In April 2015, the Bucknell community was as shocked and saddened as the rest of the world by the powerful earthquake that shook Nepal, which killed more than 9,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. For a group of four students from Nepal, the news was especially hard — but it proved to be the impetus for a project that took them back to their home country to help rebuild a vital piece of a small village's infrastructure.
Hemanta Timsina '18, chemical engineering; Dikendra Karki '19, electrical engineering; Nigesh Prajapati '18, electrical engineering and computer science; and Kanishka Suwal '18, mechanical engineering, were awarded a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant in early 2016 to travel to Nepal and study the restoration of a hydroelectric power plant and installation of an agro-processing mill in Funchok, about an eight-hour drive from the capital of Kathmandu.
"As Nepalese students, we wanted to help in whatever way that we could, so we formed Students for Nepal and coordinated with professors at Bucknell to brainstorm different projects that we could pursue to help Nepal," Karki said. "We began receiving a tremendous amount of support immediately, including a monetary commitment from President Bravman to cover all flight expenses to and from Nepal."
Students for Nepal hosted numerous events on campus, including bringing Bir Bahadur Ghale, who has been working to increase hydro-energy access in rural Nepal since 1990, to campus in November 2015 to talk about the devastation caused by the earthquake and the reconstruction process. Ghale noted that several micro-hydropower plants were destroyed during the earthquake, and aiding the restoration of such a plant could be a possible project for the group.
"As engineering students, we were really excited with the idea and started looking for funding for the project," Karki said. "We knew friends who had received Projects for Peace grants in the past, and after discussing it with them, we decided to go for it. When we learned that the project had been funded, we were really excited, and happy that our project idea was going to come true."
The project got underway in January 2017, when Karki and Prajpati traveled to Nepal to examine the damage done to the Funchok hydroelectric power plant and analyze whether or not an increased energy output would be feasible after repairs. The two also spoke with villagers about the best ways to use the extra energy, which is where the idea of an agro-processing mill arose.
"From the trip we learned that the people in Funchok rely primarily on agriculture for their living," Karki said. "They currently need to walk five hours to access an agro-processing mill, every week. It's primarily the women in the community doing this job, and the mill would empower them by freeing time for other productive tasks."
The study found that the power plant could be repaired to produce 10 to 15 kilowatts per hour, which could provide electricity to 151 households in Funchok. That would be two to three times as much output as the original plant, Timsina said, and could accommodate the processing mill.
"The original plant produced 5 kilowatts of electricity. A dryer running at full capacity takes up around the same amount of power, to give you an idea of what the magnitude is like," he said. "This was used by around 150 households at the time. The new plant is expected to have a nominal output of 10 kilowatts and will generate up to 15 kilowatts during monsoon season, when the weather is warm and rainfall is plentiful."
The additional energy will be enough to support the equipment necessary for a carpentry business in Funchok, which Karki said was a desire expressed specifically by many of the villagers.
Timsina and Suwal traveled to Nepal in June to begin the project itself. They transported the turbine, generator and other equipment required and assisted with the reconstruction process. The project is expected to be completed this month, Karki said, and the group believes that it will be enormously beneficial to Funchok — not only for the short-term advantage of repairing the power plant, but in its long-term implications for helping future generations of villagers as well.
"On a social level, the installation of the mill will promote women's empowerment by allowing them to engage in more productive tasks instead of making the five-hour journey every week," Karki said. "On an economic level, the project allows for the inception of new businesses that utilize electricity, like carpentry, which was not possible before. It also allows children to study properly at night, raising an educated population capable of further enhancing its standard of living in the long term."
This is the 10th year that Bucknell has participated in the Projects for Peace program. All undergraduates at the 91 American colleges and universities that are partners in the Davis United World Scholars Program are eligible to submit proposals for the grant.
Winning projects are designed to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace throughout the world in the 21st century. The grant honors Kathryn W. Davis, a philanthropist and peace advocate who started the grant program in 2007.
Past Bucknell University Projects for Peace
2016:"Empowering Students through Environmental Development"
2015:"Bringing Books to Burma"
2014: "A Better Transportation Decreases Poverty Gap"
2013: "Light the Way"
2012: "Puerto Rico Se Anima" and "Boloka Ngwao [Preserve Your Culture]"
2011: "Bicycles Against Poverty" and "Hear our Cry"
2010: "Providing Clean Drinking Water in Suriname"
2009: "Bicycles Against Poverty"
2008: "Educating People on the Effects of the Pesticide Nemagon on Banana Workers in Nicaragua"
2007: "Sewing Cooperative at Mi Refugio" and "Procuring Sufficient Water in Nicaragua"