2010 Student-Faculty Fellows: College Of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, Team 2
Independent Student Research in Nepal
Mentor: Gar Kellom
Students: Elizabeth Carroll-Anderson, Megan Kack, Sarah Mahowald, Jessica Najarian, Jamie Utzinger
This research group chose the Katmandu Guest House (KMGH) as the main research site because of its historic role in Nepalese society and its ability both to provide for the basic needs of the group in Katmandu and to connect it to universities and research sites throughout the country. They also utilized the Prudent Foundation (located at the KMGH) to help arrange research opportunities and to ascertain the political situation in Nepal which was rapidly changing during the summer of 2010. Five individual research projects were undertaken by the CSB/SJU students. These focused upon dental health, dementia, modern art, Tibetan Buddhism and profiles of influential Nepali women. Some group activities also enriched the study experience, such as visits to the main Buddhist sites in the country and to the influential women’s empowerment organization Shtrii Shakti (S2). The contacts made at S2 proved helpful to a number of student researchers. For example, a member of S2 who is head of the Patan hospital and a leader of the Tibetan community helped two students with their research on women and Tibetans, assisted a third in her study of dementia, and a fourth in setting up a dental clinic in a village. The synergy among and between projects made for a productive and fascinating experience.
I spent six weeks researching Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal, primarily focused on interviewing Tibetan Buddhist women who had joined monasteries to determine why they became Buddhist nuns and what their lives were like. I spent a full week at a monastery and interviewed nuns at the Arya Tara School linked to the monastery. I was welcomed to participate in the rituals and in monastic life as well as to teach young monastics. My interactions with nuns in this setting encouraged them to be willing to share their stories with me and enabled me to observe them in their day-to-day activities. I also was able to do interviews at the Keydong Thukche Choling Nunnery near Swayambu, the heart of the Buddhist area of Kathmandu.
I discovered that a chief reason these young women joined the monastery was to get a better education, and also because they want to help others, perhaps as teachers in small villages. The significance of my study will be to help chronicle the growth and development of Tibetan Buddhism as it migrates from Tibet to other more hospitable countries in the world. My experience has also given me a new outlook on myself and the world, and helped me to better understand who I want to be as a person and what kind of impact I wish to have on the world.
The primary aim of my research project was to assess the level of dental hygiene practices and oral health knowledge in a cross-section sample of the Nepalese population in and around the Kathmandu Valley. According to the World Health Organization, in 2008 Nepal had 624 dentists to serve a population of over 24 million people. Currently, the majority of Nepalese lives in rural and isolated areas and has no access, along with the urban poor, to dental services. The lack of education about oral hygiene and the excessive intake of sweets also contribute to the high prevalence and severity of poor oral health. My assessment of oral health conditions in Nepal was facilitated by conversations held with a number of contacts in the country, and by my work with some young dentists who are running dental clinics in rural areas. They established a dental clinic in Satungal, a village of about 6,000 persons in central Nepal, and allowed me to administer a survey to those who came to avail themselves of the free dental care. The entire CSB/SJU research group visited the village on the day I conducted the survey, assisting in the clinic, providing instruction on good oral health practices, and helping with the surveying. Since graduating from CSB/SJU last May, I have entered dental school at the University of Minnesota where some of the faculty members have expressed interest in reading my final research findings.
During the summer of 2009 I was an intern at the National Museum in Kathmandu, and this summer I returned to Nepal to make an assessment of the current strength of the modern art scene in Nepal. I anticipated that it would be fairly weak given the impact of the Maoist government on Nepal, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not true. Two influential institutions have emerged with the past six years that are central to the development of modern art. First, Kathmandu University has created a 4-year accredited BFA program, and second, the Kathmandu Contemporary Art Center has been established. Through the auspices of the Prudent Foundation and help of other individuals, I was introduced to a number of Nepalese who are either modern artists or promoters of contemporary art including Promina Shrestha, Sangeeta Thapa, Sanjeev Maharjan, Sunita Maharjan, Rocky Prajapati, Deependra Bajracharya, and Sujan Chitrakar. I visited the Kasthamandap Art Studio and the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Center, and also attended the Nepali Photojournalist Conference and a dance performance choreographed by Charan Pradhan.
For six weeks I investigated the psychological impact of Alzheimer’s and dementia upon the caregivers as well as patients within the Kathmandu valley and surrounding regions, and also the state of care provided to these individuals in Nepal. The prevalence of adequate elderly homes is shockingly low, and, consequently, the elderly find themselves having no place to reside. Nonetheless, frequently one discovers children of these elderly persons who take pride in caring for their parent as they seek to give them the respect that they deserve. One caregiver explained: “If I do not care for my father, I mean nothing to this world. I can do wonderful things, but, if I do not give him the dignity and love he deserves, my life is worth nothing.” My analysis was furthered by administering a three part quantitative questionnaire that was translated from English to Nepali and presented to the Nepalese by a translator. Surveys were given in various mental health facilities like one in Patan or agencies like the Geriatric Center of Nepal or the Nishaya Sewa Sadan (a non-profit agency for the elderly) as well as in the homes of some in villages. This quantitative data is currently being analyzed. It will be complemented with qualitative data drawn from interviews and observation. I discovered that there is a general lack of knowledge and awareness regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia in Nepal, and also very limited funds to support the needs of people suffering from these challenges. Families are also becoming more fragmented, and traditionally they have provided essential care for elderly family members.
The focus of my research was five women in Nepal who have in the past and continue to dramatically influence changes in society: 1) Anuradha Koilara is founder of Maiti Nepal, an organization established to help rescue women and children from Indian brothels and help them recover their lives. In 2010 she was a nominee for the CNN Hero award. 2) Indira Shhestra, who established Shtrii Shakti (S2) and was the first woman NPC member of the republican government of Nepal. Her wide-ranging experiences as an institutional leader and development expert have led to an international reputation and to consideration for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. 3) Kundu Yangzom is chief of the OBGYN division at Patan Hospital and guides a handful of doctors and nurses to meet the needs of over a thousand patients a day. 4) and 5) Kicky and Nicky Chhetri are two of the three founders of the Three Sisters Adventures and Empowering Women of Nepal NGO which trains women for employment in tourism and the trekking business.