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New student’s experience in Nepal fuels desire to work in international development

Photo of fam­i­lies dis­placed by the earth­quake taking shelter under a makeshift tent on the streets of Kathmandu.

For Katie Brown, an incoming freshman to Northeastern this fall, being in Nepal during the the April earthquake was "absolutely the most terrifying thing" she's ever experienced. However, it's also inspired her to pursue a career in international aid.

Katie Brown was in her third-​​floor apart­ment in Kath­mandu when a magnitude-7.8 earth­quake struck Nepal in April, killing more than 9,000 people and causing some $10 bil­lion in damage.

Upon seeing her kitchen col­lapse and her win­dows shatter, she dropped to the floor and crawled into her bath­room to seek cover from the cat­a­strophic tem­blor. Ninety sec­onds later, the shaking stopped and she was safe.

Brown grabbed her purse, ran out­side, and then hitch­hiked across the city to meet up with a friend. They camped under a tarp for a few days and then made their way to the U.S. Embassy, where Brown called her par­ents in Pittsburgh.

This was absolutely the most ter­ri­fying thing I’ve ever been through,” she says. “It was a 24-​​hour period marked by con­fu­sion and chaos.”

‘I’m not coming home right now’

Brown, SSH’19, is an incoming freshman at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. Although she was accepted in 2014, she deferred her enroll­ment for one year in order to work for Pris­oners Assis­tance Nepal, a grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to rid­ding prisoners—and their children—of unnec­es­sary hardship.

For Brown, Nepal is some­thing of a second home. She first vis­ited the land­locked country in high school, when she vol­un­teered for a small non­profit ded­i­cated to empow­ering women in rural vil­lages. Since then, she’s rev­eled in its “cul­ture of reli­gious cohe­sion and national unity” and devel­oped close friend­ships with Nepalese fam­i­lies who lov­ingly refer to her as their “daughter.”

The eco­nomics of aid is becoming increas­ingly impor­tant as NGOs gain more and more weight. Knowing eco­nomics is useful for someone like me who wants to work in inter­na­tional development.”

When the quake struck, Brown was fin­ishing up her eighth month with the grass­roots group, which counted on her to write grant appli­ca­tions and manage its social media accounts. Her par­ents and her friends begged her to return home, but she refused. Sur­veying the damage caused by the earthquake—and being apprised of the death toll—convinced her to stay and help the country recover.

No,” she told her par­ents, “I’m not coming home right now. I’ll let you know when I will.”

Brown spent the next five weeks living in an open-​​air shelter with more than 100 chil­dren, inno­cent kids whose par­ents had been locked up in over-​​crowded prisons. She pur­chased sup­plies for the youngsters—tarps, water puri­fiers, bags of rice—and then trekked into rural vil­lages to deliver food and dole out rudi­men­tary med­ical care to hun­dreds of other quake vic­tims. She served rice pud­ding in makeshift kitchens in the middle of temple grounds and helped orga­nize delivery trucks filled with food and cooking supplies.

One of the most amazing things I saw was the com­mu­nity response,” she explains. “People with no affil­i­a­tions with non­govern­mental orga­ni­za­tions or other aid-​​based groups were helping out and giving people their extra food.”

Fundraising from far away

Brown returned home to sub­urban Pitts­burgh in June, where­upon she con­tinued to work on behalf of Pris­oners Assis­tance Nepal. Over the past four months, she’s orga­nized ben­efit din­ners and lec­turers at local libraries and churches, raising $6,000 for the organization.

Brown, who plans to study eco­nomics at North­eastern, wants to parlay her edu­ca­tion into a career in inter­na­tional aid. Working for the World Bank or the United Nations Children’s Fund, she says, would be a dream come true.

The eco­nomics of aid is becoming increas­ingly impor­tant as NGOs gain more and more weight,” she explains. “Knowing eco­nomics is useful for someone like me who wants to work in inter­na­tional development.”

-By Jason Kornwitz

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