong," he said.

The project that Bhakri is most proud of is the building of a greenhouse.

"It's a very dry area, and we made it out of white plastic," he said.

He bought vegetable seeds in Mombasa, where he also attended a seminar that gave him useful tips on how to build a greenhouse.

"I had returned to Marshall when they harvested their first vegetables, I have a lot of photos they sent," he said. "They only grow maize there, so they were happy to have the vegetables (tomatoes, beans, potatoes, cabbage).

"It's dry there from September to February. We had a water-catching system, and dug a well. The water you couldn't drink, it was too salty, but it was OK for the vegetables."

He said the lack of water has made the villagers adjust their daily fluid intake.

"They can drink a liter of water, and it will last them for three days. They're like a camel," he said.

When it came time to return to the U.S., it was difficult.

"They wanted to give us 35 or 40 (ears of) maize to take home. They had nothing, yet they wanted to give us food, which is scarce there," he said.

There was a language barrier, but nothing that couldn't be overcome.

"They don't speak the Kenyan language. It's a tribal language. I picked up some of the words," he said. "They appreciated what we were there for, and what we did."

Initially, Bhakri wanted to return to his native Nepal after graduation this coming May, but he's changed his mind.

"I'm from one of the poorest, most remote areas in the world. But when I went to Africa, there were so many that were poorer than me. I need to help take care of those people first, before I return home," he said.

He sees the world differently now. For instance, he works an on-campus job with ARAMARK, the campus food service provider. He sees how much food is wasted by students something he never noticed before. He appreciates what he has, and spends no time worrying about things he doesn't.

He received financial help from several sources to make the adventure possible, including the Lions Club District 5MS, several university faculty and staff, and the SMSU Foundation.

As for Bhakri, he is able to enjoy what he missed the most: "Clean linens, light, a nice bed to sleep and a nice bathroom shower."



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