2022 Davis Grant Recipients - Ram and Sujan

Ram Itani and Sujan Shrestha

Community Center to Empower the Youth of Rural Nepal

Ram Itani, PhD’23, is a Ralph W. Nicholas Fellow and international student from Nepal studying Chemistry in the University of Chicago Physical Sciences Division. Sujan Shrestha, MBA’23, is also a Ralph W. Nicholas Fellow and is an international student from Nepal studying at the Booth School of Business. They will use their grant for the project Community Center to Empower the Youth of Rural Nepal to restore peace in rural Nepal by tackling the growing trend of rural to urban migration among youth. Funds from this grant will provide support to a youth community center empowering middle to high school students to find economic opportunities locally through educational and recreational programs.

May 2, 2022

We are extremely grateful as we start our Davis journey, Community Center to Empower the Future Generation of Rural Nepal, which will be implemented at Panchthar, Nepal this summer.

Ram is a PhD student in Physical Chemistry at the University of Chicago. Ram’s PhD thesis examines developing mixer for studying DNA and protein kinetics. Previously, he went to Earlham College where he majored in Chemistry, Physics, and Math. As for me, my name is Sujan and I’m currently a full-time MBA student at the University of Chicago (Booth School of Business), specializing in Entrepreneurship, Strategic Management, and Business Analytics. Previously, I went to Colby-Sawyer where I studied Business Administration. Ram and I both hail from Nepal and met at UChicago over an International House event. We both are currently Ralph Nicholas Fellows at I-House as well.

To give you some context, Panchthar is a small district in the far-eastern part of Nepal. Mostly agrarian, the region has been hit by outmigration of a generation of young and capable Nepali populace. As someone from middle income families ourselves, Ram and I deeply connect with the unfathomable exodus of youths like us from rural regions of Nepal. That is where we saw a need and decided to act on it. And, that is when we decided to partner with Nepal Tea Foundation (NTF) to restore peace and harmony in Panchthar by empowering their youth to create economic opportunities locally and discourage outmigration. NTF operates multiple projects in Panchthar and is also 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit. While I currently advise the foundation, I am one of the co-founding members of the foundation and have seen great projects germinate out of a great team at NTF over the years. One of those projects sought out by the local community is the Panchthar Youth Community Center (PYCC) to empower middle to high school students to encourage and find economic opportunities in Panchthar or locally through educational and recreational programs.

During the project, PYCC’s 4 rooms will be revamped to transform into recreational, conference, e-learning and counseling rooms. The center will host a variety of training and vocational education with the support from active volunteers of NTF and local educational institutions to help youth discover their potential and passion in the local community.

We virtually kick-started our project officially by communicating our project details and timeline with the NTF team. Before Ram and I get on the ground, we will be working closely with NTF over the next few weeks and months to start all the preparations and ensure we start the project strongly from the get-go!

May 31, 2022

We would like to provide an update on the progress of our project. We debriefed with our partner NTF who is already working on the site. In the last two weeks, we have been running surveys and conducting interviews with the locals to solicit feedback on how to best use the community center. We learned that the local community would greatly benefit from getting computer education, bamboo basket training, and a childcare center at the community center. Therefore, we are currently brainstorming ideas to incorporate the needs of the community in our project. Our tentative plans are outlined below:

  • Computer Education – We will purchase 4 laptops and station them in one of the rooms at the center. We are planning on a long-term training program (1-2 months in duration), which will be led by a representative from NTF. The goal of the program is to help youth and small businesses to be computer literate. This will help produce a skilled youth force and improve efficiency of running small businesses using computers.
  • Bamboo Basket Training – This training was particularly desired by the locals due to proximity to Kanchenjunga Tea Estate (KTE), which has high demand for bamboo related packaging. We will run a 3-day training program that will provide hands-on training on weaving bamboo baskets from scratch. We are currently in talks with the expert at KTE to lead the training program.
  • Child Care Center – A majority of the people residing in the area generate income working as tea pluckers, who are unable to take care of their children during a busy harvesting season. We plan to open a daytime childcare center which provides an interactive and safe space for children. We plan on working with the local government to find a full-time teacher/caretaker.

June 20, 2022

Hope everyone is enjoying the start of the Summer!

As we start to lay the groundwork for our project, we have started to reach out to the community stakeholders – parents, teachers, and students. Continuing on from our last update, we are expanding our survey and interviewee pool to include more people from the community to structure the exact needs of the youth center and incorporate Bamboo Basket training plus inclusion of Child Care services within the Panchthar Youth Community Center (PYCC). Our preliminary results from expanded surveys and interviews continue to convey the same message about their needs to us. We will process all we have compiled in the next week to finalize our plan of action.

While we confirm a few key strategic components of our PYCC plan, we have already started working with our partners Nepal Tea Foundation (NTF) to collect information on procuring 4 laptops, 1 projector, and 1 sound system for the e-learning room at the PYCC. Likewise, we have started to collect quotes for musical instruments and other equipment for the recreational room at the PYCC. Our goal is to have a list of vendors and their quotes by end of June so that we can start finalizing purchases in July. Our next step is to start planning logistics and transportation for our team and equipment.

As you continue to read up on our progress this Summer, we also wanted to share a key lesson we have learned so far. Throughout all this planning phase, we have learned the power of being agile and planning strategically to create long-term impact in Phidim. We hope to embrace this learning and march ahead in the coming weeks!


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