A clear purpose drives an ambitious plan developed by two UB seniors, whose five-week journey to their former home in Nepal includes a four-hour walk in Buffalo-like weather to deliver 132 jackets and school supplies to a remote mountain school and introduce a new curriculum they hope empowers the students to change their community.
“I’ve always been super passionate about transforming lives though education,” says Pemba Sherpa, a senior majoring in legal studies and psychology, who with her close friend, biological sciences major Hemanta Adhikari, have devised an adventurous experiential learning project that resembles an Indiana Jones journey and is described by administrators as “pretty spectacular.”
“I think education is what transformed my life,” Sherpa says.
There it is, the underlying motivation behind Sherpa’s and Adhikari’s cross-hemisphere “Scholars of Tomorrow” plan that began as an idea last summer when Pemba was “bored” studying for her GREs. Months after the idea “started from scratch,” the two will fly Dec. 17 to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, where relatives have placed orders for the jackets and school supplies paid for through Sherpa and Adhikari’s GoFundMe campaign. The two UB students will gather their supplies, then take another 30-minute flight to Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla.
They then will — one way or another — get the supplies to the Shree Janasewa Basic Secondary School in the village of Sanogumela, a four-hour walk from Lukla. Most likely, they will hire local workers who earn money by carrying supplies on their backs. Sherpa and Adhikari plan to walk with these Nepali men to “get the whole experience” of their journey.
Once they arrive in Sanogumela, the women will spend three weeks in the village before returning to the U.S. on Jan. 25. They will observe the school, and then conduct two hands-on activities to “instill pride and connect the classroom to the real world.” If education transformed their lives, they say, why not pay it forward by giving these 130 students, ages 8 to 19, a chance to benefit from education the same way they did?
The trip is also deeply personal. This will be the first time Sherpa and Adhikari have returned to Nepal after each left with their families 10 years ago.
Adhikari, whose family came from neighboring Bhutan before relocating to Nepal, remembers the school she attended when she was a young girl and how, just like the students in Shree Janesewa, she had to walk 45 minutes each way for classes, about 30 minutes fewer than the Shree Janesewa students.
Adhikari developed her own passion for returning to Nepal. She remembers the primitive house her family lived in as refugees, with cow dung for walls and a bamboo stick keeping it upright.
For Sherpa, whose family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 9, the connection goes even deeper: She attended Shree Janesewa Basic when she was a young girl, so this is a return to her childhood school.
“Being able to pursue an education and earn the status of student is truly one of the greatest gifts I received here in the U.S.,” says Adhikari, who hopes this trip helps hone the communication skills she will need as a surgeon. “I’ve learned to take the knowledge from the classroom and develop potential to make a difference in the world.”
Scholars of Tomorrow is Sherpa’s and Adhikari’s latest and most ambitious community engagement plan. They went to India last winter to bridge the gap between health and sanitation awareness in the remote village of Odisha, an experience they both said left a profound impact on them.
“I always knew I wanted to make a change,” says Sherpa. “But you feel like you are so small, and the change you want to make is so big, you don’t know where to start.”
Sherpa and Adhikari originally planned a fundraiser — their GoFundMe campaign is about $2,000 short of their $7,000 goal.
The project took off when the students’ mentor, Nathan Daun-Barnett, program coordinator for the Higher Education Administration program in the Graduate School of Education, suggested they contact UB’s Experiential Learning Network (ELN). Thanks in part to the networking and guidance there, Scholars of Tomorrow became Sherpa and Adhikari’s biggest, longest and most immediate project yet.
It became an experiential learning experience those who foster these projects can’t praise enough.
“Their story is so compelling because it speaks to how important the personal side of student stories are,” says Mara B. Huber, associate dean and director for undergraduate research and experiential learning. “Here at UB, hopefully, we are preparing for you to have amazing careers, but the magic happens when students can connect their learning back to their personal story and personal sense of purpose.”
“I came here to the U.S. with my whole family when I was 9 years old,” says Sherpa, who says she could never have done this without Adhikari’s work and inspiration.
“I’ve been raised here in the U.S. ever since, and I have been fortunate to have the lifestyle I do, and I am super grateful. I knew that I had to do something more than just get a lifestyle for me, but also use my education to bring change to the lives of others.”
Sherpa and Adhikari will work with Sherpa’s cousin who teaches in the Shree Janasewa School and lives in Sanogumela. Their class activities will encourage young students to eat healthy food and teach them to use materials found in the community to benefit those around them.
“We wanted to go there personally to deliver the supplies,” says Sherpa. “A lot of people deliver stuff, but it’s just like donations. They just give money, but there is not much value to it unless you go and spend time with them.”
Huber is especially enthusiastic because the trip provides an opportunity to test the new Project Portal, which she and her ELN team launched this fall.
“In addition to offering exciting mentored projects, we also designed it to support students who are engaged in their own projects,” Huber says. “Pemba and Hemanta will also be able to bring their experiences back to the portal, sharing reflections and hopefully building on their experiences to engage future students in related projects.
“What was so exciting for me was we have been trying to build out opportunities to really help our students connect with the world,” she says. “We’re very aware we have to keep up with our students because our students are doing amazing things on their own.
“The more you develop, the more you can think about how you can go back and connect with your own childhood,” Huber says. “That’s how it works, right? We grow and then we think, ‘How can we make the world a better place?’ And that leads us back to our experiences. It’s like a circle.”
In the meantime, Sherpa and Adhikari are preparing for that four-hour walk to get closer to and learn more about the community.
“We’re going to the gym,” says Sherpa. “We’re going to be ready.”