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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.

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

Published On: September 2, 2015 | Tags: ,,
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